Hilary Mantel, one of Britain’s most decorated novelists, whose trilogy of books on the life of Thomas Cromwell — “Wolf Hall,” “Bring Up the Bodies” and “The Mirror and the Light” — received both critical acclaim and commercial success, landing on best-seller lists around the world, died on Thursday at a hospital in Exeter, England. She was 70.
Her death, after she had suffered a stroke on Monday and endured chronic pain for much of her life, was confirmed by Bill Hamilton, her longtime literary agent.
“She had so many great novels ahead of her,” he said, adding, “It’s just an enormous loss to literature.”
Ms. Mantel, the author of 17 books, twice won Britain’s Booker Prize, for “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” both of which sold millions of copies. She was longlisted for the same prize, for “The Mirror and the Light,” in 2020. The novels led to popular stage and screen adaptations.
But it was a long and arduous road to reach those heights, beginning with a tough childhood. “I was unsuited to being a child,” Ms. Mantel wrote in a 2003 memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost.” She endured numerous health problems, leading one doctor to call her “Little Miss Neverwell.” The doctor was the first of many to fail to properly treat her.
Her illnesses later proved so debilitating that she could not hold down regular jobs, steering her to writing. But even then it was a writer’s life of fits and starts. Mainstream success did not come to her until she was well into her 50s.
Her Cromwell books were the turning point. Enraptured critics said she had reinvented the historical novel as high literature, portraying her subjects not as cardboard characters from centuries past but as real people of contradictions and psychological complexity, relatable in any age. And readers were carried along by her storytelling power.
The critic Parul Sehgal wrote in a 2020 review of “The Mirror and the Light” in The New York Times that Ms. Mantel’s writing envelops the reader “in the sweep of a story rich with conquest, conspiracy and mazy human psychology.” Ms. Mantel was not just a writer of historical fiction, Ms. Sehgal said, but an expert in showing “what power reveals and conceals in human character.”
Ms. Mantel was born Hilary Mary Thompson on July 6, 1952, to Henry and Margaret Thompson in Glossop, a village in Derbyshire, and grew up in an Irish Catholic family. Her mother was a school secretary. After her mother left her husband and moved the family in with Jack Mantel, an engineer, Ms. Mantel took her stepfather’s surname.
At 18, she moved to London to study law at the London School of Economics, but she could not afford to finish her training. After marrying Gerald McEwen, a geologist, she became a teacher and started writing on the side.
Hilary Mantel’s Most Influential Work
‘Wolf Hall’ (2009). This fictional portrait of Henry VIII’s scheming aide Thomas Cromwell — the first volume…