|Fountains Abbey with thanks|
to Professor Colin Platt of
Southampton University for
inspiring me to make this visit.
I read much of Wolf Hall in a window seat at a hotel in Harrogate. I had harboured a desire to visit both Fountains Abbey and the Bronte Parsonage for over thirty years! That's the thing with UK-based wish-lists: you can put things off indefinitely. We decided that these ambitions weren't going to realise themselves, so we used Child 2's holiday to Valencia as an excuse to take a mini-break of our own to the wilds of Yorkshire.
And it was indeed the north! Even in the heatwave and with the wildfires in Manchester, the temperature gauge dropped steadily as we headed up the M1. And by the time we reached Fountains, the heavens had opened! The following day in Haworth proved that the moors have their own weather system...we walked sections of the Bronte Way and the Pennine Way in wind, sunshine, heat, clouds and horizontal rain! I'm just glad that I had waterproofs and walking shoes rather than skirts and a bonnet!
|Heading up to Wuthering Heights|
I decided long ago that I don't like multiple books on the go at the same time, but I am happy to have an audiobook for the kitchen and the car whilst physically reading another. I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Bronte's Tenant of Wildfell Hall on Audible. It amused me how often I thought the story was coming to a natural end, only for another quite similar plot arc to spring from its predecessor! It is dated in its courtship rituals of course, but quite rightly is renowned for its feminist themes. Helen Graham/Huntingdon is a strong portrayal of a woman who is not prepared to be obliged to a man who is adulterous and selfish. Like Jane Eyre, Anne Bronte produces a heroine who leads the way to female equality and modernity. What else would we expect from Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell!
|650 pages annotated, and still|
the spine isn't bent! Result!
The book centres on the rise of Anne Boleyn and her determined efforts to become Queen. Alongside such ambition are powerful men of court and a constant undercurrent of religious reformation that was sweeping Europe and infiltrating England even prior to Henry VIII's establishment as Head of the Church through the Act of Supremacy. I studied this period in history whilst an undergraduate and so to read a fictionalised version was very interesting.
Mantel has won major awards for this book, and I can see why. The historical detail is accurate and she involves a raft of characters from the English courts and the international scene. She uses Thomas Cromwell as her homogenising character: the novel opens with the fall of Wolsey, and Cromwell is relevant here as Wolsey's right-hand-man. But Cromwell is a commoner and as such has no right to the accolades he later received from the King. Chapter 2 makes it clear that he came from nothing. He had an impoverished and cruel childhood which led to him fleeing abroad to escape from his father.
|Portrait of Cromwell by|
Indeed it is this characterisation that compels readers to the end of the book. She is sparing in revealing his past, and we stay interested in what he may have done as a child, a young man and a soldier. There are hints of brutality, but they are never fully exposed, so empathy is constant throughout. There is also humour, revealed in Cromwell's conversation with his son when the Hans Holbein painting is finished: “He turns to the painting. "I fear Mark was right."
.... I once heard him say I looked like a murderer," and Gregory responds with, "Did you not know?”
By the end of the book, Anne Boleyn is Queen (I don't think that counts as a spoiler!) but her hold over Henry is waning. It definitely needs its sequel and I think I may Bring Up The Bodies on my holiday in Crete later in the summer!
This is a challenging read, but satisfying. The construct is masterful as Mantel consistently refers back to small details and expands on them as the story progresses. And the title? Wolf Hall serves as a foreshadowing of the next Queen in line for an ageing Henry. The Hall is the family seat of the Seymours and is a prime example of delectable detail throughout the novel as we learn of incest and bullying in the household through apparently inconsequential hearsay. That Thomas Cromwell likes Jane himself may well make for a compelling plotline in the sequel. I look forward to it!