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The Folger Spotlight

'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel

Folger Book Club returns on Thursday, August 3 with a discussion of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this Booker Prize-winning novel about Henry VIII’s court.

What is Wolf Hall about?

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is “a darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII. . . . Magnificent.” (The Boston Globe).

Critical Reception

“Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” is both spellbinding and believable.” —The New York Times

“. . .Wolf Hall succeeds on its own terms and then some, both as a non-frothy historical novel and as a display of Mantel’s extraordinary talent. Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written, solidly imagined yet filled with spooky resonances, and very funny at times, it’s not like much else in contemporary British fiction. A sequel is apparently in the works, and it’s not the least of Mantel’s achievements that the reader finishes this 650-page book wanting more.” – The Guardian

“Masterfully written and researched” – Kirkus Reviews

“Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a startling achievement, a brilliant historical novel”‘ – New York Review of Books

2009 Booker Prize ; 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction; 2010 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

Why did we choose this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

Wolf Hall is a detailed, immersive look at Henry VIII’s court and the decisions that led to England’s break with Rome, leading to repercussions that echoed through Shakespeare’s time and which the playwright himself explored in Henry VIII.

About the author: Hilary Mantel

From her Macmillan Publishers biography

Hilary Mantel was a renowned English writer who twice won the Booker Prize, for her best-selling novel Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. The final novel of the Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and won worldwide critical acclaim. Mantel wrote seventeen celebrated books, including the memoir Giving Up the Ghost, and she was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, the Walter Scott Prize, the Costa Book Award, the Hawthornden Prize, and many other accolades. In 2014, Mantel was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She died at age seventy in 2022.

Content Transparency

Wolf Hall includes references to subjects to which some readers may be sensitive.

August’s Bookstore Partner

This month, we are thrilled to once again partner with East City Bookshop, an independently run, woman-owned, community-minded bookstore on Capitol Hill. Check them out at

Order online, by phone (202.290.1636) or email Pickup is available at the shop, or they ship (almost) anywhere!

You can also download an audiobook version of this title from

Purchase your copy of Wolf Hall

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program

Capitol Hill Community Foundation
Junior League of Washington

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