Wolf Hall: A Novel

July 5, 2010 at 6:25 pm (Historical fiction, Literary Fiction) (, , , , )

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt, 5th printing, 2009
533 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

Jacket copy: In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power.
England 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 Catholic Europe oppose him. The king’s quest for  freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and creates a years-long power struggle between the Church and the Crown.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell, a wholly original man, both a charmer and a bully, an idealist and an opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: Cromwell is a consummate politician, hardened by years abroad and his personal losses. Implacable in his ambition and self-taught–it is said that he can recite the entire New Testament from memory, knows Europe’s major languages, and speaks poetry freely–Cromwell soon becomes the country’s most powerful figure after Henry. When Henry pursues his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, it is Cromwell who breaks the deadlock and allows the king his heart’s desire. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition–Tomas More, “the man for all seasons;” Katherine the queen; his daughter,t he princess Mary–but what will be the price of his triumph?
Witty and persuasive, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, in which individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. Employing a vast array of historical characters, and a story overflowing with incident, [Mantel] re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Book report: You know, despite being half-crazed, overworked, and sick (I am now recovering from a bout of diverticulitis all ’round my appendix, which was a real fun time, let me tell you), I’ve actually gotten a fair amount of reading done this spring/summer, if less than usual. And a lot of what I read is worth sharing, so if you bear with me, I’ll try to unload it all at once, in as semi-organized a fashion as I am capable. Perhaps with a little less analysis–but does anyone even like that, anyways?

When I put Wolf Hall on my hold list at the MCL, I was 486th in line for it, but it only took maybe seven, eight months to get to me. I didn’t have much trouble holding out that long (patience is not numbered among my virtues), because I wasn’t really sure I actually wanted to read it (in part because someone had told me that it was hateful toward AB, and you know I am such a fangirl for her, but also because of that present tense thing). But everyone loved it, and it was about Thomas Cromwell, and it came rather sooner than I thought it would, so I kept it in my work bag and read it on my breaks and lunches. That habit kept me reading it longer than it would have taken me otherwise, but once I got past the first couple chapters and was hooked, I didn’t want it to end, so I dragged it out as long as I could. Because I loved it. Read the rest of this entry »


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The Morland Dynasty: The Dark Rose

October 22, 2009 at 2:20 am (Historical fiction) (, , , , , )

The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1981
Sphere, 2003
559 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, family saga, romance

Synopsis & Review: Picking up about 1509, at the death of Henry Tudor and a couple of decades after Eleanor Courtenay’s death at the end of The Founding, The Dark Rose follows the fortunes of the Morland family throughout the reign of Henry VIII. The first part is chiefly concerned with Paul, Eleanor’s great-grandson, now nominal head of the Morland family, though he is guided by his uncle Richard. Paul is unhappily married to his cousin Anne Butts, and finds love outside in marriage with a young widow called Ursula, who bears him a son, Adrian. Paul also struggles with his jealousy of his half-siblings, whom he believes to be illegitimate, and this burning jealousy shapes much of his early life. Through famine, plague, political intrigue, and social unrest, Paul strives to keep the Morlands whole, and ever rising. Children are fostered with prominent families, and join the court of the King, making connexions and improving the Morland prospects.

The second part follows Anne, called Nanette, the daughter of Paul’s half-brother Jack. After the death fo her parents, Anne fosters out with the Parr family, becoming close friends with their daughter Katherine. Upon maturity, she joins the Court, and is soon fast friends with a lovely girl called Anne Boleyn. The two enjoy the attentions of gallants and all the festivities of court life, until the King’s eye turns to Anne. Nanette proves her loyalty, staying with Anne and serving her throughout the long years of courtship, and her rise to the throne.

The Dark Rose sees the entire reign of Henry VIII, and all that it encompassed: war, famine, pestilence, the break with Rome, and the rise of Protestantism. Among all the graver matters, there are still shearing festivals, weddings, exciting hunts, and all manner of life and the Morlands make the painful transition from mediaeval to modern.

After finishing The Founding, I added The Dark Rose to my hold list at the library. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Concubine

September 4, 2009 at 8:41 pm (Historical fiction) (, , , , , )

The Concubine by Norah Lofts

The Concubine by Norah Lofts

The Concubine by Norah Lofts
originally published 1963
Torc, 2006
358 pages
Genre: historical fiction, fictionalized biography

Synopsis & Review: Anne Boleyn isn’t beautiful–she’s described by one contemporary as “all eyes and hair”–but she is graceful, witty, and oh so charming. And on her return from France, she catches the eye of Henry VIII, King of England. Though she is in love with Harry Percy, heir to Northumberland, and he with her, their love is broken up and the two separated so that the King might go a-wooing. Unlike any woman before her, however, Anne denies the King his desires, and in that moment, the seeds are sown for a revolution in England. For ten years she denies him, earning herself the sobriquet The Concubine, despite having refused to give in to Henry. And after turning England upside down to gain her, Henry would then wreak a vengeance upon her for those years of denial.

I read a lot about Anne Boleyn, fiction and non-fiction both, and one thing I have difficulty resisting is a new Anne Boleyn book. (Or Mary, Queen of Scots, too, but she’s less popular.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Mademoiselle Boleyn: A Novel

August 5, 2009 at 1:34 am (Historical fiction) (, , )

Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell
New American Library, 2nd printing, 2007
342 pages
Genre: historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: At the age of eight, Anne Boleyn was sent to the court of the Archduchess Margaret of Burgundy in Malines, starting early her career as courtier. Scarcely a year later, she and her sister Mary joined the Princess Mary’s retinue when that lady traveled to France to marry Louis XII, and at the French court she stayed for another eight years, even after Louis’ death and Mary’s return to England. At the court of Francois, the Boleyn sisters rise to prominence, Mary for her beauty and Anne for her grace and wit. Watched over benevolently by Queen Claude, and with the Duchess Marguerite as a patron in learning, Anne develops her mind in a lascivious court that cares more for sensuality than intellect. It is here that Anne will be made or broken as she develops into a formidable young women destined to make her own mark on history.

Reading Mademoiselle Boleyn, and analyzing my reactions to it got me to thinking: why do I react badly to explicit sexuality in historical fiction, considering much of it demeaning to history and historical fiction? Read the rest of this entry »

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Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

June 16, 2009 at 7:42 pm (Historical fiction) (, , , , )

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Originally published 1949
Sourcebooks Landmark, 1st printing, 2008
378 pages
historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: Young, lovely Anne Boleyn follows her younger, lovelier sister Mary to the court of Henry Tudor and Katherine of Aragon. While Mary becomes the king’s mistress, Anne endears herself to the Princess Mary, going with her to the French king’s court where she learns and perfects the arts of the courtier. Witnessing both her sister Mary’s fall from grace as the king’s mistress and subsequent marriage, as well as the Princess Mary’s arranged first marriage and second passionate elopement, Anne is determined to seek happiness in marriage. When she meets and falls in love with Henry Percy of Northumberland, it seems as though her dreams might come true; after all, though they are both promised to others, theirs is an eminently suitable match, and the lovers swear to uphold it. Only Henry Tudor is watching, and he too desires the pretty, vivacious Nan Boleyn. At a word from the king, Cardinal Wolsey separates Anne from her lover so that Henry Tudor might step into his place. From there, Brief Gaudy Hour follows pretty little Nan Boleyn as she becomes The Concubine, The King’s Whore–all while keeping Henry at arm’s length for years until he is free to marry her. Anne carries her family and friends with her to dizzying heights of power, but her time as Queen of England is short, and nothing will stop her once she tumbles from grace. click here for more on Brief Gaudy Hour!

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