The Cromwell enigma
As the BBC dramatisation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is about to air, the novels' author Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell biographer Diarmaid MacCulloch share their thoughts on the upcoming series and its complex hero…
Why do you think Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have been so successful – both critically and commercially?
Hilary Mantel: They seem to have united two constituencies: people who read the literary novel, and people who like historical fiction as a genre. (I dislike the tag ‘literary novel,’ but no one has come up with a better one.) I think genre authors often condescend to their readers. I wanted to put something rich and complicated into play, and see if I could entice the wary. Some readers retired hurt, but many more have responded to a challenge. And of course people love to read about Henry and his wives; it’s one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ stories, deeply embedded in the national narrative, and it works at all levels. The books have gone beyond these islands, though, and into some 35 languages; that argues the presence of archetypal figures and universal themes.