Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wolf Hall

I picked this book because I saw that it won the Man Booker Prize and because I was considering it as a present for my mom who likes the Tudor era. I don't think I will buy it for her but that does not mean I think it was a bad book. In fact I really liked this book!

Summary: This book is primarily about Thomas Cromwell, an important adviser to King Henry VIII. There is a section about his childhood but most of it is focused on the years 1529-1535 tracing his rise to power. These are the years when Henry is desperate for a male heir and the English Reformation occurs.

The first thing I liked about this book was its portrayal of Anne Boleyn. I've always liked her, if only because she was the mother of Elizabeth I. Then I read The Other Boleyn Girl which clearly did not like Anne. But this book recognizes that yes she is scheming and manipulative although not necessarily more so than anyone else at court and certainly more skilled at it than many others. She was stuck in a world where she could only advance through a marriage and she played her cards well (for awhile at least). For whatever reason I kept picturing her as Vivien Leigh, maybe because in some ways she reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara (blog entry on GWTW Movie is forthcoming). I also thought its portrayal of Lady Jane Rochford was somewhat softer than I'm used to which is good. She was in a sucky situation and reacted as best she could.

I also liked Cromwell (I pictured him as Clive Owen although I think Cromwell was a bit older at this time). Firstly I enjoyed his relationship with his mentor Cardinal Wolsey and then as he gained power he sort of mentored other young men. This does establish a system where people owe him but I felt like in some cases he enjoyed guiding them.

I'm not entirely sure why the book is called Wolf Hall as that is the name of the Seymours' home. I feel like Austin Friars would have been a better title as it's Cromwell's home. And the book ends before the Seymours really ascend to power. However I read that there may be a sequel. Another book would have to deal with the Seymours more since Jane marries Henry in 1536 and Cromwell wasn't killed until 1840.

Generally I had trouble with the fact that sometimes dialogue was not in quotes-I really hate that. And many of the characters had the same name which is of course historical accuracy. Another difficulty for me was the changing titles of people and how they weren't always referred to by the same one.

Overall: 4 1/2 out of 5

In regards to the actual historical context I don't get the fuss over scripture in the vernacular. Cos you know Jesus totally spoke in Latin so obviously everything has to stay like that. The importance of the printing press as a tool of dissemination is also seen as various smuggled Protestant works show up in England and Cromwell's office. It would have been a lot harder to spread these ideas using the traditional parchment and quill. The other thing was the importance of birth. Cromwell was frequently mocked for his low birth; he was the son of a blacksmith. I know that's how it was but I feel like he proved himself as willing to learn and very effective and should not have to deal with the gentry/nobility who basically can't do anything other than scheme. I think that's the American in me.

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