Mantel Pieces, a collection of Hilary Mantel’s contributions to the London Review of Books, is published today by Fourth Estate. Each of its 20 pieces is accompanied by a fragment of related correspondence, cover artwork or other ephemera from the LRB collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. In the introduction Mantel describes the book’s contents as ‘messages from people I used to be’, but they are consistent in at least one respect: she’s always been as wonderful a writer of letters as she is of everything else. The selection begins with the note she sent to Karl Miller after he’d published her first piece for the paper in 1987: ‘If you would like me to do another piece, I should be delighted to try … I have no critical training whatsoever so I am forced to be more brisk and breezy than scholarly.’
A few days before telling Shami Chakrabarti to ‘shut up’ about the Human Rights Act, David Starkey gave a lecture on Magna Carta at the British Library. Asked his opinion on Hilary Mantel’s portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, he said that it was historically inaccurate and ‘lady novelists need a hero’. (Earlier this year he called the novel a ‘deliberate perversion of fact’.) To hear Starkey tell it, you’d think Wolf Hall was full of scenes of a shirtless Cromwell scything in the summer heat. His view isn’t only misogynist, but completely misses the point. It’s a bit like saying Shakespeare’s history plays are bad history.