The New Yorker reposts an article from 2012 on Hilary Mantel’s imagination and historical fiction. It’s worth a read especially for those who are daunted by the sheer size of her historical fiction.
The article tries to dissects some of the reasons why historical fiction is not treated as seriously a genre. It borders between fiction and nonfiction. Because historical fiction is bound by history, facts, and real characters, wanton invention when facts are to be found, or, worse, contradiction of well-known facts, is a horror. This therefore limits the writer’s authority. But Mantel seems to pull it off brilliantly, in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. While she cannot know her characters completely, she conjures up reasonable, plausible details leading to well-known historical events. The article also explores why Mantel doesn’t care for royalty and aristocrats—and exactly why she would shine the limelight on Cromwell.