Sunday, July 25, 2010

Civil Servant Extraordinaire

Warning: This post may state the obvious. So many have waxed euphoric (or something) about this book that I really have nothing new to contribute. However, this state of reviews won't stop me from a couple of thoughts:

Two Thomases of Tudor England are set in opposition in the wondrously absorbing award winning novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. More has gotten much better press over the centuries, and it is gratifying to see a less favorable view that is very well presented. More's Chelsea comes off effete and barren compared to the Cromwell lair, Austin Friars. Though a ruthless servant of the King, Cromwell's home life is nurturing to the ones under his roof.

Getting home to that roof every day is a challenge for Cromwell, who, after the death of Cardinal Wolsey, his totally larger than life mentor, rises to become Henry VIII's top adviser, administrator, and general ear. Wolsey's fate stands in the background, however. These are the Anne Boleyn years, and Mantel's characterization of Anne is also original and different from the standard treatment of her in historical novels (at least the few I have read). Jane Seymour pokes her head in at times and is also portrayed in an interesting light.

The prose is also a bit unconventional, and though initially I thought the third person about one person clumsy, once I oriented myself to it the technique worked well. This is a work of original depth-charging insight, and well worth completing though it may seem a bit daunting at times.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mary Well Drawn

Mary, Queen of Scots - part damsel in distress, part slighted monarch, completely the prisoner who thinks deeply of escape. A sad business, the list of castle-prisons doleful and dreary, a journey from one place to another place, jailor to jailor, slowly and unfailingly towards the violent end that, by any road, couldn't be put off any longer. Alongside this slide sits an endangered and fretful Queen Elizabeth.

A Tudor/Stuart tragedy. And, as portrayed in Jean Plaidy's "The Captive Queen of Scots", so so sad. Elizabeth and Mary - bifurcated womanhood? Head and heart? A queen with a realm placed on her at a very young age vs. a queen who started as a princess with no definite future. A meeting between these two would have thematically logistically been impossible. The story would have run quite differently, methinks.

Mary is no solitary prisoner, she enjoys the continual devotion of servants and young idealistic would be rescuers. Plaidy draws them artfully, as well as she does the jailors. The sub plot of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) is of interest as I am completely new to this pair.

At length regicide happened. But, though not Queen of England, our Mary, she may be considered the mother of the Stuart dynasty to rule for a few generations.