Thursday, May 13, 2010

Diving into Wolf Hall

I started Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, last week. It's not a quick read, but it is compelling and Mantel has a lovely way with words and some interesting ideas.

I particularly liked this part in which Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist, is musing over Thomas More's contribution to the charges being brought against Cardinal Wolsey.

Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, has put his signature first on all the articles against Wolsey. They say one strange allegation has been added at his behest. The cardinal is accused of whispering in the king's ear and breathing into his face; since the cardinal has the French pox, he intended to infect our monarch.

When he [Cromwell] hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor's head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it though the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything; putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale's plowboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and to the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.

I love this passage because it examplifies why I think Wolf Hall is such a wonderful novel and is garnering so much acclaim. In these two paragraphs, my regard for Cromwell is cemented because how can I not love a man who tries to imagine in such poetic and yet concrete terms what another is thinking when he knowingly slanders a colleague? This passage expresses indirectly and so powerfully Cromwell's scorn for More, and it reinforces my faith that despite Cromwell's rough edges, he is the honorable man in the story, the man whose thoughts are worth knowing. With this passage, Mantel secures my regard for her protagonist, and she does it without singing a word in his defense. It's all done with smoke and mirrors...this is a really a wonderfully written novel.

James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors.


  1. Am so glad you liked it. I found it very slow going. I took nearly two months to read it!

  2. This book is on my 'to read' list for this year - but I really need to be in the mood for it, as it is a long story. And I think I need to brush up on my history before reading it!

  3. I'm still reading Wolf Hall and enjoying it more as I read on. Cromwell is growing in my estimation - Mantel has painted such a well-rounded picture of him and he is far more likeable than I ever imagined.

  4. That passage makes me think of our press and how things get put out into the air waves and take on a life of their own, true of not.

  5. Jane I just bought this! Wanted it for ages (as well as many others) but was waiting for it to come out in paperback. Can't wait to get stuck into it:)