The Family

The Family

Friday, July 12, 2013

Those Dysfunctional Tudors

I always loved it when the teacher made it to Henry VIII in world history. My favorite of his wives was Anne Boleyn.

So I wasn't thrilled at the way she was portrayed in Hilary Mantel's novels "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies."  I found myself regarding her with the deepest sense of contempt and scorn.

Mantel herself says at the end of the second novel that these weren't books about Anne Boleyn or Henry VIII. They are fictional accounts of Thomas Cromwell and his role in Henry's first three marriages and the demise of the first two. She freely admits that her take on Anne was something she wanted to play with based on some of the historical accounts.

She's the writer; she's free to do such. And an excellent author she is. The details and scenarios she paints go beyond the renowned of the stories themselves. She has deep insights into religion and human nature.

It's just that the genre of historical fiction itself is complicated.  It's hard not to read with a more critical eye. You take what you've heard in the past and measure a lot of what the author is saying against that.

Mantel's Cromwell is equal parts honorable and despicable. Anne, however, is painted as a true Jezebel. Possibly worse. And Henry. Don't even get me started on Henry. I managed to find myself sympathizing with and, at times, liking the brute.

The first book, "Wolf Hall," was the longer of the two. It was also a slower read. "Bring Up the Bodies" was the better of the two, mainly because of the story of Anne. I'm interested to see how Mantel will deal with the fall and execution of Cromwell himself in the third novel, which is yet to be released.

No comments:

Post a Comment