Saturday 4 April 2020

Light, Mirror ... Camera, Action: Wolf Hall 3

Having praised Wolf Hall to the skies here - for its writing, its takes on court politics and fake news, its take-down of Bolt's Thomas More - now, after an impatient decade, I've devoured all 800+ pages of Book 3, The Mirror and the Light.  In truth, Mantel was by any standards an unconscionable time completing the trilogy; but it could fairly be argued she used the time well because there's evidence of a lot more research having been done (if not, errr, nine years worth) and I could just about say it was worth the wait.  

We always knew how it would end, of course; and in various learned articles (and interviews with Mantel herself) we'd been given hints as to how she was going to settle her account.  The very precise beginning and end of the story-arc (so now get up!) had already been explained by her; and the suggestion had been made that Henry VIII would end up treating Cromwell and everyone else essentially the same as he treated his wives.  I'm not sure that latter interpretation / prediction got it right: the dynamic of who's up and who's down in no-holds-barred court politics is unsavoury, but probably quite enough to account for our hero's temporary, but in the circumstances fatal, fall from favour.  But Mantel's fabulous extended illustration is taken full-cycle, of how poor a grasp we have on "facts", publicly and privately - even for a man with a memory and a grip on reality as strong as Comwell's.

Wolf Hall has set me back to Foxe's Protestant Martyrs, clearly one of Mantel's main sources.  What an amazing text that is: and what a bastard Stephen Gardiner was.  Mantel agrees.  Or perhaps we now need an author to do for him, contra Mantel, what she's done for Cromwell contra Bolt.

All the book prizes Christendom has to offer surely cannot be far behind.  Oh, and the TV version: bring it on (up)!



Elby the Beserk said...

The wondrous Marilynne Robinson* is a big fan of Foxe's "Martyrs". Guess it is time I read it. Also decided that despite having read and hugely enjoyed the first two volumes, it was time I read a bio of Cromwell.

Suggestions welcome.

* She is also eloquent in her defence of Calvin. With good reason, I think, from the excerpts from his sermons and writings. Such as Calvin forged the modern Protestant world.

iOpener said...

Oh well, tastes differ.

I bought Wolf Hall and am struggling with it. The content is interesting, but the unconventional style is off-putting. Far too many unanchored pronouns.

Will I get used to it?

I've put it aside 1/3 of the way through to read some extremely well written fun stuff, John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books.

Nick Drew said...

Fair enough, Kev, but the book is very subtle on big-P political issues (as opposed to the personal politics, where subtlty goes out the window as the fur flies and the heads roll). Its treatment of the Pilgrimage of Grace / uprising (London elite vs provinces), and the split from Rome, can be read several ways in mapping onto Brexit etc

all food for thought rather than propaganda

Anonymous said...

Mantel may be a leftie but its not a bad read, although I wonder how well it'll stand the test of time. Looking at best-seller lists going back to Victorian times is a sobering experience - so many then-famous authors, so many prizewinners, all forgotten now.

Who reads John Wain these days? Emma Smith? Charles Langbridge Morgan?

Am I the only one who still enjoys Hugh Walpole and A.G. MacDonnell? Not to mention Richard Harris Barham?

ND - I think you'd really like England Their England. His depiction of 20s avante-garde theatre is wonderful. And a little aside in the fox-hunting scene implies that the City in the 20s was pretty much like the City of Ernest Saunders.

Thud said...

I'm with Kev, a terribly written series of books with no new insights just the projections of an angry leftie female with all the baggage they carry.

DJK said...

I've been put off by the large number of reviewers on Amazon who say the books are unreadable.

Nick Drew said...

Anon - Mrs D likes Walpole!

This judgement may not stand the test of time, but ... right now I rank Mantel with Thomas Mann

(*stands back from gale of laughter*)

Elby the Beserk said...

Nick Drew said...
Anon - Mrs D likes Walpole!

This judgement may not stand the test of time, but ... right now I rank Mantel with Thomas Mann

(*stands back from gale of laughter*)

12:06 pm

We all have our quirks, Nick ;-)

Bill Quango MP said...

I didn’t manage to get through the first book either. Which is strange as it is a period and person I would usually seek out.

It wasn’t the length. Or the quality. I managed to read all of the fictional, interminably padded, highly repetitive ‘Lamentation’ book, by CJ Sansom. Another Tudor era series, by Another, very left wing author.

Sansom is likened to Mantel all over the Amazon reviews. And I got through the tedious low point of his lamentation book. With its multiple, pointless, sub-plots. The demeaning of the reader by insisting simple information is repeated over and over and over, in case us dimwits forget.
I managed to wade through it, and have read all his books.

But Wolf Hall, didn’t manage more than fifty pages.

Anonymous said...

ND - didn't Mann write in German, or are you a fluent reader thereof?

Always an issue with writers in a language that's not yours. I love Solzhenitsyn and Zola, but its hard to make a judgement on style with a translation. Just have to go for story and characterisation.

(MacDonnell and Solzhenitsyn were both artillery officers fwiw)

Must admit I didn't pick up any leftie anger in Mantel's WH or BUTB, have to reread and hunt for it! On the other hand I didn't have any desire to reread, nothing from the book has stayed with me at all.

I wouldn't give her a penny voluntarily but Mrs A is a sucker for the kind of book which has "New York Times Bestseller" in bigger script than the title. That to me would be a signal NOT to buy.

Raedwald said...

Having enjoyed every one of the C.J. Sansom Shardlake novels and the first two of Mantel's trilogy I can't say I've ever been aware of either of the authors' real-world politics coming through. Both do an excellent job of depicting fat Henry as a psycopath, a monster - "those teeth, those claws" - and Sansom does a superb job of delineating the truth behind the Holbein portrait of a king who stank so foully that folk shrunk from him - not only his rotten breath, but the stench of his ulcer.

Yet under this ugly, repellent autocratic monster emerged early modern England - a realm in which lawyers worried the law, the middle classes flourished and serfdom vanished utterly. Compare and contrast to much of Europe where serfdom remained until well into the 19th century.

YDG said...

"ND - I think you'd really like England Their England."

I'm not ND but I loved it. You prompted me to take it down off the shelf!

Nick Drew said...

I don't really care if she's a leftie, it's good original insights I'm after

which may, in the way of things, sometimes come from the Other Side

Chris Dillow, Brian Leiter (bot self-identifying marxists), George Orwell, even Marx himself - I'll take a good insight any day

Elby the Beserk said...

YDG said...

"ND - I think you'd really like England Their England."

I'm not ND but I loved it. You prompted me to take it down off the shelf!

1:31 pm
"England Their England". Thank you so much. Haven't read it in what? over fifty years. Previously a source of delight. Thank you. I will revisit it. As a partaker in a family cricket match now with over 25 years behind it, the cricket match is perfection.

E-K said...

Alright. I'll give it a go Nick.

(Sorry Thud)