Books Etc.: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)

No need to add anything to the lavish praises for Hilary Mantel’s historical novel on Tudor England, starting in the mud with Thomas Cromwell trying to survive his father´s violence, ending more than thirty years later with Cromwell overseeing Thomas More´s execution. However, in addition to being well-researched and beautifully written, full of sparkling and painfully precise dialogues, it is also a novel telling us about the writing of the history, about seeing the reflections of the early twenty-first century in the imaginary early sixteenth century, in the intricate interplay of politics and religion, the violent clashes of hierarchical and sacramental versus subjective and individual forms of religion, and the often conflicting pursuits of personal happiness and political gain — as in one of the few passages where Cromwell looses his usual restraint (566):

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake!’ he says. ‘A lie is no less a lie because it is a thousand years old. Your undivided church has liked nothing better than persecuting its own members, burning them and hacking them apart when they stood by their own conscience, slashing their bellies open and feeding their guts to dogs. You call history to your aid, but what is history to you? It is a mirror that flatters Thomas More. But I have another mirror, I hold it up and it shows a vain and dangerous man, …..

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