Hilary Mantel on Catholicism, reality and rebels

In the ideal world, all writers would have a Catholic childhood, or belong to some other religion which does the equivalent for you. Because Catholicism tells you at a very early age the world is not what you see; that beyond everything you see, and the appearance – or the accidents as they’re known – there is another reality, and it is a far more important reality. So it’s like running in the imagination. I think that this was the whole point for me – that from my earliest years I believed the world to have an overt face and a hidden face, and behind every cause another cause, and behind every explanation another explanation, which is perhaps of quite a different order. And if you cease to believe in Catholic doctrine it doesn’t mean that you lose that; you still regard the world as ineffable and mysterious and as something which perhaps in the end can’t quite be added up. It could be summed up as saying “all is not as it seems”, and of course that’s the first thing Catholicism tells you. And then it just runs through everything you write and everything you touch, really. Plus, it’s good to have something to rebel against.

Hilary Mantel


  1. The last sentence makes it a classic quote!
    Though I must say I wasn’t brought up to be religious and I’m very comfortable with the idea that things aren’t what they seem… so I guess life is really what you make of it.

    • Hi Epiphanie, thanks for your comment.

      Yeah, I see what you mean … but as someone brought up Catholic, I think it is a ‘special’ kind of religion … I always found it hard to explain, and the quote really nailed it for me. Which is probably an unfortunate choice of words!

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