Set amidst the turmoil of Henry VIII’s struggle against The Vatican, and Thomas More’s equally epic struggle against Thomas Cromwell Hilary Mantel’s lastest work of historical fiction Wolf Hall sets out to make us rethink our assumptions about the story’s key figures.
So many of our thoughts of this turbulent time in British history is tied up with the 1966 Oscar winning film “A Man For All Seasons“, it is hard not to see Cromwell in our minds as nasty, mean and universally cruel. But in “Wolf Hall” we encounter a Cromwell who is complex, compelling and surprisingly likable.
Hilary Mantel argues that while Robert Bolt’s play and the film that preceded it were both beautiful drama, they were not great history, and in Wolf Hall she sets about redressing some of the balance by conjuring believable dialogue and circumstance out of plausible historical likelihood and fact.
The result is a book that has gripped the attention of all who have read it, and earned great praise for the subtle authenticity with which the author goes about depicting a world quite removed from our own.
It was a time when The King of England was turning his back on the Catholic Church, and in turn on many of it’s european allies, seemingly driven to do so out of a desire to remarry for both an heir and (perhaps) for love of a comparatively low-born Anne Boleyn. Into such a world was born the Church of England and this book sheds timely light on Cromwell’s role as Midwife to this process.
To borrow a lofty phrase from amazon.co.uk, it was
“a time when the very idea of social progress, and of a better world, was fresh, alien and threatening. It was a time of men who weren’t like us, but who were creating us”
There are as many interesting factoids about the time and the characters as there interesting additional facets to great figures in history, who elsewhere often suffer from fairy tale bi-dimensionality.
You can listen to the full interview with author Hilary Mentel, here speaking with Peter Mares for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show:
In this interview Hilary Mantel discusses the difficulties inherent with writing historical fiction, especially set against the common cliche of the Tudor period as one of frilly romance and noble gentility. The world of Wolf Hall is bloody, cruel and violent – far closer, the author argues, to what it would actually have been like.
She also explains her use of language in the book, not wishing to contemporize it beyond authenticity and yet not rendering it so archaic as to alienate the reader. Part of her solution is to keep the rhythms of the way people of the time spoke and wrote, within an accessible lexicon.
The reviews I’ve read seem to imply that it works.
I appreciate that the length of this book will daunt many of our number, but I do think it will reward those interested in the Tudor era, or in the private personal motivations behind political processes with enormous global consequences.