Wolf Hall

I’d heard a lot of good things about Wolf Hall, the novel by Hilary Mantel about Thomas Cromwell. So I finally got my turn to read the digital copy from the library and spent most of last weekend devouring it. I really enjoyed it. The era of Henry VIII is fascinating to me because of all that is happening with the Catholic Church and Luther and then Henry’s desire to circumvent the church in order to remarry (what ended up several times).

One thing to note is that while reading this I had a discussion with colleagues about the fact that the novel is based on real people, but it is most definitely fiction. I like that type of fiction, but you do need to remember the entire time that it is fiction and that what you are reading may not have actually happened, in other words, it isn’t a biography.

What I loved about this book is the descriptions. The highlights I made were driven by being struck at the words used to describe both inner thoughts and the situation at hand. Mantel does a great job with this and it is probably the reason I read it so quickly and enjoyed it so much. And now I’m patiently waiting on the hold list for Bringing Up the Bodies.

I read the kindle version, graciously loaned by my local library, so highlights are noted by their kindle location.

That was the way of the world: a knife in the dark, a movement on the edge of vision, a series of warnings which have worked themselves into flesh. (loc 1189)

Under his clothes, it is well known, More wears a jerkin of horsehair. He beats himself with a small scourge, of the type used by some religious orders. What lodges in his mind, Thomas Cromwell’s, is that somebody makes these instruments of daily torture. Someone combs the horsehair into coarse tufts, knots them and chops the blunt ends, knowing that their purpose is to snap off under the skin and irritate it into weeping sores. Is it monks who make them, knotting and snipping in a fury of righteousness, chuckling at the thought of the pain they will cause to persons unknown? Are simple villagers paid—how, by the dozen?—for making flails with waxed knots? Does it keep farmworkers busy during the slow winter months? When the money for their honest labor is put into their hands, do the makers think of the hands that will pick up the product? We don’t have to invite pain in, he thinks. It’s waiting for us: sooner rather than later. (loc 1352)

Men, it is supposed, want to pass their wisdom to their sons; he would give a great deal to protect his own son from a quarter of what he knows. (loc 1434)

As he walks away he thinks, that’s a conversation I shouldn’t have had. (loc 2564)

Why are we so attached to the severities of the past? Why are we so proud of ourselves for having endured our fathers and our mothers, the fireless days and the meatless days, the cold winters and the sharp tongues? It’s not as if we had a choice. (loc 4562)

But it is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires. (loc 5271)

The page of an accounts book is there for your use, like a love poem. It’s not there for you to nod and then dismiss it; it’s there to open your heart to possibility. It’s like the scriptures: it’s there for you to think about, and initiate action. Love your neighbor. Study the market. Increase the spread of benevolence. Bring in better figures next year. (loc 5356)

If Henry does not fully trust him, is it surprising? A prince is alone: in his council chamber, in his bedchamber, and finally in Hell’s antechamber, stripped—as Harry Percy said—for Judgment. (loc 6045)

I am always translating, he thinks: if not language to language, then person to person. Anne to Henry. Henry to Anne. Those days when he wants soothing, and she is as prickly as a holly bush. Those times—they do occur—when his gaze strays after another woman, and she follows it, and storms off to her own apartments. He, Cromwell, goes about like some public poet, carrying assurances of desire, each to each. (loc 6157)

Beyond the gate, cries and shouts, London never still or quiet; so many in the graveyards, but the living parading in the streets, drunken fighters pitching from London Bridge, sanctuary men stealing out to thieve, Southwark whores bawling out their prices like butchers selling dead flesh. (loc 7282)

You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts. (loc 9379)