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  • - Good evening.

  • I'm Susan Galassi, Senior Curator at The Frick Collection.

  • And it's my privilege to welcome all of you here

  • and our viewers on this live webcast

  • to this very special event this evening.

  • It's a great honor for The Frick

  • to have Dame Hilary Mantel as our speaker,

  • and to have her husband, Gerald McEwen, with us as well.

  • We've been very eager to have her here

  • ever since the publication, in 2009,

  • of her landmark historical novel Wolf Hall,

  • based on the life, um, which was followed in 2012

  • by the spectacular sequel Bring Up the Bodies.

  • Both books, based on the life of Thomas Cromwell,

  • Henry VIII's powerful minister,

  • were awarded the Man Booker Prize

  • and took off into the stratosphere.

  • They were translated into 36 languages

  • and adapted for the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company

  • in sold-out runs in Stratford-on-Avon

  • in London's West End,

  • and were made into an award-winning BBC miniseries

  • that will soon air here on PBS.

  • She is currently at work on the last book

  • in the Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.

  • Earlier this year, Prince Charles conferred on her

  • the honor of Dame Commander of the British Empire

  • for her contribution to literature,

  • an extraordinary achievement encompassing

  • 14 books, 11 of them novels.

  • In her non-literary life, recently,

  • she has also played an important role

  • in helping England save the famous bronze sculptures,

  • the Wolsey Angels,

  • which are now on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  • Now, here in New York this month,

  • she is attending rehearsals for the opening on Broadway

  • of Wolf Hall Part One and Part Two,

  • directed by Jeremy Herrin.

  • Previews at the Winter Garden begin in only two days.

  • We are very lucky to have her for this hour.

  • For making this evening possible,

  • I would like to extend warm thanks

  • to the Drue Heinz Trust and to Mrs. Hines.

  • For the past dozen years, her Trust has funded a series

  • of lectures by distinguished artists, writers, and poets,

  • who have brought contemporary viewpoints

  • to our collection of Old Master paintings.

  • She is also a longtime admirer of Hilary Mantel's work.

  • Thanks are due, as well, to past and present members

  • of the staff of Henry Holt and Company,

  • Francis Codie, James Meter, and, especially,

  • Patricia Eisemann, and to the Frick's

  • Manager of Education and Public Programs, Adrienne Lei.

  • Tonight, we have the pleasure of hearing Dame Hilary

  • speak in a special context.

  • Right outside this door hang the original portraits

  • by Hans Holbein the Younger

  • of the central figures in her trilogy,

  • Thomas Cromwell and his archenemy Thomas More.

  • These iconic images were painted

  • from drawings made from life

  • in Holbein's meticulous, highly illusionistic manner.

  • In her fluid prose, Dame Hilary lets the portraits

  • circulate again in time,

  • almost as characters in their own right.

  • In one particularly moving scene in Wolfhall,

  • we look at the portrait of Cromwell

  • through the eyes of the sitter

  • as he takes in Holbein's image of himself,

  • with a combination of admiration and alarm.

  • For the past century, that portrait has hung

  • face-to-face with the portrait of Thomas More

  • in the Living Hall, the heart of The Frick Collection,

  • where Henry Clay Frick placed them.

  • More, the presumed saint, on the left,

  • and Cromwell, the presumed villain, on the right,

  • until Hilary Mantel reversed their roles.

  • (audience chuckles)

  • After the lecture, we invite you to view the paintings

  • in the Living Hall and to join us for a glass of wine

  • in the Garden Court.

  • Signed copies of the Cromwell books

  • are also available in our bookstore.

  • Now please give a very warm welcome to Dame Hilary Mantel.

  • (audience applauds)

  • - Good evening.

  • May I say it's absolutely lovely to be here.

  • People have said to me,

  • "What, you've not been to The Frick?

  • "You've not seen the two famous images

  • "in that wonderful context?"

  • And, uh, I had to confess that until a few days ago

  • that was the case.

  • But I am here now.

  • And I have been told

  • by a historian I know

  • that on at least one occasion

  • the great Tudor historian Geoffrey Elton

  • stood in front of the fireplace by the portraits

  • and said, "Here we have

  • "one self-serving, ruthless,

  • "and cunning politician,

  • "and one far-seeing and dedicated statesman."

  • And then, of course, upset the prejudices of his audience

  • by indicating the hero and the villain.

  • Elton, okay, it was a piece of mischief.

  • But...

  • Geoffrey Elton was the grandfather

  • of modern Tudor studies

  • and he placed Thomas Cromwell where he should be,

  • at the heart of the history of the reign of Henry VIII,

  • as a shaper of his age, as a maker of history.

  • My purpose is to introduce him to a wider public

  • as a modern hero or anti-hero,

  • flawed and equivocal,

  • to persuade us to look at the world from behind his eyes,

  • and walk a mile in his shoes.

  • My purpose has never been

  • to set up false oppositions

  • nor to valorize one of these men

  • at the expense of the other.

  • Though, like Elton, I have my preference.

  • And that's fair, because a novelist

  • is not obliged to neutrality.

  • Neutrality would make dull reading.

  • She can be partisan I think

  • as long as she's well informed.

  • The choices she makes must be considered ones.

  • And as a novelist, I want to know

  • how these two men experienced each other,

  • and what was their experience of the world.

  • In Wolf Hall, this is what Thomas More

  • thinks of Thomas Cromwell.

  • "Lock Thomas Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning

  • "and by the time you come back that night,

  • "he'll be sitting on a plush cushion

  • "eating larks' tongues,

  • "and all the jailers will owe him money."

  • Well, that's the whole fascination

  • of the boy from Putney.

  • Time and time again, you would look at him and you'd say,

  • "How did he do that?"

  • Where does he go when he goes off the map?

  • How is it possible, his rise in the world?

  • How did he think it might be possible?

  • Unlike More, he's not a self-revealing character.

  • He's an expert communicator,

  • but he never tells us what we'd like to know.

  • It's all questions, questions, and no answers.

  • One of our best Tudor historians, Diarmaid MacCulloch,

  • is writing a biography of him,

  • which won't be out for a little while yet,

  • but I think will be authoritative.

  • It's much needed.

  • Unlike so much writing about Cromwell,

  • this will be different I think.

  • Not just a recycling of venerable errors and prejudices.

  • There is an in-built frustration to the task.

  • Diarmaid MacCulloch says

  • he's like Macavity the Mystery Cat.

  • He's called the Hidden Paw.

  • Wherever you think you'll find him, you don't.

  • Wherever you don't look for him, there he is.

  • Like Macavity, "he always has an alibi,

  • "and one or two to spare.

  • "At whatever time the deed took place,

  • "Macavity wasn't there."

  • These two men were not enemies in the beginning.

  • And perhaps not enemies in the end,

  • in quite the way we think.

  • And I've not written my book to make them so,

  • or to set up false oppositions.

  • They were the two great commoners who served Henry.

  • Now, it's true, that Cardinal Wolsey,

  • who was Thomas Cromwell's patron,

  • was also from a humble background,