Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wolf Hall Wednesday: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Mark Rylance is Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall Wednesday: Week #2
Having given us a sympathetic portrait of Thomas Cromwell in the first 100 pages of Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel now sets him to work in the world in the next one hundred plus a few, and we get better looks at the bevy of historical figures who Mantel treats, appropriately, as characters in a piece of fiction. Nothing has changed Henry VIIII's mind; he wants Anne Boleyn for his wife, insisting his marriage to Katherine is illegitimate. He wants what he wants, pure and simple. I'm getting to know the characters so I'll be ready for the series when it hits the states on Masterpiece Theatre on April 7th. Watching in the UK? I hope you'll take a minute to share your thoughts below.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damien Lewis as King Henry VIII 
"The king lays down cares of state should he happen to sneeze, and prescribes for himself an easy day of music-making or strolling—if the rain abates—in his gardens. In the afternoon, he and Anne sometimes retire and are private. The gossip is that she allows him to undress her."
p. 111 
So far, that's about as juicy as it gets. Even so, if I had a better handle on British history, I would describe Wolf Hall as a page turner, it's so interesting, and juicy in a gossipy way. As it is I find myself intrigued with each new character and get behind because of course I have to look them up online before I can go on. It makes the reading slower but richer, even with the caveat that this is fiction. As Cromwell's son Gregory says when he reads the new edition of Morte D'Arthur ...

Tom Holland plays Thomas Cromwell's son Gregory
"There are twenty-one chapters. If it keeps on raining I mean to read them all. Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories."
p. 193 


Good stories indeed! That's how it goes with historical fiction, it does no good to quibble, much as some historians are up in arms about Hilary Mantel's treatment of Sir Thomas More according to The Guardian where art critic Jonathan Jones says Mantel's depiction of More as a villain is wrong; not only was he a staunch defender of the faith, he was a funny feminist! In fact, in the portrait above —a 1593 copy of Holbein's work by Rowland Lockey — the artist originally had More's wife Alice kneeling. More is reported to have asked Holbein to have his wife seated instead. She's the woman sitting at the far right of the painting, the one with the little monkey on a chain. "She should be sitting in a chair, not kneeling like a servant!" 

Anton Lesser as Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner

That's not at all how Mantel portrays him in the book! In fact when Cromwell visits More — the Holbein painting hanging in the hallway — and sits down to dinner with the defender of the faith, Mantel puts some very cruel and demeaning words in More's mouth. More is nothing if not misogynistic, not only does he choose to speak Latin, which his wife doesn't speak or understand, he derides her to the table. 
"Eat, eat," says More. "All except Alice who will burst out of her corset."   At her name she turns her head. "That expression of painful surprise is not native to her," More says. "It is produced by scraping back her hair and driving in great ivory pins, to the peril of her skull. She believes it too low. It is, of course. Alice, Alice," he says, "remind me why I married you."
"To keep house, Father," Meg says in a low voice. 
"Yes, yes," More says. "A glance at Alice frees me from stain of concupiscence." 
p. 200 
I had to look concupiscence up; it means 'strong sexual desire, or lust". No, Mantel doesn't paint him as a nice guy, not at all. She also intimates that he may actually lust after his daughter, the above mentioned Meg.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn


When Cromwell goes from More's house to check in with Anne Boleyn they have this exchange
She examines the toes of her slipper. "They say Thomas More is in love with his own daughter."
"I think they may be right."
Anne's sniggering laugh. "Is she a pretty girl?"
"No. Learned though."
"Did they talk about me?"
"They never mention you in that house." He thinks, I should like to hear Alice's verdict.
"Then what was the talk?"
"The vices and follies of women."
"I suppose you joined it? It's true, anyway. Most women are foolish. And vicious. I have seen it. I have lived among the women too long."
 p. 205
Urrgh! I guess we all know some of those women, both foolish and vicious; what with social media, especially twitter, it's hard to avoid them. A lot of misogynistic men out there too though. We try to weed those negative types out of our lives, and concentrate on those who have better things to do than put each other down, who would rather find the good than the bad. Plenty of women out there who share that outlook too, and men as well. It's not always easy, sometimes the most ridiculous, idiotic, small-minded person I know is me, and there's nothing I can do to stop that silly, mean little inner me from coming to the surface despite my best intentions. But it takes all types to make  make for good drama, doesn't it?


As for types, who would you imagine actor Damian Lewis would model his Henry VIII on? If you said Prince Harry, give yourself a hug.  He told The Telegraph he was inspired by both Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.
In an interview with the Telegraph, he said he had “drawn on the essential source material” of Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels during research, pointing out the story is still a “piece of fiction” despite its rigour.
He added he had also taken influence from the Duke of Cambridge, a known fan of his hit television programme Homeland, and Prince Harry, after observing how the pair approach their public duties.
 “I have actually on occasion found myself thinking about Wills and Harry; wanting to normalize your life as much as possible,” he said. 
“I see in Henry a desire for normality, and as he started to lose his waistline, and lose his athleticism, he surrounded himself with what can only be described as a Bullingdon Club of handsome men who were ten years younger than him.” 
He added he had also read non-fiction works by historians including David Starkey, Susannah Lipscomb and Alison Weir, as well as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography archives.
Lewis, who is married to actress Helen McCrory, said he was “sympathetic” to Henry VIII in the same way he empathised with every character he plays, saying he was “far from being the syphilitic, irrational old letch people like to think of him as”.
“I would advocate for Henry as a man who was surprisingly tender, loving, generous, personable and extraordinarily talented in many difference areas,” he said.
“An extraordinarily impressive man. With a tendency to murder.”

This is my second installment in Wolf Hall Wednesdays; I'm reading about one hundred pages per week, prepping for the show's arrival here in the states on Masterpiece Theatre in April. Want to play along? Leave a comment and / or your Wolf Hall link in the comment section. Huzzah!

WOLF HALL WEDNESDAY: Week 3

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