Friday, 19 October 2012

Cromwell, More & Mantel

Today's piece by Ed West in the Telegraph sums up some of the  reasons why, when I first read them, I so much disliked the first two books of what will become the Tudor trilogy by the novelist Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall & Bring up the Bodies, written so far) which has received so much critical adulation (double Man Booker prize winner etc).
Unfortunately, their success will probably mean that her novels' extremely partial, fictional,  view of Tudor history, written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, will become (once again?) the popular received view in the English-speaking world: it is  interesting to read Prof Eamon Duffy on the subject:
"...Above all, she cares about Cromwell, so that his voice and hers are sometimes hard to separate. His indifference to all that was lost, religiously and aesthetically, when he destroyed monastic life in England, is attributed here to the real Cromwell’s evangelical leanings, but seems to shade at times into a suspiciously twenty-first-century brand of secularism. Mantel’s Cromwell despises the self-destructive “fanaticism” of Thomas More, “that blood-soaked hypocrite”, who is executed at the close of Wolf Hall, though by any rational measure More’s harrassment of heretics pales in comparison with the ferocity with which the real Cromwell destroyed his more numerous victims... " [here]
This is Ed West, taking things further by way of modern analogy:
".... Mantel portrays Cromwell as a decent family man who rose up from a humble background, even if a flawed one. In reality he was a ruthless politician filled with ideological fervour who could have fit into revolutionary France or Soviet Russia, with a hatred for “pilgrimages, feigned relics, or images, or any such superstitions”. Perhaps it’s this zealotry that has always made him unattractive to English people (even though his main crime – the destruction of the monasteries – is largely forgotten). Cromwell had that revolutionary urge to destroy the old, something shared by many of the 1960s generation to which Mantel belongs.                                                                                                           More was a far more pious man, considered becoming a monk and wore a hair shirt, but this sort of holiness (which even in Protestant England was admired) is now more associated with hypocrisy, weirdness or even sexual deviancy. In Mantel’s world More is an inflexible religious doctrinaire who tortures heretics, and a cruel and arrogant husband, even though it was widely recognised at the time that he was a devoted family man (his daughters spoke Greek and Latin and he was something of a pioneer of female education). But he was on the losing side of the culture war, in modern terms the sort of man who appears in dramatisations of the 60s still wearing a bowler hat and using “bugger” as a noun.                                                                                                   Raised a Catholic and of Irish extraction, Mantel once explained in an interview how she dropped her religion because of “real cliché, the sense of guilt. You grow up believing that you're wrong and bad. And for me, because I took what I was told really seriously, it bred a very intense habit of introspection and self-examination and a terrible severity with myself. So that nothing was ever good enough. It’s like installing a policeman, and one moreover who keeps changing the law.”                                                                                                                             That’s a common enough theme with many talented people of that generation, although the problem for subsequent generations is that people who don’t police themselves have to be policed externally. So instead of self-examination we have ubiquitous CCTV, troubled family programmes, Asbos, an enlarged prison system, 80,000 in care and hundreds of thousands of professional social and youth workers – and a hugely expanded state to deal with all of this. And just like in 16th-century England, the new regime has its intolerant fanatics too, and its idea about what constitutes blasphemy.                                                                    But that, I admit, is a rather More-ist loser-of-history analysis of our times."

Read it all here 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will not be published