Beyond Boundaries: Space and Selfhood in the Novels of Hilary Mantel

Tara Rachelle Koger, Western Kentucky University


The novels of Hilary Mantel present a rare, extraordinarily complex text of the female body. Grounded in Tonbridge hall, an all-girls dormitory, in the 1960s, An Experiment in Love’s[sic] Carmel grapples with the boundaries of bodily selfhood (or the experience of developing self and identity through focusing on the body) as a young woman living independently for the first time. She attempts to cope with the inevitable sexualization of her body by others and her fear of being subsequently identified only by her body as the female physique and its sexual potential. In her quest to assess the body anew, she plies the boundaries of physical and mental, of pain and pleasure, ultimately deconstructing, inscribing, and recreating her body. Mantel’s [sic] further complicates the difficulty of awareness of one’s own embodiment in Beyond Black. The text is not so much a narrative as a dissection of the existence of temporal and spatial definitions, consisting of the characters’ physicality - their constructions - as much as plot progression. The story evolves in fragments as well as a whole: in linear, forward narrative as well as sporadic, shared, often cyclical memories and exposition. The feminine form -- flexible, yielding, and unstructured -- is presented through the female characters’ abilities to reach beyond the confinements of not only their own bodies through telepathy but also beyond their own lives, even their own mortal world, through their communications with the dead and the afterlife.