Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wolf Hall ReadAlong Parts 1 and 2

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt and Company, 2010
On my Nook

Part I Golden Lines

"If you cannot find him a son," he says, "you must find him a piece of scripture.  To ease his mind."
The cardinal appears to be looking for it, on his desk.  "Well, Deuteronomy.  Which positively recommends that a man should marry his deceased brother's wife.  As he did."  The cardinal sighs.  "But he doesn't like Deuteronomy."
Useless to say, why not?  Useless to suggest that, if  Deuteronomy orders you to marry your brother's relict, and Leviticus says don't, or you will not breed, you should try to live with the contradiction, and accept that the question of which takes priority was thrashed out in Rome, for a fat fee, by leading prelates, twenty years ago when the dispensations were issued, and delivered under papal seal.
"I don't see why he takes Leviticus to heart.  He has a daughter living."
"But I think it is generally understood, in the scriptures, that 'children' means 'sons.'"

Part II Golden Lines

"Men say," Liz reaches for her scissors, "'I can't endure it when women cry' - just as people say, 'I can't endure this wet weather.' As if it were nothing to do with the men at all, the crying.  Just one of those things that happen."
"I've never made you cry, have I?"
"Only with laughter," she says.
Conversation fades into an easy silence; she is embroidering her own thoughts, he is plotting what to do with his money.  He is supporting two young scholars, not belonging to the family, through Cambridge University; the gift blesses the giver.  I could increase those endowments, he thinks, and - "I suppose I should make a will," he says.
She reaches out for his hand, "Tom, don't die."
"Good God, no, I'm not proposing it."

My Impression of the Story so Far

I'm a Tudor England fanatic, so I was drawn to this readalong without question...and it hasn't disappointed me yet.
The story, unlike many others set in this time period, is told from Thomas Cromwell's point of view and is more about Cromwell than Henry VIII.  I love this aspect of it simply for that's another perspective, another side to the story, another look at history to see how it all came together.  This is not a story, however, that can be skimmed.  I've had to pay very close attention to names, dates, the provided family tree, etc. to understand all the connections between people, families and events.  

Wolf Hall is specifically about Thomas Cromwell himself...his early life, his dysfunctional childhood with an alcoholic father, his decision to leave home at 15 rather than be killed by his father and how he supported himself for the next part of his life.  Thomas was incredibly smart, a fighter, picked up on things easily, and specifically was a whiz with numbers.  He came home eventually, a made man and became a trusted, vital part of the business end of Cardinal Wolsey.  Cardinal Wolsey was, for a time, King Henry VIII's most influential adviser.  The tide turns for Wolsey when King Henry decides he wants a divorce from Wife #1 Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and he's willing to break England away from the Roman Catholic Church in order to get what he wants.  King Henry essentially tells Wolsey to get his divorce...or else.  Cromwell then has to stand by and watch his mentor fall from grace because of the impossible whims of the King.  

Thomas Cromwell was a good man.  The love he showed his family and others who needed him are things I didn't know before this novel.  He was a fighter and a survivor and seemed to have it all at one point.  Unfortunately each year all London families fought the sweating sickness, and many were lost quickly...Cromwell's household doesn't escape death either.  Thomas was able to overcome his traumatic childhood in order to have a happy, stable family...only to lose it again.  This is where I believe Cromwell begins to cut himself off emotionally from everyone and everything...that Cromwell is the one most well known during the Tudor era...or the one that is legendary.  I'm looking forward to more of this author's in depth look into the life of Thomas Cromwell during the Reformation.

This ReadALong is a joint endeavor of Natalie @ Coffee and a Book Chick and Nicole @ Linus's Blanket


  1. Oh, I really enjoy your summary of Wolf Hall so far! I don't have much of an impression of Cromwell other than what I've read in this book, and so far I like him and feel terribly sorry for him. Because I'm unfamiliar with his life I am curious to see how things unfold personally for him as Henry's crazy wife changing escalates. Love your inclusion of the good lines, too!

  2. I really enjoyed your review. I joined this readalong because the book intrigued me, and also to practice writing a review. I'll enjoy reading your thoughts the next couple weeks.

  3. I am hoping to catch-up and join this readalong as well, so wish me luck!

  4. Great write-up! Yes, I was so sad when I read about Cromwell's family throughout the sweating sickness. I couldn't believe it! How much more can he go through after the childhood he had! It seems so unfair. Once I got past the first forty or so pages that were confusing to me with the whole "he" thing, I really started to like it, and even more so now! We have 250 pages for this week's reading so I'm trying to get it all finished sooner! It's turning out to be such a sad story, but given the time period and King Henry with his ridiculous requests, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised!