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Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell #1)
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Buddy Reads > Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (January-February 2020)

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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
We have a number of admirers of Hilary Mantel in the group and have decided to read her acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy together, starting with this first book, Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell #1) by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Opening this discussion a little early as it is the weekend. I have read around 10% of this book so far and am really enjoying the prose style.

Because I've seen the TV series, I do find myself imagining the characters as the actors.

Who else is reading/has read this?


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
I've had an interesting relationship with this book: it was just 3-stars the first time I read it when it came out, then I re-read it and loved it.
I agree that you have to get into Mantel's prose rhythm.

I abandoned the TV series as I just couldn't 'see' Mark Rylance as Cromwell. But the audiobook read by Simon Slater is brilliant - he manages to capture the sophisticated, ironic voice of Cromwell/Mantel really well.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
I didn't watch the TV series however adored this book - and the follow up which we're reading next month


Wolf Hall is stunning: a dazzling recreation of the life of Thomas Cromwell.

Impeccably researched, beautifully written, clever, subtle, non linear, evocative, and engrossing.

It is very long, and occasionally I was weary, but these moments were fleeting.

And, as with all great history books, it also tells us plenty about our own times too.

5/5




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Lynaia | 468 comments I started this and got about halfway through before giving up. I just couldn’t enjoy the writing style. Might try again sometime.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
I'd say if you read half of it and you didn't want to continue then there's nothing in the second half that would change the experience. I find it endlessly fascinating how some books connect and some don't. This one had me beguiled very quickly and that continued all the way through to the end of the second book. I can't wait to get my mitts on the final part. Roll on March.


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Lynaia | 468 comments I have found that sometimes it’s just my mood or what’s going on in my life at the time that causes me to not engage with a book. Dealing with a lot of issues right now so that may have effected things. The story was interesting but I was struggling with focusing on who was speaking a lot of the time which made things difficult. I will probably try again some other time when I have fewer issues distracting me.


Clare Boucher | 80 comments This will be a re-read for me. I loved the books. What particularly struck me was how Mantel created such tension in what must be one of the best known episodes of British history. I wonder if I’ll feel the same second time round.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
I read it when it came out and am re-reading on Audiobook. Excellent narrator, I agree.

I did watch the TV series - of course, that was both books combined, so it was not nearly as in depth as the novels. I always wonder what Anne Boleyn's accent was like, but, I recall, they gave her a French accent, which seemed quite pronounced and unlikely?


Chrissie | 1431 comments Lynaia wrote: "I started this and got about halfway through before giving up. I just couldn’t enjoy the writing style. Might try again sometime."

You are not alone. I continued to the end but it never turned around for me. I had trouble with Mantel's writing style. I found it confusing.


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I always wonder what Anne Boleyn's accent was like, but, I recall, they gave her a French accent, which seemed quite pronounced and unlikely?"

The hostile historical sources do comment on her French ways (she grew up at the courts of Burgundy then France) but my impression is that Mantel presents it as an affectation - she doesn't like Anne much, does she?


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Clare wrote: "This will be a re-read for me. I loved the books. What particularly struck me was how Mantel created such tension in what must be one of the best known episodes of British history."

Yes, I agree, this story has been done to death in both fiction and non-fiction so it's a tremendous achievement by Mantel to make it feel fresh again. She takes away the sense of inevitability by making it about, and seen through the eyes and mind of, Cromwell.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "she doesn't like Anne much, does she?"


She portrays the entire Boleyn family as devious, scheming and self serving.

Roman Clodia wrote: "...it's a tremendous achievement by Mantel to make it feel fresh again. She takes away the sense of inevitability by making it about, and seen through the eyes and mind of, Cromwell"

That's it in a nutshell. It's bringing Cromwell so credibly and brilliantly to life that makes these books so special and remarkable.

Hilary Mantel is an unbelievable writer. It's incredible to me that these books and Beyond Black are by the same writer. I have a similar level of awe and admiration for Graham Greene and Rose Tremain who seem to share the eclecticism and dexterity - but always aligned to wonderful writing.

Clare wrote: "I loved the books. What particularly struck me was how Mantel created such tension in what must be one of the best known episodes of British history. I wonder if I’ll feel the same second time round."

I agree Clare and confidently assert that you will have the same reaction second time round - indeed your appreciation may increase. Please keep us posted.

Chrissie wrote: "I had trouble with Mantel's writing style. I found it confusing."

Interesting. I wonder why?


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Re the writing style, I recall that, when this book was first published, a lot of people found the first person difficult. I remember people saying they found the dialogue hard to follow, although this was not an issue that I had personally.

I also think it is easy to forget what a surprise it was to see Thomas Cromwell as the sympathetic, lead character. Up to that point, he was usually/always the 'baddie,' in Tudor historical fiction.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "....when this book was first published, a lot of people found the first person difficult. I remember people saying they found the dialogue hard to follow, although this was not an issue that I had personally..."

I hadn't realised that people had struggled. I'm not always very patient or tolerant with challenging writing so I'm surprised to learn that some found it difficult. It all felt very accessible, clear and totally immersive to me.

One minor point Susan, I haven't got the book in front of me at the moment however I'm sure it's written in the third person. Have I misremembered?

Third person, and present tense, which I thought was great at giving the narrative an immediacy and for conveying Cromwell's point of view.

Susan wrote: "I also think it is easy to forget what a surprise it was to see Thomas Cromwell as the sympathetic, lead character. Up to that point, he was usually/always the 'baddie,' in Tudor historical fiction"

Yes, although only sympathetic up to a point. His more ruthless side is made much more credible by his early life, specifically his bullying, abusive father and life as a solider of fortune and merchant in Europe.

I loved the way he valued family and home life so much, and was willing to adopt people and help them to gain some kind of position in a very class conscious, stratified society - something TC has to constantly contend with.

He also has to contend with significant loss: his family, Cardinal Wolsey...


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Yes, sorry. It is third person, I meant the way that Cromwell refers to himself as he/him, which some people found confusing and said they had to re-read, to see who was being referred to. I never found it confusing, but lots of readers commented on it.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
Ah right, yes, that is quite unusual however I quite liked it.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Talking of Wolsey, I think he is also portrayed brilliantly in the book. I think the way both are looked down upon really shows the resentment of their power - "Butcher's Boy. Butcher's Dog," although I can't remember the quote exactly.

Anne Boleyn's desire to make Wolsey pay for his refusal to allow her to marry Henry Percy meant, of course, that Wolsey could never make things right. Both Henry Percy and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, was at her trial and Henry Percy collapsed and had to be removed.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
I agree the portrayal of both of them is great. I keep somehow mixing Henry Percy up in my mind with the one in Henry IV Part 1, and assuming he had the same character!

I find I'm learning lots of things about this period that I didn't know - for instance, I don't think I knew about Henry executing the "White Rose", Edmund de la Pole.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Yes, there are lots of fascinating details, I agree.

What does everyone think of the way Thomas More is portrayed? I enjoyed the edgy dinner party, as which the two verbally sparred.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
Thomas More is a stunning depiction - completely uncompromising. A truly memorable character


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
I've found More powerfully depicted so far, but haven't reached the dinner party yet.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Oh, sorry, Judy. Luckily, I gave no spoilers, other than that they meet at a dinner party, anyway :)


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
No worries, Susan, I've seen the TV series anyway, and the main events are well known. I've got up to the dinner party invitation now, so the party can't be far behind. ;)


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Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Talking of Wolsey, I think he is also portrayed brilliantly in the book... Anne Boleyn's desire to make Wolsey pay for his refusal to allow her to marry Henry Percy meant, of course, that Wolsey could never make things right."

I agree, Mantel is brilliant at taking well-known historical figures and giving them an inner life that is utterly convincing.

Yes, and Anne's long-held resentment and revenge echoes that of Cromwell which drives the books, I think. At least these first two.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
All the deaths from the "sweating sickness" are devastating. I have found this article about it, which looks at all the different suggestions over the years for exactly what it was - clearly something different from the plague in the 14th century.

The article does contain spoilers, for anyone who hasn't reached the sections about the sickness.

http://theconversation.com/what-was-s...


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
Yes, as the article says, it could be compared to modern day Ebola. Within a hundred years, the virus had almost disappeared - certainly as a killer.

It is also interesting to read how, really, the only possibility for those in the Court was to leave for the countryside. Apparently, Henry was very apt to leave London at the first hint of illness.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
I'm really loving Mantel's writing style and am about a third of the way through the book now.

I had never heard of famous poet Sir Thomas Wyatt's rumoured relationship with Anne Boleyn, which has now been mentioned a few times in the novel - fascinating. I wonder if he will turn up as a character?


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
That rumour continues to coalesce around what is probably Wyatt's most best-known poem, though personally I'm wary of closing it down to such a simple and straightforward reading:

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
I had heard of Wyatt's poem too. I saw where he was imprisoned when I visited the Tower of London last year.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Thank you, RC. I would have said his best-known poem was possibly the one I have posted below, also with deer imagery - but perhaps this was just the one we discussed most when I was at university, 40 years ago now!

I don't remember Anne Boleyn ever being mentioned then, but I see from Wikipedia it is thought this poem may also have been inspired by their possible affair. It seems more definite with the one you posted, though, with "for Caesar's I am" - but, as you say, a lot more to both these poems than rumours of specific affairs.

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,
Therewithal sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I fain would know what she hath deserved.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
PS, I suppose it isn't definitely deer in this poem, could be any wild animals stalking in his chamber.


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Yes, and given that spelling hasn't yet been systemised (?) and fixed in the C16th, 'deer' also can be read as 'dear' (just as 'hart' in the period is frequently used as a stand in for 'heart'), or as a mistress/lover.

Interesting that these two poems are still on the undergrad syllabus for Renaissance poetry! They're wonderful, aren't they?


Clare Boucher | 80 comments Sir Thomas Wyatt had a fascinating career. He was a diplomat as well as a poet and we’ll meet him throughout the trilogy. I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know what happened.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
This has got me thinking I would like to read a biography of Wyatt in future, and maybe also of Wolsey, the "most famous son of Ipswich", where I live, whose heritage is all around me every day.

Has anyone read a biography of either of them that you would recommend - or indeed of Thomas Cromwell?


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "Interesting that these two poems are still on the undergrad syllabus for Renaissance poetry! They're wonderful, aren't they?..."

They are - thanks for mentioning that they are still on the curriculum. Wonderful poems indeed.

That's also interesting about the spelling. I remember that when I started studying English at uni in 1979, some editions still had a version of "They flee from me" where someone had tried to regularise the rhythm by sticking in "now" and "once" all over the place!


message 37: by Roman Clodia (last edited Jan 19, 2020 05:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "Has anyone read a biography of either of them that you would recommend - or indeed of Thomas Cromwell?"

I've read Graven With Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt. Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy which I have to say I loathed; and Thomas Wyatt: The Heart's Forest which is properly researched and academically respectable but a bit of a dry read.

I've also read Thomas Cromwell: A Life which is based on a scouring of the archives and tells us lots about the politics and policies but not that much about the man. Which isn't MacCulloch's fault, but this is a time before diaries, journals etc. so what has survived are court papers and diplomatic despatches, rather than personal papers.

Edit:
Just checked and I've reviewed all three:
www.goodreads.com/review/show/2099417279
www.goodreads.com/review/show/1679731008
www.goodreads.com/review/show/2452026693


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I remember that when I started studying English at uni in 1979, some editions still had a version of "They flee from me" where someone had tried to regularise the rhythm by sticking in "now" and "once" all over the place!"

Haha! As if Wyatt's dislocated rhythms and deliberate anachronisms of language weren't part of his verse!


message 39: by Judy (last edited Jan 19, 2020 06:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Haha! As if Wyatt's dislocated rhythms and deliberate anachronisms of language weren't part of his verse!..."

This is the updated version, which is actually also very old - I've done a bit of Googling and it was "improved" in the mid 16th century by Richard Tottel.

https://www.bartleby.com/331/279.html

Here is an article about Tottel's changes - but the version given here as Wyatt's original is different again, so there are clearly different texts of the poem. I definitely prefer "kindely" to "unkindly"!

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2012/06...

Editing - and this article includes Wyatt's original spelling at the end, including kindely. I'll stop now :)

https://interestingliterature.com/201...


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Thanks very much for posting the links to your reviews, RC. Adding Thomas Wyatt: The Heart's Forest to my TBR. The other Wyatt bio sounds awful.


Nigeyb | 8557 comments Mod
Thanks for those links Judy


message 42: by Clare (last edited Jan 19, 2020 08:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Clare Boucher | 80 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Judy wrote: "Has anyone read a biography of either of them that you would recommend - or indeed of Thomas Cromwell?”

I read Thomas Cromwell: A Life last month and agree with RC. It’s a fascinating book but it’s impossible to write a conventional biography of Cromwell as there are such huge gaps in the historical record. McCulloch’s theory is that Cromwell’s supporters systematically destroyed letters and other documents when he fell from favour. What you get from the book is a clear account of court politics.

I’m about 20% through Wolf Hall and it’s standing up very well to a second reading. I love the depiction of Wolsey and would be very interested in reading a biography of him. McCulloch has a lot to say about Cromwell’s time in his service, and the Cardinal comes across as a more complex, interesting figure than the traditional version.


Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "Here is an article about Tottel's changes - but the version given here as Wyatt's original is different again, so there are clearly different texts of the poem. I definitely prefer "kindely" to "unkindly"!"

Ah, Tottel - the first Tudor 'bestseller' and cobbled together from various manuscripts that he could get his hands on to allow 'normal' people a peek into courtly culture!

That said, Wyatt's poems are notoriously difficult to authenticate as they appear in so many different manuscripts, some of which are in his hand, others not.

I agree with you, Judy, about 'kindely' - not just is it ironic but it also alludes to the Tudor idea of women being a 'kind' or species i.e. what else would a man expect from womankind?!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "I agree with you, Judy, about 'kindely' - not just is it ironic but it also alludes to the Tudor idea of women being a 'kind' or species i.e. what else would a man expect from womankind?!.."

Yes, I agree, and also ties in with the deer/wild animals in the opening section - stalking him rather than being stalked.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Clare wrote: "I read Thomas Cromwell: A Life last month and agree with RC. It’s a fascinating book but it’s impossible to write a conventional biography of Cromwell as there are such huge gaps in the historical record. ..."

Thank you - it sounds as if this would be very interesting to compare with Wolf Hall. A shame that so many documents were destroyed.

I will look up biographies of Wolsey, but it will be a while before I get to any of these as I am currently somewhat swamped in huge books!


message 46: by Roman Clodia (last edited Jan 19, 2020 09:19AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roman Clodia | 4185 comments Mod
The Wolsey biography that Mantel said she read and which sparked Wolf Hall was the contemporary account written by George Cavendish - I don't know it but it's available on Project Gutenberg here. I'd love someone else to read it and tell me about it!


Clare Boucher | 80 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "The Wolsey biography that Mantel said she read and which sparked Wolf Hall was the contemporary account written by George Cavendish - I don't know it but it's available on Project Gutenberg here. I..."

I studied the Cavendish at university along with a large number of other Tudor interpretations of the recent and not-so-recent past. As I recall, it’s a favourable portrait and clearly Cavendish was trying to protect Wolsey’s reputation. However, MacCulloch says that many of the details are corroborated in other accounts so it’s probably better regarded now than it was 20-something years ago. I was tempted by The King's Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey.


Susan | 9069 comments Mod
When I went to visit Hampton Court, they had The King's Cardinal in just about every shop. I think I overdosed on Tudor fiction/biographies when I was younger, but I agree that both a biography of Wolsey and Cromwell would be worth reading.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
Thank you, The King's Cardinal looks interesting, and I'm also fascinated by the thought of George Cavendish's contemporary account.

A shame he didn't manage to set up the college he planned in Ipswich - we just ended up with Wolsey's Gate here. We do also have a lot of other places called after him though, such as the New Wolsey Theatre and Cardinal Park.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4274 comments Mod
I'm 40% of the way through now and still enjoying it. I've just reached Wolsey's death. The strength of the friendship between him and Cromwell certainly comes across.

My mum mentioned to me that nearly everyone in this book is called Thomas, and I've since been noticing just how many there are - Cromwell, Wolsey, More, Cranmer, Howard/Norfolk, Wyatt...


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