“But look: we have sat here too long”: Hilary Mantel’s tightrope walk of present-tense usage

Huber, Irmtraud (9 June 2015). “But look: we have sat here too long”: Hilary Mantel’s tightrope walk of present-tense usage (Unpublished). In: Privileging the Unseen. Manchester. 09.06.2015.

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Even after Hilary Mantel has won the Man Booker prize two times in a row with Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, her novelistic account of the life of Thomas Cromwell, her intriguing decision to write these historical novels in the present tense gave cause to surprisingly little extended comment beyond a perfunctory nod to its evocation of immediacy. This presents not only a lacunae in the discussion about Mantel’s novels, but is also symptomatic for a change in the contemporary critical evaluation of present-tense narration in general. If present-tense narration once used to be a marker for experimental daring and might even have implied a certain hostility towards fictionality, Mantel’s novels give ample evidence that literary sensibilities have changed. In order to understand the scope and nature of this change, my paper puts Mantel’s use of the present tense in the context of both the historical development of present-tense usage and the ample contemporary landscape of present-tense narration. This allows me to show that the complexities of present-tense usage belie a reduction of its effect to an evocation of immediacy. Rather, I argue, Mantel uses it for a delicate tightrope walk between proximity and distance, history and fiction, authenticity and imagination.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

UniBE Contributor:

Huber, Irmtraud


800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures




Irmtraud Huber

Date Deposited:

28 Jan 2016 12:25

Last Modified:

28 Jan 2016 12:25



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