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Listen: Hilary Mantel on Faustian pacts, and what would tempt her

The award-winning novelist on how she has explored the nature of evil and the devil in her own work.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

9 April 2014 at 5.01pm | 2 Comments

Award-winning novelist Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, recently hosted an ROH Insights event around the Faustian Pack, a programme that explores the story of Faust’s temptation by, and pact with, the devil.

'Evil means little except when attached to examples,' said Hilary. 'The figures in history who we see as incandescent examples of human wickedness are usually just a fleshly wrapper for the accumulated misdeeds of their underlings, multiplied by the thousands.'

She also gave an insights into how musing over the nature of evil, and how it gains a hand, have influenced her own works of historical fiction:

'Every historian and historical novelist must have thought "If Satan were to bob up from hell and put into my hands a lost letter or book, then he could have me body and soul". Like many of the characters in my books I'm frustrated by the impervious nature of the dead. When you live with them in the course of writing a historical novel, they draw so close it almost seems to me that the veil that separates them from us is very thin. I want to reach through and shake out of the dead the stuff that they're hiding. What holds me back is the question of "Do the dead know everything?". Perhaps hell is ignorance, the consciousness of lost knowledge, or repeating your mistakes.'

'To live in the world and thrive we blunt our faculties, we hold off empathy and when we decide to do that, that's the danger point. It's when the Devil stands grinning with his scroll, offering his age-old gifts: forget the needs of others, consider only your own, amass wealth, indulge lust, grab power - the menu's always the same, the devil just changes his outfit to accommodate fashion.'

'The holy fear at the heart of the creative process is something trying and always failing to come to light. At your desk or in your dreams, you're always on a threshold. This was Faust's situation.'

The Royal Opera's Faustian Pack events continue through April 2014.
Find out more about ROH Insights.

This article has 2 comments

  1. steven responded on 9 April 2014 at 10:17pm Reply

    Great stuff, thanks ROH - really enjoyed the event. Do you plan to publish the full audio?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 9 April 2014 at 10:39pm

      Glad that you enjoyed it Steven. No plan to publish the full audio, unless there is a very strong demand.

      Best wishes


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