WINNER OF THE 2009 MAN BOOKER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is "a darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII. . . . Magnificent." (The Boston Globe).
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About the Author
Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
WOLF HALL (Chapter 1)
Across the Narrow Sea
So now get up."
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.
Blood from the gash on his head--which was his father's first effort--is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father's boot is unraveling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.
"So now get up!" Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next. He lifts his head an inch or two, and moves forward, on his belly, trying to do it without exposing his hands, on which Walter enjoys stamping. "What are you, an eel?" his parent asks. He trots backward, gathers pace, and aims another kick.
It knocks the last breath out of him; he thinks it may be his last. His forehead returns to the ground; he lies waiting, for Walter to jump on him. The dog, Bella, is barking, shut away in an outhouse. I'll miss my dog, he thinks. The yard smells of beer and blood. Someone is shouting, down on the riverbank. Nothing hurts, or perhaps it's that everything hurts, because there is no separate pain that he can pick out. But the cold strikes him, just in one place: just through his cheekbone as it rests on the cobbles.
"Look now, look now," Walter bellows. He hops on one foot, as if he's dancing. "Look what I've done. Burst my boot, kicking your head."
Inch by inch. Inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel or a worm or a snake. Head down, don't provoke him. His nose is clotted with blood and he has to open his mouth to breathe. His father's momentary distraction at the loss of his good boot allows him the leisure to vomit. "That's right," Walter yells. "Spew everywhere." Spew everywhere, on my good cobbles. "Come on, boy, get up. Let's see you get up. By the blood of creeping Christ, stand on your feet."
Creeping Christ? he thinks. What does he mean? His head turns sideways, his hair rests in his own vomit, the dog barks, Walter roars, and bells peal out across the water. He feels a sensation of movement, as if the filthy ground has become the Thames. It gives and sways beneath him; he lets out his breath, one great final gasp. You've done it this time, a voice tells Walter. But he closes his ears, or God closes them for him. He is pulled downstream, on a deep black tide.
The next thing he knows, it is almost noon, and he is propped in the doorway of Pegasus the Flying Horse. His sister Kat is coming from the kitchen with a rack of hot pies in her hands. When she sees him she almost drops them. Her mouth opens in astonishment. "Look at you!"
"Kat, don't shout, it hurts me."
She bawls for her husband: "Morgan Williams!" She rotates on the spot, eyes wild, face flushed from the oven's heat. "Take this tray, body of God, where are you all?"
He is shivering from head to foot, exactly like Bella did when she fell off the boat that time.
A girl runs in. "The master's gone to town."
"I know that, fool." The sight of her brother had panicked the knowledge out of her. She thrusts the tray at the girl. "If you leave them where the cats can get at them, I'll box your ears till you see stars." Her hands empty, she clasps them for a moment in violent prayer. "Fighting again, or was it your father?"
Yes, he says, vigorously nodding, making his nose drop gouts of blood: yes, he indicates himself, as if to say, Walter was here. Kat calls for a basin, for water, for water in a basin, for a cloth, for the devil to rise up, right now, and take away Walter his servant. "Sit down before you fall down." He tries to explain that he has just got up. Out of the yard. It could be an hour ago, it could even be a day, and for all he knows, today might be tomorrow; except that if he had lain there for a day, surely either Walter would have come and killed him, for being in the way, or his wounds would have clotted a bit, and by now he would be hurting all over and almost too stiff to move; from deep experience of Walter's fists and boots, he knows that the second day can be worse than the first. "Sit. Don't talk," Kat says.
When the basin comes, she stands over him and works away, dabbing at his closed eye, working in small circles round and round at his hairline. Her breathing is ragged and her free hand rests on his shoulder. She swears under her breath, and sometimes she cries, and rubs the back of his neck, whispering, "There, hush, there," as if it were he who were crying, though he isn't. He feels as if he is floating, and she is weighting him to earth; he would like to put his arms around her and his face in her apron, and rest there listening to her heartbeat. But he doesn't want to mess her up, get blood all down the front of her.
When Morgan Williams comes in, he is wearing his good town coat. He looks Welsh and pugnacious; it's clear he's heard the news. He stands by Kat, staring down, temporarily out of words; till he says, "See!" He makes a fist, and jerks it three times in the air. "That!" he says. "That's what he'd get. Walter. That's what he'd get. From me."
"Just stand back," Kat advises. "You don't want bits of Thomas on your London jacket."
No more does he. He backs off. "I wouldn't care, but look at you, boy. You could cripple the brute in a fair fight."
"It never is a fair fight," Kat says. "He comes up behind you, right, Thomas? With something in his hand."
"Looks like a glass bottle, in this case," Morgan Williams says. "Was it a bottle?"
He shakes his head. His nose bleeds again.
"Don't do that, brother," Kat says. It's all over her hand; she wipes the blood clots down herself. What a mess, on her apron; he might as well have put his head there after all.
"I don't suppose you saw?" Morgan says. "What he was wielding, exactly?"
"That's the value," says Kat, "of an approach from behind--you sorry loss to the magistrates' bench. Listen, Morgan, shall I tell you about my father? He'll pick up whatever's to hand. Which is sometimes a bottle, true. I've seen him do it to my mother. Even our little Bet, I've seen him hit her over the head. Also I've not seen him do it, which was worse, and that was because it was me about to be felled."
"I wonder what I've married into," Morgan Williams says.
But really, this is just something Morgan says; some men have a habitual sniffle, some women have a headache, and Morgan has this wonder. The boy doesn't listen to him; he thinks, if my father did that to my mother, so long dead, then maybe he killed her? No, surely he'd have been taken up for it; Putney's lawless, but you don't get away with murder. Kat's what he's got for a mother: crying for him, rubbing the back of his neck.
He shuts his eyes, to make the left eye equal with the right; he tries to open both. "Kat," he says, "I have got an eye under there, have I? Because it can't see anything." Yes, yes, yes, she says, while Morgan Williams continues his interrogation of the facts; settles on a hard, moderately heavy, sharp object, but possibly not a broken bottle, otherwise Thomas would have seen its jagged edge, prior to Walter splitting his eyebrow open and aiming to blind him. He hears Morgan forming up this theory and would like to speak about the boot, the knot, the knot in the twine, but the effort of moving his mouth seems disproportionate to the reward. By and large he agrees with Morgan's conclusion; he tries to shrug, but it hurts so much, and he feels so crushed and disjointed, that he wonders if his neck is broken.
"Anyway," Kat says, "what were you doing, Tom, to set him off? He usually won't start up till after dark, if it's for no cause at all."
"Yes," Morgan Williams says, "was there a cause?"
"Yesterday. I was fighting."
"You were fighting yesterday? Who in the holy name were you fighting?"
"I don't know." The name, along with the reason, has dropped out of his head; but it feels as if, in exiting, it has removed a jagged splinter of bone from his skull. He touches his scalp, carefully. Bottle? Possible.
"Oh," Kat says, "they're always fighting. Boys. Down by the river."
"So let me be sure I have this right," Morgan says. "He comes home yesterday with his clothes torn and his knuckles skinned, and the old man says, what's this, been fighting? He waits a day, then hits him with a bottle. Then he knocks him down in the yard, kicks him all over, beats up and down his length with a plank of wood that comes to hand . . ."
"Did he do that?"
"It's all over the parish! They were lining up on the wharf to tell me, they were shouting at me before the boat tied up. Morgan Williams, listen now, your wife's father has beaten Thomas and he's crawled dying to his sister's house, they've called the priest . . . Did you call the priest?"
"Oh, you Williamses!" Kat says. "You think you're such big people around here. People are lining up to tell you things. But why is that? It's because you believe anything."
"But it's right!" Morgan yells. "As good as right! Eh? If you leave out the priest. And that he's not dead yet."
"You'll make that magistrates' bench for sure," Kat says, "with your close study of the difference between a corpse and my brother."
"When I'm a magistrate, I'll have your father in the stocks. Fine him? You can't fine him enough. What's the point of fining a person who will only go and rob or swindle monies to the same value out of some innocent who crosses his path?"
He moans: tries to do it without intruding.
"There, there, there," Kat whispers.
"I'd say the magistrates have had their bellyful," Morgan says. "If he's not watering his ale he's running illegal beasts on the common, if he's not despoiling the common he's assaulting an officer of the peace, if he's not drunk he's dead drunk, and if he's not dead before his time there's no justice in this world."
"Finished?" Kat says. She turns back to him. "Tom, you'd better stay with us now. Morgan Williams, what do you say? He'll be good to do the heavy work, when he's healed up. He can do the figures for you, he can add and . . . what's the other thing? All right, don't laugh at me, how much time do you think I had for learning figures, with a father like that? If I can write my name, it's because Tom here taught me."
"He won't," he says, "like it." He can only manage like this: short, simple, declarative sentences.
"Like? He should be ashamed," Morgan says.
Kat says, "Shame was left out when God made my dad."
He says, "Because. Just a mile away. He can easily."
"Come after you? Just let him." Morgan demonstrates his fist again: his little nervy Welsh punch.
After Kat had finished swabbing him and Morgan Williams had ceased boasting and reconstructing the assault, he lay up for an hour or two, to recover from it. During this time, Walter came to the door, with some of his acquaintance, and there was a certain amount of shouting and kicking of doors, though it came to him in a muffled way and he thought he might have dreamed it. The question in his mind is, what am I going to do, I can't stay in Putney. Partly this is because his memory is coming back, for the day before yesterday and the earlier fight, and he thinks there might have been a knife in it somewhere; and whoever it was stuck in, it wasn't him, so was it by him? All this is unclear in his mind. What is clear is his thought about Walter: I've had enough of this. If he gets after me again I'm going to kill him, and if I kill him they'll hang me, and if they're going to hang me I want a better reason.
Below, the rise and fall of their voices. He can't pick out every word. Morgan says he's burned his boats. Kat is repenting of her first offer, a post as pot-boy, general factotum and chucker-out; because, Morgan's saying, "Walter will always be coming round here, won't he? And 'Where's Tom, send him home, who paid the bloody priest to teach him to read and write, I did, and you're reaping the bloody benefit now, you leek-eating cunt.' "
He comes downstairs. Morgan says cheerily, "You're looking well, considering."
The truth is about Morgan Williams--and he doesn't like him any the less for it--the truth is, this idea he has that one day he'll beat up his father-in-law, it's solely in his mind. In fact, he's frightened of Walter, like a good many people in Putney--and, for that matter, Mortlake and Wimbledon.
He says, "I'm on my way, then."
Kat says, "You have to stay tonight. You know the second day is the worst."
"Who's he going to hit when I'm gone?"
"Not our affair," Kat says. "Bet is married and got out of it, thank God."
Morgan Williams says, "If Walter was my father, I tell you, I'd take to the road." He waits. "As it happens, we've gathered some ready money."
"I'll pay you back."
Morgan says, laughing, relieved, "And how will you do that, Tom?"
He doesn't know. Breathing is difficult, but that doesn't mean anything, it's only because of the clotting inside his nose. It doesn't seem to be broken; he touches it, speculatively, and Kat says, careful, this is a clean apron. She's smiling a pained smile, she doesn't want him to go, and yet she's not going to contradict Morgan Williams, is she? The Williamses are big people, in Putney, in Wimbledon. Morgan dotes on her; he reminds her she's got girls to do the baking and mind the brewing, why doesn't she sit upstairs sewing like a lady, and praying for his success when he goes off to London to do a few deals in his town coat? Twice a day she could sweep through the Pegasus in a good dress and set in order anything that's wrong: that's his idea. And though as far as he can see she works as hard as ever she did when she was a child, he can see how she might like it, that Morgan would exhort her to sit down and be a lady.
"I'll pay you back," he says. "I might go and be a soldier. I could send you a fraction of my pay and I might get loot."
Morgan says, "But there isn't a war."
"There'll be one somewhere," Kat says.
"Or I could be a ship's boy. But, you know, Bella--do you think I should go back for her? She was screaming. He had her shut up."
"So she wouldn't nip his toes?" Morgan says. He's satirical about Bella.
"I'd like her to come away with me."
"I've heard of a ship's cat. Not of a ship's dog."
"She's very small."
"She'll not pass for a cat." Morgan laughs. "Anyway, you're too big all round for a ship's boy. They have to run up the rigging like little monkeys--have you ever seen a monkey, Tom? Soldier is more like it. Be honest, like father like son--you weren't last in line when God gave out fists."
"Right," Kat said. "Shall we see if we understand this? One day my brother Tom goes out fighting. As punishment, his father creeps up behind and hits him with a whatever, but heavy, and probably sharp, and then, when he falls down, almost takes out his eye, exerts himself to kick in his ribs, beats him with a plank of wood that stands ready to hand, knocks in his face so that if I were not his own sister I'd barely recognize him: and my husband says, the answer to this, Thomas, is go for a soldier, go and find somebody you don't know, take out his eye and kick in his ribs, actually kill him, I suppose, and get paid for it."
"May as well," Morgan says, "as go fighting by the river, without profit to anybody. Look at him--if it were up to me, I'd have a war just to employ him."
Morgan takes out his purse. He puts down coins: chink, chink, chink, with enticing slowness.
He touches his cheekbone. It is bruised, intact: but so cold.
"Listen," Kat says, "we grew up here, there's probably people that would help Tom out--"
Morgan gives her a look: which says, eloquently, do you mean there are a lot of people would like to be on the wrong side of Walter Cromwell? Have him breaking their doors down? And she says, as if hearing his thought out loud, "No. Maybe. Maybe, Tom, it would be for the best, do you think?"
He stands up. She says, "Morgan, look at him, he shouldn't go tonight."
"I should. An hour from now he'll have had a skinful and he'll be back. He'd set the place on fire if he thought I were in it."
Morgan says, "Have you got what you need for the road?"
He wants to turn to Kat and say, no.
But she's turned her face away and she's crying. She's not crying for him, because nobody, he thinks, will ever cry for him, God didn't cut him out that way. She's crying for her idea of what life should be like: Sunday after church, all the sisters, sisters-in-law, wives kissing and patting, swatting at each other's children and at the same time loving them and rubbing their little round heads, women comparing and swapping babies, and all the men gathering and talking business, wool, yarn, lengths, shipping, bloody Flemings, fishing rights, brewing, annual turnover, nice timely information, favor-for-favor, little sweeteners, little retainers, my attorney says . . . That's what it should be like, married to Morgan Williams, with the Williamses being a big family in Putney . . . But somehow it's not been like that. Walter has spoiled it all.
Carefully, stiffly, he straightens up. Every part of him hurts now. Not as badly as it will hurt tomorrow; on the third day the bruises come out and you have to start answering people's questions about why you've got them. By then he will be far from here, and presumably no one will hold him to account, because no one will know him or care. They'll think it's usual for him to have his face beaten in.
He picks up the money. He says, "Hwyl, Morgan Williams. Diolch am yr arian." Thank you for the money. "Gofalwch am Katheryn. Gofalwch am eich busnes. Wela i chi eto rhywbryd. Poblwc."
Look after my sister. Look after your business. See you again sometime.
Morgan Williams stares.
He almost grins; would do, if it wouldn't split his face open. All those days he'd spent hanging around the Williamses' households: did they think he'd just come for his dinner?
"Poblwc," Morgan says slowly. Good luck.
He says, "If I follow the river, is that as good as anything?"
"Where are you trying to get?"
"To the sea."
For a moment, Morgan Williams looks sorry it has come to this. He says, "You'll be all right, Tom? I tell you, if Bella comes looking for you, I won't send her home hungry. Kat will give her a pie."
He has to make the money last. He could work his way downriver; but he is afraid that if he is seen, Walter will catch him, through his contacts and his friends, those kinds of men who will do anything for a drink. What he thinks of, first, is slipping on to one of the smugglers' ships that go out of Barking, Tilbury. But then he thinks, France is where they have wars. A few people he talks to--he talks to strangers very easily--are of the same belief. Dover then. He gets on the road.
If you help load a cart you get a ride in it, as often as not. It gives him to think, how bad people are at loading carts. Men trying to walk straight ahead through a narrow gateway with a wide wooden chest. A simple rotation of the object solves a great many problems. And then horses, he's always been around horses, frightened horses too, because when in the morning Walter wasn't sleeping off the effects of the strong brew he kept for himself and his friends, he would turn to his second trade, farrier and blacksmith; and whether it was his sour breath, or his loud voice, or his general way of going on, even horses that were good to shoe would start to shake their heads and back away from the heat. Their hooves gripped in Walter's hands, they'd tremble; it was his job to hold their heads and talk to them, rubbing the velvet space between their ears, telling them how their mothers love them and talk about them still, and how Walter will soon be over.
He doesn't eat for a day or so; it hurts too much. But by the time he reaches Dover the big gash on his scalp has closed, and the tender parts inside, he trusts, have mended themselves: kidneys, lungs and heart.
He knows by the way people look at him that his face is still bruised. Morgan Williams had done an inventory of him before he left: teeth (miraculously) still in his head, and two eyes, miraculously seeing. Two arms, two legs: what more do you want?
He walks around the docks saying to people, do you know where there's a war just now?
Each man he asks stares at his face, steps back and says, "You tell me!"
They are so pleased with this, they laugh at their own wit so much, that he continues asking, just to give people pleasure.
Surprisingly, he finds he will leave Dover richer than he arrived. He'd watched a man doing the three-card trick, and when he learned it he set up for himself. Because he's a boy, people stop to have a go. It's their loss.
He adds up what he's got and what he's spent. Deduct a small sum for a brief grapple with a lady of the night. Not the sort of thing you could do in Putney, Wimbledon or Mortlake. Not without the Williams family getting to know, and talking about you in Welsh.
He sees three elderly Lowlanders struggling with their bundles and moves to help them. The packages are soft and bulky, samples of woolen cloth. A port officer gives them trouble about their documents, shouting into their faces. He lounges behind the clerk, pretending to be a Lowland oaf, and tells the merchants by holding up his fingers what he thinks a fair bribe. "Please," says one of them, in effortful English to the clerk, "will you take care of these English coins for me? I find them surplus." Suddenly the clerk is all smiles. The Lowlanders are all smiles; they would have paid much more. When they board they say, "The boy is with us."
As they wait to cast off, they ask him his age. He says eighteen, but they laugh and say, child, you are never. He offers them fifteen, and they confer and decide that fifteen will do; they think he's younger, but they don't want to shame him. They ask what's happened to his face. There are several things he could say but he selects the truth. He doesn't want them to think he's some failed robber. They discuss it among themselves, and the one who can translate turns to him: "We are saying, the English are cruel to their children. And coldhearted. The child must stand if his father comes in the room. Always the child should say very correctly, 'my father, sir,' and 'madam, my mother.' "
He is surprised. Are there people in the world who are not cruel to their children? For the first time, the weight in his chest shifts a little; he thinks, there could be other places, better. He talks; he tells them about Bella, and they look sorry, and they don't say anything stupid like, you can get another dog. He tells them about the Pegasus, and about his father's brewhouse and how Walter gets fined for bad beer at least twice a year. He tells them about how he gets fines for stealing wood, cutting down other people's trees, and about the too-many sheep he runs on the common. They are interested in that; they show the woolen samples and discuss among themselves the weight and the weave, turning to him from time to time to include and instruct him. They don't think much of English finished cloth generally, though these samples can make them change their mind . . . He loses the thread of the conversation when they try to tell him their reasons for going to Calais, and different people they know there.
He tells them about his father's blacksmith business, and the English-speaker says, interested, can you make a horseshoe? He mimes to them what it's like, hot metal and a bad-tempered father in a small space. They laugh; they like to see him telling a story. Good talker, one of them says. Before they dock, the most silent of them will stand up and make an oddly formal speech, at which one will nod, and which the other will translate. "We are three brothers. This is our street. If ever you visit our town, there is a bed and hearth and food for you."
Goodbye, he will say to them. Goodbye and good luck with your lives. Hwyl, cloth men. Golfalwch eich busnes. He is not stopping till he gets to a war.
The weather is cold but the sea is flat. Kat has given him a holy medal to wear. He has slung it around his neck with a cord. It makes a chill against the skin of his throat. He unloops it. He touches it with his lips, for luck. He drops it; it whispers into the water. He will remember his first sight of the open sea: a gray wrinkled vastness, like the residue of a dream.
WOLF HALL Copyright 2009 by Hilary Mantel
Table of ContentsContents DEDICATION,
Cast of Characters,
I. Across the Narrow Sea. 1500,
II. Paternity. 1527,
III. At Austin Friars. 1527,
I. Visitation. 1529,
II. An Occult History of Britain. 1521–1529,
III. Make or Mar. All Hallows 1529,
I. Three-Card Trick. Winter 1529–Spring 1530,
II. Entirely Beloved Cromwell. Spring–December 1530,
III. The Dead Complain of their Burial. Christmastide 1530,
I. Arrange Your Face. 1531,
II. "Alas, What Shall I Do For Love?" Spring 1532,
III. Early Mass. November 1532,
I. Anna Regina. 1533,
II. Devil's Spit. Autumn and Winter 1533,
III. A Painter's Eye. 1534,
I. Supremacy. 1534,
II. The Map of Christendom. 1534–1535,
III. To Wolf Hall. July 1535,
ALSO BY THE AUTHOR,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Wolf Hall are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Wolf Hall.
About the Book
Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, tells the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, of the execution of Thomas More and the English Reformation, all from a new vantage pointthrough the eyes of the man traditionally considered its villain. For centuries Thomas Cromwell has been widely regarded as the unprincipled and power-hungry opportunist whose influence on Henry VIII contributed to the worst excesses of Tudor England. But Mantel gives Cromwell a chance to tell his side of the story, from his humble beginnings at the hands of a drunk and abusive father, to his unprecedented rise, becoming the closest advisor to Henry VIII.
As Reformation spreads on the Continent, Henry suddenly finds himself at odds with the Catholic Church he had once so vigorously defended. Henry is without a male heir, and, the Tudor line imperiled, has pressed his advisor Cardinal Wolsey to lobby the Pope for an annulment of his twenty-year marriage. Wolsey's failure and subsequent downfall suddenly places Cromwell in a unique position of influence with the king. As Cromwell rises in Henry's esteem, he begins to turn Henry away from the idea of annulment in favor of a more radical solutiona complete break with Rome. But accomplishing such a task is a daunting political feat, and while Henry and Anne Boleyn both wait impatiently to bring about a legal union, Cromwell must plot against his enemies and prepare the country for a fundamental transformation in religious identity.
1. What is the significance of Mantel's "occult" history of Britain? How might these legendary traditions have influenced Henry in choosing to marry Anne Boleyn? What role does legend play in the perpetuation of a monarchy?
2. Why was Cromwell so attached to Cardinal Wolsey? Was Wolsey more of a mentor or a father-figure for Cromwell? What do love and loyalty mean for Cromwell?
3. Why is it meant as an insult when Norfolk calls Cromwell a "person?" What is it about Cromwell that frustrates members of the nobility so much? Why were Wolsey and Henry able to appreciate Cromwell's talents when everyone else merely saw him as an impudent schemer?
4. What is it that makes Cromwell resolve to be gentle and mild with his children? What gave him the will and the confidence to become a different man than his father?
5. What kind of a character is Thomas More in this novel? Does he come off as sympathetic in any way? Why does More choose to die rather than accept breaking away from the Catholic Church? Would Cromwell be willing to die for his beliefs?
6. 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?
7. 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?
8. 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?
9. What is it that makes Cromwell so driven? Does his ambition stem from a desire to do good, or is it just a survival instinct based on his past? How is Cromwell both personally ambitious and yet generous and unselfish?
10. Is Cromwell attempting to realize any particular political vision for the country, or is he just reacting to the situation at hand? Does he strive to bring about a more egalitarian society, or is it more a matter of being unconsciously influenced by his experiences as a commoner?
11. What is the significance of Guido Camillo's "memory machine?" Why is Cromwell interested in it? Does he see it as some sort of potential weapon, or is he driven by a desire for knowledge?
12. Is there something tragic about the fate of Elizabeth Barton the prophetess? Was she merely deceived by the monks, or was there something cynical about her? Did it seem that she ever believed in her visions? If she had not been exploited for political gain, might she have made a genuine contribution to spiritual life at the time? Or was she simply a fraud?
13. What is the source of Cromwell's antipathy for More? What is it about More that outrages him? Is there something personal in it for Cromwell, or does More simply represent a particular type of villainy to him?
14. Later in the novel we see Cromwell come to the realization that his home now is either where there's business to be done, or with the king. How is this a personal transformation for him, considering what life was like when his wife and daughters were alive? In the lively Austin Friars, full of extended family and wards and guests, Cromwell seemed the consummate family man. Why did he change? Is there something sad about this change in him?
15. Did Cromwell truly want to spare More from being executed? Did he do everything he could to save him? What made More so inflexible? Was it related to his desire to always live life in the public eye?
16. As the novel ends and Cromwell is at the height of his power, is there anything in his actions that foreshadow his later downfall? Has he become too much like Wolsey? Would the mercurial Henry VIII have been likely sooner or later to turn on Cromwell anyway?
17. Is there any indication in the portrayal of Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall of the role she would later play? What might motivate Seymour to foster high ambitions? How might Seymour be similar to Cromwell?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I agree with the reviewers who say the writing style is difficult. I'll go one further and say its just atrocious. I consider myself a serious reader, but I'm on my second time trying to read it and just can't get into the story. Its difficult to figure out who the various 'he's' are. Half the time I can't figure out who is talking during a conversation. If I wasn't aware of the history and plot line, it would just be impossible. I'm sure there are other books that cover this material that are much better written and much more enjoyable to read. If it was a new plot line, it might be worth the effort. I'm glad I checked it out of the library.
I almost put this book aside after the first chapter. It was just too confusing. Then I got my aged mind to accept that "he" always refers to Cromwell and it became a page-turner. It is a fascinating look into the minds of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and various other players in the life of Henry VIII, the birth of the Anglican Church, the Protestant reformation, and the Renaissance in general. If you read carefully, Wolf Hall also gives a lot of neat little tidbits about life in the sixteenth century; for instance, the convent washed their bed linens once a year. I hope there will be a sequel that takes the life of Cromwell to its inevitable conclusion.
When I began reading this book I was worried some of the other reviews would be true, having already purchased the book, but fourtunately, they could not have been more wrong. They have issues with the writing style which could not be better, it is what makes the book so great and even thrilling, making of you a witness in every coversation. I do not see how a so-called "serious reader" would find it difficult; as an english-as-a-second-language-guy trust me, it is not. This is a "quid pro quo" kind of book, the more you give of your attention the more you recieve. For those who question the timeline of the story and the ending I would say it is because it is not a history lesson what the autor is trying to give, but a lesson on human nature, portrayed through Cromwell, about how one can rise to any social status by his own merits, but not without tearing down others´ ambition in the process, for as Mantel says "man is wolf to man", thus giving a double meaning to what the title, Wolf Hall, stands for. The content, not just words, words, but words to digest.
From the reviews- especialy those given by B&N- I thought I would give this book a try. I could not finish the book. I could not get past 75 pages. It started out great but in the second chapter the writers style of writing became too disjointed....so much to the point that it was difficult to tell who was dooing the talking, telling and thinking. There are too many good books out there that you don't have to work so hard at to read and enjoy. I would suggest skipping this one.
I'm glad I didn't let the negative customer reviews dissuade me from reading this, it was a treat. The best historical fiction I've read in years, & I'm a fan of the genre. The idiosyncratic, wry, witty ( and sometimes unsentimental) look at the Tudor period through the sharp eyes of Thomas Cromwell might not go over big with the Philippa Gregory or 'historical' romance novel crowd. If you want pure soap opera that plays fast and loose with facts, watch 'The Tudors' (Showtime channel series). I think, in this case, that what was closer to the truth has been rendered infinitely more interesting in this novel. I look forward to reading the new sequel, which deals with Ann Boleyn's downfall.
A fabulous telling of a story we all know but with such depth and nuance! It is not an easy read for those looking for a typical "costume drama" type of historical novel...you do actually have to be alert and willing to follow a number of characters, many with similar names. Oh, but the writing is priceless and beautiful! The in-depth study of the character of Thomas Cromwell is wonderfully rendered; Ms. Mantel paints him with such wit you have to love him! Those who complained that "you can't tell who is talking" just weren't paying attention. The "he says" is always Cromwell. Once you get that, it is perfectly clear. I loved this book, hated for it to end and now can't wait to read others by Hilary Mantel.
The book is full of historical information, and no doubt the author has done a good job on that. But, at least in my opinion, one of the reasons for writing historical fiction rather than a straight up history, is that the author can liven things up a bit and provide a human interest point of view. This book has none of that. It might as well be the straight up history as the writing is tedious to follow and the storyline quite dull. Readers who have a knowledge of Cromwell and an interest in learning more will be satisfied, but the general reader will be asleep long before the 500+ pages are finished.
The author has a tedious use of the pronoun, "he". Unfortunately, she uses it extensively to the point that it is impossible to know who is talking or what is going on. There are no descriptions of life in the time period. The book is a conglomeration of dialogue after dialogue with no clear understanding of what is happening, who is doing it or saying it or why. The book is very well researched but it is maddening to attempt to keep up with the discourse with no minimal prompts available to know who is talking.
A PERFECT HISTORICAL NOVEL. VERY INFORMATIVE WITH A UNIQUE VIEW OF THE MAIN CHARACTER AND THE TIME PERIOD IN WHICH HE LIVED. IMPECCABLY RESEARCHED AND WRITTEN WITH WRY BRITISH HUMOR. I LOOK FORWARD TO THE SEQUEL WITH GREAT ANTICIPATION.
The decision to make it difficult to determine whose thoughts and statements we are reading at any moment was unwise. I assume that Hilary Mantel chose this ill-advised method of writing--not using quotation marks in conventional ways, not clearly attributing statements in situations where more than two people are inter-acting--but her editors should have convinced her that obscurity harmed her effort to make Thomas Cromwell a sympathetic character. Cromwell has suffered from the historians' who have made Ann Boleyn in a romantic figure; Mantel's essentially sympathetic view of him and her characterization of Ann as a coldly calculating power-seeker, is a plausible corrective. Unfortunately, reading this novel is needlessly difficult. The complex tapestry of Tudor England, embroiled in political questions complicated by religious revolution (this is the period of Luther's break with Rome as well as Henry's effort to assure a peaceful succession by securing an annulment from Katherine, the queen he married after her first husband, Henry's older brother died. Katherine was older than Henry, and she bore him a daughter, Mary, but no son; Henry is himself 43 at the time he begins to seek a way to replace Katherine with a fertile younger wife who can bear him a son. The senior archbishop of England, Cardinal Wolsey, is a consummate politician, and he seeks a way to secure support from continental monarchs the Emperor of Spain, and the king of France. For reasons of their own (which Mantel does not go into) it does not suit them to be persuaded to support Henry's petition. Thomas Cromwell is a confidant of Wolsey, a self-made man in an age obsessed with nobility, a man presented as the child of an abusive father who threatens nobles such as Thomas Howard, the Duke of Suffolk, just by being an upstart commoner. This book provides a visceral introduction to a world whose views of society are based on a presumption that all men are NOT created equal. In a sense, Cromwell, the central character of this novel, embodies the view that comes to replace it in the following century and half and is given voice by Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence. As an imaginative examination of the collision between these two views, one can only praise Mantel's book. I only wish she had been content with that very difficult task, and had not belabored the reader by an unfortunate stylistic choice that made a hard job harder than it had to be for a thoughtful reader.
No, the story isn't new. But the characterization of Cromwell is stunning. There's wit, sarcasm,intelligence, tension, romance and a bit of everything plus it's all set during Henry's chaotic Boleyn affair... i was sad to see it end. Frankly, I wanted to spend more time with the character. As a literary escape on it's own and part of the genre. Last year i totally (oh god was it the year before?) chose Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel and if it's been longer than year it's been that long between favorites - this is on the same level.
"Wolf Hall" can be a challenge and it's not built to be a fast-paced read--but ultimately, that makes it all the more satisfying. This is simply one of the finest novels I have ever read. it is meant to be savored. What a joy to read sophisticated, emotional, beautiful, intelligent prose--a novel full of complex characters and a fluid blend of the historical and fictional. It is very hard to describe Mantel's style except to say it's like poetry: elegant, lyrical. Does it require some concentration and time? Yes--although once I got used to Mantel's use of dialogue and rhythmns, I found myself moving at a brisk pace. I enjoy "fluff" and "frothy" beach reads as much as the next person; as a college English professor, I rabidly read most anything and take pleasure in all kinds of literature. But whether it's "fluff" or not, I shudder at the mountains of just bad writing: no sense of sentence structure, grammar, or language; no editing; endless repetition of the same cliched plotlines over and over, no originality, and so often coming away from a book wondering how in the world this ever found a publisher. So to find a treasure like "Wolf Hall" making its way into the mainstream is utter bliss for an English-geek like me:)) To be able to step away from a novel and say, "This is brilliant writing" is such a joy, such a treat. No, "Wolf Hall" won't be for everybody's taste and I get that--but if you love a gorgeously written, ultimately satisfying, read that often forces you to stop and linger over a sentence--this is a great choice that also screams for discussion with other readers.
At times dense & difficult. I am generally a devourer of books & this one seems to be taking forever to get through. Wanted to love it, don't think I'll tackle the next.
I am delighted to find that there are.many others who also abandoned this book before reaching page 100. It lacks narrative tension, without which fiction is useless. People will no doubt differ over the writing style. I found it ponderois. I have rarely read a book so lacking in humor and irony. The historical research is no doubt first class, but I want a story too. This is about a man who is a brilliant and ruthless political operator in a ruthness millieu. There is no real mystery about Cromwell to be explored.
I have a passion for the historical novels & this is one of the best I have read. Mantel brings the rich and culture altering events of Henry the VIII's rule well into the 21s century - making the characters that defined that area palpable and real without any mundane melodrama. There are no heroes in this story - but flawed people looking to consolidate power however brutally. This novel echoes long after the last page is turned. A must-read for history buffs and those interested in the civilization of the middle ages. Enjoy!
What could have been a fascinating look at Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and a critical time in English history became unbearable. There are few books that I give up on but, after reading 2/3 of it, I just couldn't finish. The characters were a jumble that I didn't care about and couldn't keep straight, the plot seemed to wander and weave every which way. On top of that the author's style of dialog with no quotations marks helped to make it a book unnecessarily difficult read. Maybe it is just my lack of knowledge of these historical events that was the problem but usually I can make sense of a historical piece and come away having learned something. That was not the case here. I know it has gotten excellent reviews and won The Mann Booker award but I would recommend this only to someone who is a real history buff and can keep all the myriad characters straight.
do not waste your time or money. don't even get this at the library. its horrible. i want my money back. i can't tell if there is a plot. so far it seems like just random thoughts that sometimes turn into an actual conversation. its like the writer has a head injury and isn't making a whole lot of sense. is this some sort of new or creative writing style, if so i hate it. i can't tell who is saying what, is it the narrator? is there a narrator? and why so many paragraphs full of info that i have no idea how or why it relates to the rest of the book.
I have read about 1/4th of the book and, reluctantly, believe I"ll need to put it away. I love this historical period, having read Margaret George's books on Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. However, Hilary Mantel's style of writing bothers me greatly. My biggest complaint is how she keeps referring to "he" in her paragraphs, as if we know who "he" is! This gets very confusing since there are so many characters involved. I find myself re-reading sentences to try to figure out who she is talking about. I noticed this same complaint in a reader's review of this book (not the recent edition due to the TV series), and I ordered the book anyway. I regret that I will not finish the book, but there are too many other great books out there to read that are less burdensome to get through.
I hadyy been put off by other readers who wrote that the writing style and cast of characters was hard to follow, but decided to make an attempt anyway. I could not put this book down. I like her writing, easy to read and beautiful. And I did not have trouble keeping up with all the characters I highly recommend this book.
I consider myself a serious reader. I devour 2-3 books a week and find that some of them can be a struggle to finish. This book, however, is a struggle to even begin. The writing style is terrible and characters have no personality or voice. I almost made a game out of how many times I read the words "he says" without any following descriptions. Not one to ever toss a book to the side, I valiantly muddled through 55 pages of the rubbish before finally, and for the first time, just quitting. I have ready college history books with far more flair. This is one author that will never again grace my library.
I purcased this book because I was interested in a historical fiction on the Tudors. I found the writing to be hard to follow and the story boring. It ws also difficult to connect with characters.
Was disappointed with this book. Have read other books about the Tudors that kept my interest. But this is also from Thomas Cromwell's side of things. Put it down not even half way through.
At first I found this book to be a bit difficult to get into. The biggest thing that stood in my way was the abundance of characters...and the amount of characters with the same names. Even with the list of characters at the beginning, it was hard to keep track of who was who. However, once I got into the book a bit, I was hooked. Mantel's interpretation of the events of this time period was quite interesting. I enjoyed the book very much once I got passed the first bit. I definitely recommend this book, and its sequel, but if you don't plan on reading it regularly you may find it difficult to keep up with the story.
The writing style is confusing and the plot hard to follow - even though I have read many books about this time period and know how the "story" is going to end. I would not recommend.
Truly horrible. Terrible writing style, boring information, difficult to comprehend, weird language...I just can't imagine how this book can be so widely talked about.. It's garbage.