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Wolf Hall (Mantel)

Wolf Hall (Wolf Hall Trilogy, 1)
Hilary Mantel, 2009
Henry Holt & Co.
560 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312429980

Summary 
Winner, 2009 Man Booker Prize
Winner, 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award

England in the 1520s 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 most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel 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. (From the publisher.)

Mantel published the sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, in 2012.



Author Bio 
Birth—July 6, 1952 
Where—Glossop, Derbyshire, England, UK
 Education—University of Sheffield 
Awards—Man Booker Prize
 Currently—lives in England


Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for the New York Times, New York Review of Books, and London Review of Books. She lives in England. (From the publisher.)

More
Hilary Mary Mantel CBE* is an English novelist, short story writer and critic. Her work, ranging in subject from personal memoir to historical fiction, has been short-listed for major literary awards. In 2009, she won the Man Booker Prize for her novel Wolf Hall.

She was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, the eldest of three children, and was brought up in the Derbyshire mill village of Hadfield, attending the local Roman Catholic primary school. Her family is of Irish origin but her parents, Margaret and Henry Thompson, were born in England. After losing touch with her father at the age of eleven, she took the name of her stepfather, Jack Mantel. Her family background, the mainspring of much of her fiction, is explained in her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost.

Mantel attended Harrytown Convent in Romiley, Cheshire, and in 1970 went to the London School of Economics to read law. She transferred to the University of Sheffield and graduated as Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1973. After graduating she worked in the social work department of a geriatric hospital, and then as a saleswoman. In 1974 she began writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was later published as A Place of Greater Safety.

In 1977 she went to live in Botswana with her husband, Gerald McEwen, a geologist, whom she had married in 1972. Later they spent four years in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia—a memoir of this time, Someone to Disturb, has been published in the London Review of Books. During her twenties she suffered from a debilitating and painful illness. This was initially diagnosed as a psychiatric illness for which she was hospitalised and treated with anti-psychotic drugs. These produced a paradoxical reaction of psychotic symptoms and for some years she refrained from seeking help from doctors. Finally, in Africa, and desperate, she consulted a medical text-book and realised she was probably suffering from a severe form of endometriosis, a diagnosis confirmed back in London. The condition and necessary surgery left her unable to have children and continued to disrupt her life, with continued treatment by steroids radically changing her appearance. She is now patron of the Endometriosis SHE Trust.

Novels
Her first novel, Every Day is Mother's Day, was published in 1985, and its sequel, Vacant Possession, a year later. Returning to England, she became the film critic of The Spectator and a reviewer for a number of papers and magazines in Britain and the US.

Her novel Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, which drew on her first-hand experience in Saudi Arabia, uses the dangerous clash of values between the neighbours in a stifling city apartment block to illustrate the tensions between Islam and the liberal west. Her Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize winning novel Fludd is set in 1956 in a fictitious northern village called Fetherhoughton, and centres on the convent and Roman Catholic church, where a mysterious stranger brings about alchemical transformation in the lives of the downtrodden, the depressed and the despised.

A Place of Greater Safety, published in 1993, won the Sunday Express Book of the Year award, for which her two previous books had been shortlisted. A long novel written with a close eye on historical accuracy, it traces the career of three revolutionaries, Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins, from childhood to their early deaths during the Terror of 1794.

A Change of Climate is set in Norfolk in 1980, and concerns Ralph and Anna Eldred, parents of four children, whose family life threatens to disintegrate in the course of one summer, when memories which they have repressed fiercely for twenty years resurface to disrupt the purposive and peaceful lives they have tried to lead since a catastrophic event overtook them early in their married life. The action of the novel moves back to the late 1950s, when they worked for a missionary society in a dangerous and crowded South African township, and then follows the couple to Bechuanaland, where in the loneliness of a remote mission station an unspeakable loss occurs. The novel is about the possibility or impossibility of forgiveness, the clash of ideals and brutality, and the need to acknowledge that lives are broken before they can begin to be mended.

An Experiment in Love, which won the Hawthornden Prize, takes place over two university terms in 1970, and follows the progress of three girls—two friends and one enemy—as they leave home for university in London. Mrs Thatcher makes a cameo appearance in a novel that explores women’s appetites and ambitions and suggests how they are often thwarted. Though Mantel has used material from her own life, it is not an autobiographical novel.

Her next book, The Giant, O’Brien, is set in the 1780s and is based on the true story of Charles O’Brien or Byrne, who came to London to exhibit himself as a freak and whose bones hang today in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. The novel treats O’Brien and his antagonist, the Scots surgeon John Hunter, less as characters in history than as mythic protagonists in a dark and violent fairytale, necessary casualties of the Age of Enlightenment. Mantel adapted the book for BBC Radio Four, in a play starring Lloyd Hutchinson as the Giant, Alex Norton as John Hunter, and Frances Tomelty and Deborah Finley as two of the women who cross their path.

In 2003 Mantel published her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, which won the MIND ‘Book of the Year’ award, and in the same year brought out a collection of short stories, Learning To Talk. All the stories deal with childhood and, taken together, the books show how the events of a life are mediated into fiction.

Her 2005 novel, Beyond Black, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. A scathing, very dark comedy, set in the years around the millennium, it features a professional medium, Alison Hart, whose calm and jolly exterior conceals grotesque psychic damage, and who trails around with her a troupe of ‘fiends’ who are invisible but always on the verge of becoming flesh.

Mantel was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2006 Birthday Honours.

The long novel Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, was published in 2009 to high critical acclaim. The book went on to win that year's Man Booker Prize and upon winning the award, Mantel stated, "I can tell you at this moment I am happily flying through the air." Judges voted three to two in favour of Wolf Hall for the prize, with Mantel being presented with a trophy and a £50,000 cash prize during an evening ceremony at the London Guildhall. The panel of judges, led by the broadcaster James Naughtie, described Wolf Hall as an "extraordinary piece of storytelling". Leading up to award, the book was backed as the favourite by bookmakers and accounted for 45% of all the nominated books' sales. By winning, it subsequently became the first favourite to win the award since 2002. And sales exploded faster than for any previous winner.

The sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, was published in 2012.

Mantel also writes reviews and essays, mainly for the Guardian, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books. (From Wikipedia.)

* Commander of the British Empire



Book Reviews 
Brilliant! How did she do it? Hilary Martel took a figure much maligned in history—and historical fiction—and transformed him into one of literature's most likeable characters.... The fun of this book is in following Cromwell, from abuse at the hand of his drunken father, through his stunning rise in power. It's deliciously satisfying to watch brilliance and cleverness play out to the benefit of our hero.
A LitLovers Litpick (Sept. '10)


In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's arch, elegant, richly detailed biographical novel centered on Cromwell...characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


Henry VIII's quest to make Anne Boleyn his queen has inspired reams of historical fiction, much of it trashy and most of it trite. Yet from this seemingly shopworn material, Hilary Mantel has created a novel both fresh and finely wrought: a brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry's formidable adviser, Thomas Cromwell. It's no wonder that her masterful book won the Man Booker Prize.... Wolf Hall is uncompromising and unsentimenta...Mantel's prose is as plain as her protagonist...but also...extraordinarily flexible, subtle and shrewd. Enfolding cogent insights into the human soul within a lucid analysis of the social, economic and personal interactions that drive political developments, Mantel has built on her previous impressive achievements to write her best novel yet.
Wendy Smith - Washington Post


Henry VIII's challenge to the church's power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century Europe. Mantel boldly attempts to capture the sweeping internecine machinations of the times from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the lowborn man who became one of Henry's closest advisers. Cromwell's actual beginnings are historically ambiguous, and Mantel admirably fills in the blanks, portraying Cromwell as an oft-beaten son who fled his father's home, fought for the French, studied law and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players: Henry VIII; his wife, Katherine of Aragon; the bewitching Boleyn sisters; and the difficult Thomas More, who opposes the king. Unfortunately, Mantel also includes a distracting abundance of dizzying detail and Henry's all too voluminous political defeats and triumphs, which overshadows the more winning story of Cromwell and his influence on the events that led to the creation of the Church of England.
Publishers Weekly


As Henry VIII's go-to man for his dirty work, Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540) isn't a likely candidate for a sympathetic portrait. He dirtied his hands too often. In the end, Henry dropped him just as he had Cromwell's mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, who counseled the king before him. But as Mantel (Beyond Black) reminds us, Cromwell was a man of many parts, admirable in many respects though disturbing in others. Above all, he got things done and was deeply loyal to his masters, first Wolsey and then the king. Nor was Henry always bloated and egomaniacal: well into his forties, when in good spirits, the king shone brighter than all those around him. Verdict: This is in all respects a superior work of fiction, peopled with appealing characters living through a period of tense high drama: Henry's abandonment of wife and church to marry Anne Boleyn. It should appeal to many readers, not just history buffs. And Mantel achieves this feat without violating the historical record! There will be few novels this year as good as this one.
Library Journal


Exhaustive examination of the circumstances surrounding Henry VIII's schism-inducing marriage to Anne Boleyn. Versatile British novelist Mantel (Giving Up the Ghost, 2006, etc.) forays into the saturated field of Tudor historicals to cover eight years (1527-35) of Henry's long, tumultuous reign. They're chronicled from the point of view of consummate courtier Thomas Cromwell, whose commentary on the doings of his irascible and inwardly tormented king is impressionistic, idiosyncratic and self-interested. The son of a cruel blacksmith, Cromwell fled his father's beatings to become a soldier of fortune in France and Italy, later a cloth trader and banker. He begins his political career as secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England. Having failed to secure the Pope's permission for Henry to divorce Queen Katherine, Wolsey falls out of favor with the monarch and is supplanted by Sir Thomas More, portrayed here as a domestic tyrant and enthusiastic torturer of Protestants. Unemployed, Cromwell is soon advising Henry himself and acting as confidante to Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, former mistress of both Henry and King Francis I of France. When plague takes his wife and children, Cromwell creates a new family by taking in his late siblings' children and mentoring impoverished young men who remind him of his low-born, youthful self. The religious issues of the day swirl around the events at court, including the rise of Luther and the burgeoning movement to translate the Bible into vernacular languages. Anne is cast in an unsympathetic light as a petulant, calculating temptress who withholds her favors until Henry is willing to make her queen. Although Mantel's language is original, evocative and at times wittily anachronistic, this minute exegesis of a relatively brief, albeit momentous, period in English history occasionally grows tedious. The characters, including Cromwell, remain unknowable, their emotions closely guarded; this works well for court intrigues, less so for fiction. Masterfully written and researched but likely to appeal mainly to devotees of all things Tudor.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Wolf Hall:

1. What does Holbein's portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell's character that even Cromwell, himself, recognizes? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?

2. What effect did Cromwell's upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights.

3. What does Cromwell mean when he tells his son that "it's all very well planning what ou will do in six months, what you will do in a year, bjut it's no good at all if you don't have a plan for tomorrow"?

4. Comment on Cromwell's observation regarding an earl that "The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he never imagined." What does Cromwell mean...and in what sense is his statement a very modern view of the world?

5. Why does Cromwell dislike the Catholic clergy? What are his motives for helping Henry marry Anne Boleyn and sever ties to the Pope? What larger goals does he hope to achieve in helping ? Are they selfless...or selfish?

6. If you are familiar with Thomas More, especially through A Man for All Seasons, were you surprised by this book's treatment of him?

7. How does Cromwell perceive Anne Boleyn? How does she come across in this book? Consider his observation when she is in the presence of the king's friends: "Anne is brittle in their company, and as ruthless with their compliments as a house-wife snapping the necks of larks for the table." Also talk about the danger he sees for Anne as he thinks, "Any little girl can hold the key to the future."

8. Do you know the fate of Cromwell, some years after the book's ending? If you don't know, can you surmise? If you do, how does it color your reading of Wolf Hall?

9. Mantel is writing a sequel to Wolf Hall—The Mirror and the Light. Do you think you'll want to read it when published?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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