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Hilary Mantel's Provisionality

Bennett, Victoria (2017) Hilary Mantel's Provisionality. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:67182)


Hilary Mantel's work, published over three decades, has only recently begun to get critical attention. This is partly due to the success and adaptation of her novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. The first woman to win the Booker twice, Mantel's writing has won the kind of praise that is the lifeblood of the commercial writer. However, critical responses to her work have so far been focused on three areas: the historical themes of her novels on Thomas Cromwell, biographical and autobiographical themes, and the realism of her fiction. This thesis seeks to contribute to Mantel scholarship by questioning its critical assumptions. In this it has one precedent, Eileen Pollard's critically ambitious 2013 thesis, which takes the ellipsis as an 'exploded full stop' and takes this as a figure through which to reread Mantel. Pollard offers detailed readings of texts Fludd, Beyond Black and Giving up the Ghost, and questions the assumptions that have tended to underpin Mantel scholarship so far: an over-emphasis on the 'unity' and 'origin' of Mantel's work, which closes off what Pollard calls the excess of her writings. Although my thesis shares a preoccupation with Pollard in emphasising the openness of Mantel's work, the focus on ellipsis risks abstraction, and loses contact with Mantel's own popular appeal. This thesis thus intends to wed a sense of the complexity and sophistication of Mantel with a criticism that remains true to the approachable and open quality of her writing. The openness of Mantel's work is thus my starting point, where I begin to think about her writing in terms of provisionality.

Provisionality is not ambiguity, nor indeterminacy, although both of these effects inform my reading of Mantel. Provisionality describes the way that Mantel's writing crosses spatial, temporal, imaginative and generic borders. I use the idea to discuss Mantel's transforming approach to vision, the spectral, realism, the child, and writing itself. What does it mean to write a full length work on an author who is alive and publishing at the same time? This work seeks to provide readings, as well as to take stock of the other provisions available to Mantel's readers for thinking about her work.

Chapter One focuses on Beyond Black (2005) and 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' (2014), to developing the idea of provisionality and its connection to the spectral logic that in these texts relates writing to time and to the other. I think about the use of visual representations, drawing on Hardy and Wordsworth, and investigate the short story in terms of the 'blink.' Chapter Two uses Fludd (1989), Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012), to discuss Mantel's relation to mimesis, realist representation and their implications for notions of time and history. Chapter Three offers readings of A Change of Climate (1994) and Every Day is Mother's Day (1985), connecting the provisional with the figure of the child. This chapter also develops Chapter Two's insights about time in Mantel. Chapter Four more broadly considers the idea of the writing process in Mantel's works, particularly focusing on her memoir Giving up the Ghost (2003). Taken together, these chapters will form a contribution into Mantel criticism which explores provisionality as an open figuration and a critical intervention into the oeuvre of an evolving writer.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Wood, Sarah
Thesis advisor: Mildenberg, Ariane
Uncontrolled keywords: Hilary Mantel, Contemporary Literature, Women's writing, Deconstruction, Derrida
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 31 May 2018 12:10 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 12:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bennett, Victoria.

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