Hilary Mantel – The Reith Lectures July 2017

Discussion:

We all enjoyed the novel experience of listening or reading or sometimes both. Peggy  found her extraordinary voice easy to listen to.  Phillip still found it annoying and read the transcripts.

We discussed the main tenant of Mantal’s lectures, namely the ‘fictitious’ nature of history. Joan’s archeologist friend – stick to the facts everything else is conjecture:

‘Evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record. It’s the plan of the positions taken, when we to stop the dance to note them down. It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it – a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth. It is no more ‘the past’ than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey. It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that.

Phillip liked best ‘The moment we are deceased we are the subject of stories. Process of fictionalisation instant, inevitable. Once we can no longer speak for our selves, we are interpreted.’

Peggy, reading Shostakovich parallel, found parallels, suppression and state, state writing history, (Handmaids Tale)

Rachel – found Mantel surprisingly light and amusing, loved her metaphores – what’s left in the sieve. Sheila found same: ‘I enjoyed listening to them. I found Mantell to have a good sense of humour which she employed to great effect in her talks, very engaging with her audience and refreshingly honest. I thought she made a good case for historical fiction and as a writer I was interested in her way of writing.’ Reading Mantel’s view on history made Rachel’s personal experience of being written out of history (Metfield Stores) easier to understand.

Marking 5/5/4/5/

Hilary Mantel bio

Born Glossop, Derbyshire, the eldest of three children, Roman Catholic school

Her parents, both Irish, separated when she 11, and her mother partnered with Jack Mantel who became Hilary’s unofficial stepfather. She took her de facto stepfather’s surname legally.

She lost her religious faith at age 12 and says this left a permanent mark on her:

“[the] real cliché, the sense of guilt. You grow up believing that you’re wrong and bad. And for me, because I took what I was told really seriously, it bred a very intense habit of introspection and self-examination and a terrible severity with myself. So that nothing was ever good enough. It’s like installing a policeman, and one moreover who keeps changing the law.”

Studied Law at LSE.  Socialist. Worked in the social work department of a geriatric hospital and then as a sales assistant in a department store.

In 1972, she married Gerald McEwen, a geologist.

In 1974, she began writing a novel about the French Revolution which was later published as A Place of Greater Safety. In 1977, Mantel moved to Botswana with her husband where they lived for the next five years. Later, they spent four years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She published a memoir of this period in the London Review of Books. She later said that leaving Jeddah felt like “the happiest day of [her] life”.

McEwen gave up geology to manage his wife’s business. They divorced, but remarried a couple of years later.

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