Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wolf Hall Read-a-Long--Discussion Four

Finally, I'm posting the week four discussion post.  I was finally feeling better yesterday and was able to finish the reading.  I was way behind.  I'm so sorry for being late with this.  I hope you all are still enjoying the book.  I continue to be astounded by Mantel's writing.  Here are some questions to facilitate our discussion:

1. What is the significance to Cromwell of seeing the woman burned at the stake as a child? How could an event such as this have influenced Cromwell in his later attitudes towards Reformation? Does Cromwell have any specific religious convictions? Or is he more driven by convictions of common decency and personal loyalty?

2. What kind of a king is Henry VIII in this novel? What motivates him? Are his preoccupations solely self-interested, or does he have the good of the country in mind as well? What is it that makes him so susceptible to Anne Boleyn’s seductions?

3. In conjuring Cromwell on the page, what does Mantel create, and what does she re-create from this historical record? Along those lines, how does historical fiction influence the way we look at history?

1.  I think seeing the woman burned was very significant for Cromwell.  We already know that Cromwell, as depicted in the book, seems a compassionate sort from an early age.  I believe that he forever associated that execution as a stain on the Catholic faith.  That the woman spoke out against the common tenants of Catholicism, the bread as body of Christ, and was accused of heresy for it, was a defining moment for him.  I believe that Cromwell saw the Reformation as a means for freedom of religion.  Where every person, whether clergy or lay person, could speak out and discuss religion openly without the fear of being persecuted.  I do believe that his convictions stem from common decency and personal loyalty more than him being overtly religious.

2.  I form the same opinion of Henry from this book as I always do.  Although Mantel does not really portray him completely in a negative light, I think that Henry was a king very much motivated by his ego and his need to forever be young and robust.  I think that part of that need could be fulfilled by having a (rightful) son.  He was very much a monarch who wanted to change the rules as it suited him.  He wanted to marry Katherine back in the day and so a special dispensation from the Pope had to be handed down that her and Arthur had not consummated their union.  Then, when Katherine has outlived her welcome and has not produced a son, he's ready to move on to someone new and sets his sights to remarry by having the marriage declared a sin and void because Katherine and Arthur did consummate.  I mean, come on.  Only the king could really pull off something like that, although he was given a run for his money and we all know what he had to do to get what he wanted.  Henry is touted as the monarch who brought the Reformation to England, but he really did it for purely personal reasons, in my opinion.   As for his susceptibility to Anne Boleyn, well we all saw the effect she had on men.  Her room full of admirers, fighting over her affections, even though they knew she was the king's love interest.  And the scene with the French king.  She wrapped him around her finger in a matter of minutes, despite his declaring earlier to Cromwell that she was too flat-chested.  We know that she was not a great beauty, but she had that certain something that attracts men, and, although there were rumors around that she was not a virgin, I don't think that anyone who fell under her spell really believed them. And so her virginity added to her allure.

3.  I honestly do not know much about Cromwell historically.  Just the basics.  However, I can't help but feel that Wolf Hall is very historically accurate regarding him.  The book has inspired me to do more reading on him and I hope I find him as interesting historically as he is depicted here.  I believe that good historical fiction does it's job correctly if it inspires us to do further reading and learn more on the subjects we found so intriguing while reading historical novels.  If anything, historical fiction helps us to see that history is indeed entertaining and thought provoking.

What did you think?



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  1. Henry does things for both the good of the country and personal reason. As the eldest male of the family, he wants an heir. A new, young bride who plays hard to get can't hurt either. But for the country, it needs a legitimate male heir. He probably heard all the war stories from his father and cronies, and all crazy caused by the other claimants.

    This section is really getting into Cromwell's thoughts on the new religious beliefs. The woman who burned was probably the start of his interest, since as presented, he didn't understand why she deserved to burn.

    Historical fiction lets authors fill in the gaps between what is known. They know certain things, but there are large gaps at time. Although, some authors think they can rewrite history, but not Mantel. She did a lecture a year or two ago, and she mentioned how she tried to stick with the known record. I'll have to look up to see if that podcast is still available for download.

    I was amused by the cod piece reference. Not that it was funny, but it always seems like in Henry's portraits, he's overcompensating for his lack of male heirs with his very prominent cod piece. Not much relation to Francis and his syphilitic self, but, yeah.

    1. Yes, I do agree that Henry did some of it for the good of the country because a male heir was important to the well-being of England. However, Henry was lucky that things worked out in his favor because some of what he did really could have turned out very badly. It seems he may have had God on his side.

      I had a feeling that Mantel was sticking pretty close to the historical record. The book is just so...authentic. I would love a link to that podcast, if you find it!

      Cod pieces were just atrocious. I was amused by the reference myself.

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