Main content

Can These Bones Live?

Hilary Mantel analyses how historical fiction can make the past come to life.

Hilary Mantel analyses how historical fiction can make the past come to life. She says her task is to take history out of the archive and relocate it in a body. "It's the novelist's job: to put the reader in the moment, even if the moment is 500 years ago." She takes apart the practical job of "resurrection", and the process that gets historical fiction on to the page. "The historian will always wonder why you left certain things out, while the literary critic will wonder why you left them in," she says. How then does she try and get the balance right?

The lecture is recorded in front of an audience in Exeter, near Mantel's adopted home in East Devon, followed by a question and answer session. The Reith Lectures are chaired by Sue Lawley and produced by Jim Frank.

Available now

43 minutes

Broadcasts

What we learnt from Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures

What we learnt from Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures

We’ve picked out some interesting insights from the 2017 BBC Reith Lectures.

The secret world of Tudor crime

The secret world of Tudor crime

A glimpse into the turbulent Tudor underworld to mark Hilary Mantel's Reith Lectures.

Are these the greatest historical novels ever written?

Are these the greatest historical novels ever written?

Daisy Buchanan reviews some of the most popular historical novels of the past few years.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.

New to the Reith Lectures? Here’s where to start

New to the Reith Lectures? Here’s where to start

Four lectures recommended by the series producer.

The Hellishly Difficult War Quiz

The Hellishly Difficult War Quiz

How much do you know about historical conflicts and those who fought in them?

Podcast