December Selection: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

At our meeting on December 4, 2012 we discussed Neil Bergeson’s selection, Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel.

Neil provides the following post-discussion comments:

Thanks to each of you for the rousing, entertaining and intelligent discussion of Wolf Hall. What fun! You all made it so easy for me as the “leader” (?) that I might even consent to do it again someday. And a special thanks to Bill for letting us use his lovely home for a couple of hours. So much better than any public place I can imagine.

Here are some links you might find interesting:
For those who might not have gone home with a copy of the Tudor England map . . . .

The timeline sheet is an edited version of one I found on the internet and copied into my word processor. I’ve attached it here for you if you didn’t get a copy at the meeting.
Some Important European Events: 1450 – 1610
1453 Gutenberg Bible printed using moveable type;
Turks conquer Constantinople and end Byzantine Empire
1487 Portugese sail to South America
1492 Columbus discovers America
1497 Vasco da Gama discovers a sea route to India
1503 DaVincis Mona Lisa painted
1508 Michelangelo begins painting Sistine Chapel ceiling
1509 Henry VIII becomes King of England
1513 Ponce de Leon discovers Florida;
Balboa discovers the Pacific Ocean
1517 Martin Luther posts 95 Theses in Wittenberg;
Spanish conquistadors land in Mexico, begin conquest of the Aztecs and central America
1519 Magellan begins circumnavigation of the earth
1522 Luther completes translation of the New Testament into German
1525 Anabaptist Swiss Brethren organized in Zurich;
William Tyndales English Bible printed in Germany
1531 Henry VIII becomes Supreme Head of the church in England
1532 Machiavellis The Prince published
1536 Calvins Institutes of the Christian Religion published
1541 John Knox leads Calvinist Reformation in Scotland
1542 Portugese traders and Jesuit missionaries arrive in Japan
1546 Mercator states that the earth has a magnetic pole
1558 Elizabeth I crowned Queen of England
1563 General outbreak of the Black Plague in Europe
1564 William Shakespeare born
1572 St. Bartholomews Day massacre in Paris-2,000 Protestants killed
1577 Sir Francis Drake begins around-the-world cruise
1582 Gregorian calendar adopted
1588 Spanish Armada destroyed in the English Channel
1596 Galileo invents the thermometer
1602 Dutch East India Company founded
1605 Cervantess Don Quixote published
1607 First permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown

For you movie buffs, here is the link to the four page list of films and TV presentations having to do with the Tudor dynasty. Fun to read the list even if you never order a single one of them.

If you are so inclined, here are a couple of mnemonic suggestions for remembering the English Royal Dynasties or the list of English Kings and Queens:

I was going to list a few more but it hardly seems necessary. Those who find that people and the time period interesting enough to want to learn more can find lots of material by Googling on your own. There must be millions of pages to sift through. As for me, I think I’ve had about enough for a while.

Now then, as for Greenblatt. Disgusting as it is, I be grudgingly accept my errors in thinking about the article Richard shared with us. I’d read it twice before the meeting and once again yesterday afternoon. Now I can readily see that he praises Mantel for her restraint in keeping to the present tense as she explores Cromwell’s view of events during the time period of her Wolf Hall book. My first impression was that he was criticizing her for giving us an incomplete picture of the man, that she ought to have in some way foreshadowed later events, thereby supplying us with a more accurate and complete picture of the type of man Cromwell really was. He was praising her for doing what she and every other author of historical fiction struggles with, remaining in the here and now, not getting the future mixed up in the present. As she put it in a presentation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last summer (as reported at ):
“The essence of the thing is not to judge with hindsight, not to pass judgment from the lofty perch of the 21st century when we know what happened. It’s to be there with them in that hunting party at Wolf Hall, moving forward with imperfect information and perhaps wrong expectations, but in any case moving forward into a future that is not predetermined, but where chance and hazard will play a terrific role.”

My apologies to Stephen Greenblatt.

Now, off we go, leaping 350 years or so ahead into Victorian England to examine Edmund Gosse’s version of his own coming of age struggle (something King Henry VIII seemed never to be concerned about). Our January meeting appears to be another spirited one. Those of us who continue to struggle with our personal coming of age-ness look forward to the sage advice of those who have fought the battle and come home the winner.



About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
This entry was posted in 2012 Selections, Wolf Hall and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to December Selection: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

  1. Ron Boothe says:

    Here are some links about Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall–

    David Smith provides the following link to a fascinating article in The New Yorker about Hilary Mantel:

    and an interview with her on Fresh Air on NPR

    Richard Smaby provides this link to a review by Stephen Greenblatt in The New York Review of Books:

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