The Long and the Short of It

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies has made the short list for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award for books written in English by authors from the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe. Mantel’s papers are housed at The Huntington.

Each year a panel of judges announces a long list of about a dozen books to great fanfare during the summer. On Tues., Sept. 11, the 2012 list was narrowed to six, including Mantel’s new book. The winner will be announced in London on Oct. 16.

Mantel won the award in 2009 for Wolf Hall, which tells the story of the volatile reign of Henry VIII, but the central protagonist is Thomas Cromwell, his chief minister. Cromwell helped the king secure the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and in the process drove Catholic loyalist Thomas More to a martyr’s death. Bring Up the Bodies picks up the story of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and Cromwell’s role in her trial and execution in 1536. Mantel plans a third novel that will presumably carry though to Cromwell’s own death, in 1540.

“Like Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies takes the historical novel to a new, far higher level,” says Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington, who also oversees a number of archives of other active authors. “Hilary Mantel has given us all a pair of books to savor and re-read, with a third one we can look forward to reading. It is entirely fitting that Bring Up the Bodies is short-listed for the Man Booker, and The Huntington is absolutely thrilled to be the home for Hilary’s papers.”

In 2005, Hodson found out Mantel was working on a novel about Cromwell and suggested the author talk to Mary Robertson, The Huntington’s William A. Moffett Curator of English Historical Manuscripts. Robertson had written her doctoral dissertation about Thomas Cromwell and soon began a lively and engaging e-mail correspondence with the novelist.

“Two of my favorite people are honored by this,” said Robertson of the news. “Hilary Mantel of course, for her literary brilliance and her impeccable re-creation of the treacherous world of Henry VIII’s court, and Thomas Cromwell, who is at long last getting the recognition from a wider lay public that he has so long deserved!”

Hilary Mantel. Photo by John Haynes.

Mantel has been widely praised for her meticulous research. Although she has never managed to use The Huntington’s archives in her research, she is indebted to the encouragement and support offered by Robertson over the years. She dedicated Wolf Hall to Robertson—“To my singular friend Mary Robertson this be given.”

The dedication in Bring Up the Bodies picks up where Wolf Hall left off: “Once again to Mary Robertson: after my right harty commendacions, and with spede.”

For more about the complicated history of Thomas Cromwell and the friendship of Robertson and Mantel, read “Booker Club” in the fall/winter 2009 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

3 thoughts on “The Long and the Short of It

  1. It would be wonderful if Mary Robertson’s PhD thesis were published in light of the interest in Thomas Cromwell which Hilary Mantel’s novels have awakened, and given the assistance, which Mantel so thankfully acknowledges, that was provided by Dr Robertson.

  2. Pingback: Making History | VERSO | The Huntington's Blog

  3. Pingback: » Add Dame to Her Name

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