Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wolf Hall Wednesday: The last pages

Anton Lesser as Sir Thomas More/Wolf Hall

Week #7:  The final pages

I finished reading Wolf Hall this week, and while I can't wait for the BBC program on Masterpiece Theatre, I was left wishing I was one of those people who absolutely adored the book. That I 'gobbled up' the book, like one of my readers did. I liked it a lot, especially the picture of Thomas Cromwell as painted by author Hilary Mantel who seems him in a much softer light than the standard history. But couldn't the reading be a bit easier? I kvetched in an earlier post that Mantel never—or rarely—refers to Cromwell as Cromwell; it's most often he. And while, over the 549 pages, you do learn to differentiate one he from another, one is left to wonder why? Why not make it clearer in the first place? It's a confusing enough cast of characters as it is, and while the story of Henry VIII, desperate for a son and to get into the panties of Anne Boleyn, dumping his wife Katherine and Catholicism, is well known, the roles of the supporting players can be a little hard to keep straight.

Portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein

For those well-versed in the history perhaps the pages turned more 'quickly, winged and falcon-like' as they did for Christopher Benfey, Mellon professor of English at Mount Holyoke College — you can read  his review for the New York Times  — for me the novel was just a tad too professorial to ever call it a page turner. Besides, the book is too filled with fascinating distractions; I was kept busy putting it down to look up the paintings of Hans Holbein, torture devices like Skeffington's Daughter, and the memory machine, or Theatre of Memory, by Giulio Camillo, as Cromwell describes it
"a theatre on the ancient Vitruvian plan.  But it is not to put on plays. . . . The owner of the theatre . . . stand[s] in the centre of it, and look[s] up.  Around you there is arrayed a system of human knowledge.  Like a library, but as if - can you imagine a library in which each book contains another book, and a smaller book inside that?
A pre-curser to the internet? Actually it sounds an awful lot like my brainy son's description of the file cabinets in his head, a pretty common way of thinking about retrieving knowledge as I—not being the brainiac in the family—understand it.

All that fascinatia (not a word? it should be!) aside, Wolf Hall, which began brilliantly with Cromwell's father kicking the hell out of him, ends just as spectacularly. SPOILERS (but it's history, yo!) Thomas More, holding onto his principles and stubbornly refusing to take the oath, goes to his death in July of 1535; Anne's second pregnancy ends badly, there are whispers that the baby was another girl anyway, leaving Henry devastated and distant; and Cromwell makes plans to visit the Seymour family for a week when he travels north with the court. The Seymour family, as in Jane Seymour? Oh yes, Master Cromwell has a bit of a thing for tiny Jane and thus, the plot thickens!

Portrait of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein

So as much as I feel like a kid in school, working hard to keep all the facts and names straight, and knowing that rather than ace the class, I'm destined to get a B- in Wolf Hall, I'm perversely looking forward to Bring Up the Bodies. I'll post my first thoughts next Wolf Hall Wednesday in preparation for the Masterpiece Theatre presentation starring Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Anton Lasser as Thomas More, Damian Lewis as the king, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Kate Phillips as Jane Seymour.

Kate Phillips as Jane Seymour/Wolf Hall



Coming to Masterpiece Sunday, April 5th
Here's the trailer:

Wolf Hall Wednesdays

 Introduction: Read Along with Me






Week # 6: Walk the Walk


For a more historical and anti-Mantel viewpoint, check out this Nerdalicious post.



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