Re: Wolf Hall
Posted by Sterling on 11/6/2012, 22:58:42, in reply to "Re: Wolf Hall"
Well, it's not just in the Lives of the Saints. The accepted version of history has always favored Thomas More. Thomas Cromwell is the accepted villain. You need only look at Holbein's portraits (which Mantel does her best to whitewash) to see how the artist felt about them. (Easily viewed at the Wikipedia entry of each.) The view of More as a Catholic villain torturing Protestants is straight from Foxe's still debated Book of Martyrs, which I believe to be slanted as extremely to the Protestants as the Lives of the Saints is to the Catholics. |
I think it is important to remember that More is not only a Catholic saint but also an English hero. There is a plaque commemorating him in Westminster Hall, where Royals lie in state. A quick Google search located four statues of More in London alone. There are no statues of Cromwell, so far as I can tell.
Manrel is engaged in historic revisionism, where the villain is made the hero. This novel plays the same sort of game as Wicked (the Wizard of Oz told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West) or The Last Ringbearer (The Lord of the Rings as told from the point of view of the denizens of Mordor). I believe it is a clue to her revisionist intent that she chooses to portray Cromwell totally uncritically. The less savory episodes of his life that can not be avoided are glossed over. In my opinion, the novel would have been improved by a more nuanced portrayal of Cromwell -- one that remained fundamentally sympathetic but that admitted the darker corners of his soul.
I have not yet finished reading it, so I will say no more. It is a matter of indisputable historical record, though, that More died for his principles, while Cromwell died because he tried to push an unappealing German woman off on the king for political reasons.
If you can find a copy of the DVD of A Man for All Seasons (Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1966), you can see the orthodox view with More as the hero and Cromwell as the villain.
: When I was a kid (13-14)I had to spend a couple of weeks
: at the house of some elderly and spinster aunts in the
: town of Irapuato, in Central Mexico, the heartland of
: radical Catholic resistance in the Cristero Wars of
: the 1930's. They had a decent library, including
: several volumes of illustrated, comics-style
: "Lives of Saints", of which I read some
: stories. One that stayed in my mind was that of Saint
: Thomas More. He was portrayed as a stalwart in the
: defense of the Faith against the debauched, corrupt,
: and perverted Henry VIII who, in his illegitimate
: carnal lust for a whore (they, of course, didn't use
: that word), forced a lot of people into sin, and so
: basically condemned the English nation to Hell. All
: for Anne Boleyn's (scarce, according to Mantel) flesh.
: They, also of course, didn't mention Henry's misogyny,
: since the law allowed the coronation of a female heir,
: in this case Mary, Catherine's daughter.
: According to this story, Thomas was an excellent
: husband and father, and I remember very well a
: vignette where he is teaching Classical Greek to his
: daughter, surely Meg. So firm a defender of the Faith
: was he, that he preferred to be decapitated before
: accepting to be an accomplice in Henry's diabolical
: designs. All this I read in the middle of the
: religious crisis that took me away from religion in
: general and the Catholic Church in particular.
: Turns out that, far from being a saint, Thomas More,
: according to "Wolf Hall" (and, I suspect,
: reality) was an extremely selfish and arrogant man,
: with a Messianic touch, a family dictator, a torturer
: and fanatic. It chilled me to the bone when, almost at
: the end of the novel, Cromwell and others are
: questioning him about his previous orders to torture
: people for being "heretics", and the answer
: he gives, claiming to be right in torture when it is
: done for Divine Law, instead of the earthly law that
: makes Henry's people condemn him. A terrifying
: justification of torture and bigotry!!
: More in the novel itself later.
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