Log in

No account? Create an account
08 August 2010 @ 09:18 pm
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

When I first started reading this, I was confused. I word-associate 'Cromwell' with 'Charles I' and 'plantations'. Until I remembered that I was actually thinking of Oliver Cromwell, this confusion persisted. I had never heard of Thomas Cromwell before I read this book. My education in English royal history was, as might be expected in one of England's bitter and former dominions, patchy - to say the least. If I knew that Henry the Eighth had six wives, one of them called Anne Boleyn, it was only because my history teacher was interested in passing on the knowledge that she apparently had three breasts. Why this would constitute an attractive trait I still fail to understand.

Of course, we've been swamped with Tudors since, from the TV programme to The Other Boleyn Girl book/movie. I intend at some point to sit down and watch the Tudors. It looks a lot like Rome, which was entertaining and very slightly educational. I read the first few pages of The Other Boleyn Girl, which was more than sufficient for me.

I now turn to the only English history book I have. It is called Aunt Charlotte's Stories of English History for Little Ones and it was published in 1875; my dad picked it up in an antique bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. It is full of amusing partiality, such as: "It was in this reign that America was discovered, though not by the English." I also have Jane Austen's The History of England by a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian, which is even more amusing: "The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince [Henry VIII], were too numerous to be mentioned & nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of Time has been of infinite use to the Landscape of England in general, which probably was a principle motive for his doing it".

I was sad to discover that Henry ended up beheading Thomas Cromwell, though not terribly surprised - it always did strike me as his favourite pastime. Mantel made Cromwell into an incredibly engaging character, witty, humane and clever. It was a thoroughly interesting book, but I do wish I knew more about history. It is called Wolf Hall and I don't know why. Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymours. Mantel gives out that Cromwell fancied Jane Seymour. I don't know if that's true, but if it was it was doomed to failure, I knew that much. If anyone has any more information, please pass it on!

I also enjoyed the portrayal of Thomas More as the anti-hero. I've picked up just enough through Sunday Times book review osmosis to know that he's practically a saint (or maybe he IS a saint, I don't know); it's fun to hear about how he tortured people, plus the idea that Cromwell paid the guards to let Margaret Roper take his head for burial. (What about the rest of him, though?)

Tyndale says, now abideth faith, hope and love, even these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Thomas More thinks it is a wicked translation. He insists on 'charity'. He would chain you up, for a mistranslation. He would, for a difference in your Greek, kill you.

I used that quote in a fic once! Let me tell you, it would not pack half as much punch if the greatest of them really was charity.

"[...] Wolsey was to me an enemy. That does not alter my feelings towards our Holy Mother the church."
He thinks, Wolsey was to me a father and a friend. That does not alter my feelings towards our Holy Mother the church.

I'm not really up to scratch on the Reformation either ... to be a papist was a bad thing, but so was being a Lutheran. IDK.

"Bilney put himself into the fire. I always said he would. He recanted before and was let go, so he could be granted no more mercy."
Anne drops her eyes. "How fortunate we are, that we never come to the end of God's."

Good point, well made - not that many religious have ever been known to heed it.

Cromwell's lols:
"Yes, I know that," Francis says, "but I think to myself there is something else going on here."
"That may be, Highness," he says crisply, "but it's certainly not being Welsh."

"[...] Till today I have never heard of Bishop Gardineur. On dit you have stole his strawberry beds and given them to the king's mistress, and now he intends ... [...] to ruin you utterly and pursue you unto death."
"And well beyond, if I know my man."

"Why did you delay? Doesn't every boy want to be an archbishop? Though not me, if I think back. What I wanted was my own bear."
Cranmer looks at him, his expression speculative. "I'm sure that could be arranged for you."

I love how he continually bests More, too. (I don't know where my random hatred of More comes from, but there you go.)

"I have never understood where the line is drawn, between sacrifice and self-slaughter."
"Christ drew it."
"You don't see anything wrong with the comparison?"

"I am glad I am not like you."
"Undoubtedly. Or you would be sitting here."
"I mean, my mind fixed on the next world. I realise you see no prospect of improving this one."

The story really brought history alive for me. Aside from accuracy - on which I cannot comment - that's the highest honour you can give historical fiction. Recommended!

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill ♥ | The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt | Un Dun Lun, China Mieville
Current Mood: sillysilly
Current Music: i love pop music // ben lee
pir8fancier on August 8th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
I have this in my TBR pile. I got my degree in English history and so am curious how she writes him as compelling, when his personality is generally seen as a fatal combination of competence and ruthlessness. If you're vaguely interested in that period, I would recommend "The Tudors," which just came out. It's got some serious flaws (as in the scope seems bizarre as at least half of the book is devoted to Henry VIII), but his interpretation and side discussions on the Cromwell's role in the destruction of the Catholic church in England was well done.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on August 8th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
I suppose my ignorance was my shield? I had never heard of him before, pretty much a clean slate in terms of my opinion of him. Now I'm really sad Henry ended up killing him. D:

Also, I am pro-destroying the Catholic church! Not just because of my personal grudge but also because England, to me, owrs its greatness to the legend of the mild-mannered country vicar who is a good match (Austen!) or scared of the neighbours (Keeping Up Appearances!). England would be so much different if it were Catholic ... it might be, shudder, Ireland.

Edited at 2010-08-08 08:44 pm (UTC)
RedOrchidredorchids on August 8th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
I should definitely read this book. The period around Henry VIII has been a guilty pleasure of mine since I discovered trashy historical romance novels at the age of 14 (which, ironically, once, pretty much single-handedly, got me through an English History exam. Whoot!).

(This is another way of saying that while I do have a shitload of info about this period in my head, I don't know which parts are historically accurate and which ones were invented for the dramaz of Lady X being seduced by Lord Y in a cunning plot to stave off Henry VIII's marriage to [enter wife here])

That said... :D

Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymours. Mantel gives out that Cromwell fancied Jane Seymour. I don't know if that's true, but if it was it was doomed to failure, I knew that much. If anyone has any more information, please pass it on!

Cromwell was one of the key figures in helping Henry VIII get rid of Anne Boleyn (wife no 2) by creating a case against her that she was a) a witch who had ensorcelled Henry and tricked him into marrying her, and b) in an incestuous relationship with her brother (and also sleeping with the Devil on the side). Once accomplished, he helped put Jane Seymoure on the throne as wife no 3 and Cromwell's son married another Seymoure (Jane's sister, I think) so he definitely had strong ties to that family. Sadly, Jane Seymoure died in childbed fever after delivering England's first (legitimate) prince and Cromwell found a new bride for Henry: Anne of Cleves (who was a German princess). Unfortunately, Henry didn't like Anne when he saw her in person (a very good reason why you should not sign a marriage contract to someone you've only seen a picture of because you are greedy and want a powerful German alliance to help you combat the Spanish after pissing them off by throwing aside your royal Spanish wife because you wanted to marry a younger chick, and also the French, since you're always fighting with them, and, hey, the super powerful Catholic Church that you've pretty much given the finger and declared yourself superior to while conveniently also stealing all the money from the English monastaries and taking over a piece of land or ten) and poor Cromwell had to take the fall for creating the match. Ouch. (As you might have gathered, Henry VIII was not the most charitable of kings. After annulling his marriage to Anne (wife 4), claiming, essentially, that she was too ugly for him to be able to consumate the marriage, he married Anne Boleyn's younger cousin Catherine Howard, then accused HER of adultery as well and had her thrown in the tower and beheaded. Luckily, after that one, he was pretty old, and his sixth wife (Katharine Parr) actually outlived him. \o/

So, yeah. The dramaz! (You see why 14-year-old me was obsessed with this. It pretty much beats any soap hands down. AND features loads of pretty gowns and people on horseback to boot.)

And while I'm at it, I can't help by jumping in on this as well. :)

I used that quote in a fic once! Let me tell you, it would not pack half as much punch if the greatest of them really was charity.

According to my old Antiquity professor, the word it's translated from is caritas, which means both love and charity in combination with a whole bunch of other things attached as well. I think the way she explained it was that, in Greek and Latin, there were several words for love, depending on what kind of love you were referring to (brotherly love, sexual love, love for your children etc) and that the love referred to in this passage is the divine love of God for his creation and the same feeling mirrored in men towards their fellow man and God. So very much the whole "love your neighbour as thyself" schtick. :)
oceaxeoceaxe on August 8th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
Before I read the rest of your post, I must warn you, The Tudors is NOTHING like Rome. I have watched Rome three times and I'm sure I'll watch it once or twice more when my little girl-fetus is old enough to enjoy it. I couldn't make it through even one season of Tudors, despite J.R. Myers being scandalously hot, because his acting is scandalously bad and the writing is terrible. Ugh. Sorry to rain on that parade, I had higher hopes myself.
(Anonymous) on August 8th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
I loved this book. one thing I loved that you didn't touch upon- how awesome is it that his marriage was allowed to be a happy one? and demonstrated as such? and how Liz was so awesome, and common-sensical? It made me so happy to see a relationship like it in a literary book, I was only sad that the historical constraints made it a short one.
(Anonymous) on August 8th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
also, ginger pig! I laughed every time. ugly children that people aren't allowed to admit being ugly/ unpleasant for awkward humour win.
Ria: wind in her hairkessie on August 8th, 2010 11:10 pm (UTC)
I'm saving Wolf Hall until I have a huge chunk of time to read it. So possibly sometime in the autumn, the way things are going, haha. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though!

The Tudors show is hilarious.
shadowclubshadowclub on August 9th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
After fantasy I think historical stuff is my favorite genre to read! I will have to check it out!

I thought I would enjoy the Tudors more, but I really couldn't get into it... no idea why. For a change, I thought there was too much nudity, but eh...
on a yellow spaceship: milkmaido_glorianna on November 4th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
This is definitely on the to-read pile, and I was glad to hear that you liked it. This made me laugh: I've picked up just enough through Sunday Times book review osmosis to know that he's practically a saint (or maybe he IS a saint, I don't know). I think he is a saint, mostly for being so bloody good for all of his life, and likely because he was beheaded by Henry and the rest of the world at the time wasn't particularly fond of Henry VIII. Or maybe I'm making this up.