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Wolf Hall Discussion!!
October 1, 2010
4:22 am
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Boleynfan
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Today starts the Wolf Hall book club discussion! Everyone who wants to participate, feel more than welcome. Post your comments, thoughts, anything about the book here!

 

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

October 1, 2010
7:58 am
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Claire
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I don’t know whether you want to work through the discussion questions from the publisher. I’ve put them below. I was interested in the fact that the novel made me empathise with Cromwell, and also Wolsey at the start, but made me hate Thomas More, he was so cruel to his daughter with the peas in the box trick.

Here are the discussion questions:-

 

1. What is the significance of Mantel’s “occult” history of Britain? How might these legendary traditions have influenced Henry in choosing to marry Anne Boleyn? What role does legend play in the perpetuation of a monarchy?
2.Why was Cromwell so attached to Cardinal Wolsey? Was Wolsey more of a mentor or a father-figure for Cromwell? What do love and loyalty mean for Cromwell?
3.Why is it meant as an insult when Norfolk calls Cromwell a “person?” What is it about Cromwell that frustrates members of the nobility so much? Why were Wolsey and Henry able to appreciate Cromwell’s talents when everyone else merely saw him as an impudent schemer?
4.What is it that makes Cromwell resolve to be gentle and mild with his children? What gave him the will and the confidence to become a different man than his father?
5.What kind of a character is Thomas More in this novel? Does he come off as sympathetic in any way? Why does More choose to die rather than accept breaking away from the Catholic Church? Would Cromwell be willing to die for his beliefs?
6.What is the significance to Cromwell of seeing the woman burned at the stake as a child? How could an event such as this have influenced Cromwell in his later attitudes towards Reformation? Does Cromwell have any specific religious convictions? Or is he more driven by convictions of common decency and personal loyalty?
7.What kind of a king is Henry VIII in this novel? What motivates him? Are his preoccupations solely self-interested, or does he have the good of the country in mind as well? What is it that makes him so susceptible to Anne Boleyn’s seductions?
8.In conjuring Cromwell on the page, what does Mantel create, and what does she re-create from this historical record? Along those lines, how does historical fiction influence the way we look at history?
9.What is it that makes Cromwell so driven? Does his ambition stem from a desire to do good, or is it just a survival instinct based on his past? How is Cromwell both personally ambitious and yet generous and unselfish?
10.Is Cromwell attempting to realize any particular political vision for the country, or is he just reacting to the situation at hand? Does he strive to bring about a more egalitarian society, or is it more a matter of being unconsciously influenced by his experiences as a commoner?
11.What is the significance of Guido Camillo’s “memory machine?” Why is Cromwell interested in it? Does he see it as some sort of potential weapon, or is he driven by a desire for knowledge?
12.Is there something tragic about the fate of Elizabeth Barton the prophetess? Was she merely deceived by the monks, or was there something cynical about her? Did it seem that she ever believed in her visions? If she had not been exploited for political gain, might she have made a genuine contribution to spiritual life at the time? Or was she simply a fraud?
13.What is the source of Cromwell’s antipathy for More? What is it about More that outrages him? Is there something personal in it for Cromwell, or does More simply represent a particular type of villainy to him?
14.Later in the novel we see Cromwell come to the realization that his home now is either where there’s business to be done, or with the king. How is this a personal transformation for him, considering what life was like when his wife and daughters were alive? In the lively Austin Friars, full of extended family and wards and guests, Cromwell seemed the consummate family man. Why did he change? Is there something sad about this change in him?
15.Did Cromwell truly want to spare More from being executed? Did he do everything he could to save him? What made More so inflexible? Was it related to his desire to always live life in the public eye?
16.As the novel ends and Cromwell is at the height of his power, is there anything in his actions that foreshadow his later downfall? Has he become too much like Wolsey? Would the mercurial Henry VIII have been likely sooner or later to turn on Cromwell anyway?
17.Is there any indication in the portrayal of Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall of the role she would later play? What might motivate Seymour to foster high ambitions? How might Seymour be similar to Cromwell?

 

Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn

October 1, 2010
8:30 am
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Bambaleyn
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I’ll consider the discussion questions when I’m not in work, but I personally loved this book.

It ‘humanises’ (if that is the right word) Cromwell and made me empathise with him – the Cromwell character in the novel is dry, witty, thorough, and generous to his family and friends. I got the feeling, throughout the novel, that there was no limit to what he could achieve, absolutely nothing that could not be done once he turned his hand to it.

I also loved the Wolsey character in the book – he seems a little bit mischievous in his own way – the part about him summoning an evil spirit to follow Norfolk around had me laughing out loud – and Cromwell’s imagined response to it.

It’s interesting I found, that in real life, Cromwell is somewhat disliked while Thomas More is a saint, whereas this novel almost switches them completely – More is really unlikeable here.

The depiction of Anne I thought was interesting. There is plenty of negative description, but our quick-witted, clever Anne is there too.

~ Team Anne ~

October 2, 2010
4:22 pm
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Jaye
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This was such a brilliant book on so many levels.
Just a few highlights that come to mind:

Thomas Cromwell’s deep love for his son.  Throughout the book there were references that Gregory was different from his father, did not have an aptitude for “affairs”, and that he was a more gentler soul. I’m wondering if in the sequel to Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel will reveal some dark secrets of Cromwell….he definitely strikes me as a person that feels the end justifies the means and he will to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The book spends a lot of time on the “Maid of Kent”.  Again Cromwell states he ensured she was never really mistreated yet he also wonders if she will still be alive in time for her execution.  I do wonder if there was a reason why Mantel devoted so much time to this character, perhaps it shows the crossroads of English society between superstition and modern reasoning.

I am also a bit puzzled why Cromwell acted like such a silly, willy towards both Mary Bolyen and Jane Seymour. I can understand any man being intrigued with Mary, she was obviously physically attractive and charming enough to be a mistress of two kings.  Yet he also went all googly eyed over Jane Seymour too…what is up with that?? I thought he would be more rationale minded.

Finally there is the running joke throughout the book about Yorkshire and what a backward place of ill-repute it was.  I’m not sure I get this joke, and would like if other readers would like to comment on this.

thanks for listening..   JayeKiss  

October 11, 2010
11:53 am
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Sharon
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Cromwell was human after all, and he even had a sense of humor.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of his remarks.  Wolsey, too.  Who knew? 

I found him to be a loving family man.  A man who could take an insult and still persevere.  When Norfolk calls him a “”person,” Cromwell seemed to take it in stride.  Norfolk was totally calling him common and reaching too high above his place.  I found it very insulting.

I found it difficult to like any of the characters.  I didn’t even like Anne.  She was mean and nasty.  When she wasn’t being a complete bitch, she was depressed.  Mary coming on to Cromwell was distasteful.  I was very happy when she finally met Stafford and that whole thing with Cromwell was over.  Was that to prove that she would try to bed everyone at court?  Did not like it.

Dear sweet Jane…Could he want her for himself?  Nothing but praise from him for her. At first he tried to get permission for his son to marry Jane.  Later, he wants her for himself. He was mapping out the Progress at the end and decided to take that detour to Wolf Hall.  It was going to be a pleasant detour for him.  He was going to see Jane.  What a surprise he has coming.  Although I have to say, I think they would have been perfect for each other. 

Cromwell is loyal to his bosses.  He was loyal to Wolsey, and I think he loved him like a Father.  Wolsey taught him the ins and outs of court life. Cromwell was groomed by Wolsey to take his place at the king’s side. 

  Some people turn out to be abusers just like the parent who abused them.  Not Cromwell.  He was a good Father, and family man. He made sure of it.  I liked that about him. 

Once he started working for the King his loyalty was given to Henry, and only to him. Everything he learned about the people at court he filed away for future use. Every little innocuous thing that was said about someone, was remembered by Cromwell.

Cromwell disliked Thomas More a great deal.  However, he did try a few times to get More to sign the paper that would spare his life, but More had already decided he was going to martyr himself. 

I did enjoy the book and I am looking forward to the sequel.

October 17, 2010
6:05 pm
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Boleynfan
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I liked the book a lot as well. The Cromwell in this book was different than the character I’d known before (i.e. an unfeeling, worm-like lawyer hovering and listening at keyholes) and I actually liked him. I agree about Anne: I was slightly angry that she was portrayed so awfully. One quote I seem to remember vividly: “she was a calculating being, with a slick cold brain behind her hungry black eyes.” I belive it’s that exactly with maybe a wrong word or two, but anyway it upset me, being such a fan of Anne! That being said, I understand why Hilary Mantel made her such.

At the very beginning I was slightly unsure because I thought the book seemed a bit dry, but after the first few chapters my opinion quickly got better! By the middle I was completely hooked. I don’t have much time here, I wish I had more, but I want to answer this one question from Claire (by the way, thanks for the questions!! They really got me thinking!):

What is the significance to Cromwell of seeing the woman burned at the stake as a child? How could an event such as this have influenced Cromwell in his later attitudes towards Reformation? Does Cromwell have any specific religious convictions? Or is he more driven by convictions of common decency and personal loyalty?
Here’s my answers: I think Cromwell is influenced by seeing the woman burned at the stake, and his dislike for the Catholic Church really begins here. Later he would always remember this awful occurence, which would push him towards Reformation. I also believe he is “more driven by convictions of common decency and personal loyalty” to quote the question.

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

October 21, 2010
10:35 am
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Sharon
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Alyssa, you said you understood why Mantel made Anne the way she was in the book.  Could you explain that a little, because I did not get it?  But I’ll try.

I agree with you about Cromwell’s seeing the woman burned at the stake.  I think it affected and shaped his future choice of the Reformation and his opposition to the Catholic Church.  I do believe he was driven by his convictions of common decency and personal loyalty rather than a specific religious conviction.   

October 24, 2010
10:11 am
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Boleynfan
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Well, I was upset too how Anne was portrayed, but I don't think the Cromwell that was portrayed in the book would have helped Henry with Anne's framing, etc. if he thought she was a wonderful person. Also, the title of the book is Wolf Hall, really, the home of Jane Seymour.

I especially thought the way the Nun of Kent was portrayed was quite interesting, and I loved the way Mantel made Cromwell's character.

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

October 25, 2010
9:08 am
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Sharon
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I see your point. I think the Cromwell in this book would have done whatever his King wanted him to do against anyone whether Cromwell liked them or not.  I don't think this Cromwell allowed himself to like too many people at court.  If he had gotten too close, he would have found himself in a difficult position having to be rid of them for his King.  That must be why I couldn't get close to any of the characters other than Cromwell. I was seeing the court through Cromwell's eyes.  I agree with you, I really enjoyed Cromwell in this book.

October 26, 2010
8:47 am
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Claire
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I think that Anne was portrayed the way she was because we were seeing the various characters through Cromwell's eyes, which also meant that we were getting his take on events.

I actually found it really hard to get into the book. I'm not sure whether it was because I had just been reading C J Sansom's books, which are real page-turners, but I found Wolf Hall quite dry and had to actually force myself to keep reading which is very unlike me because I'm a complete bookworm. I did like the way that she depicted Cromwell though, it was good to empathise with him.

Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn

October 30, 2010
4:37 pm
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Boleynfan
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Claire,

I definitely see what you mean. I said earlier that at first I found it a bit dry, and that was a kind way of putting it because I said “a few chapters” and it really took me about one-third of the book to get interested! But after that my liking for it mounted, although I admit that I started another book about halfway through and read it on the side, so it took me even longer than it usually would to get through it. That being said, I think that Hilary Mantel is a fantastic writer: I can definitely see why she won the Man Booker Award, because though you could argue Wolf Hall isn't the best page turner, it's very meaningful and a great piece of (dryer than I would prefer) literature.

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

November 18, 2010
10:23 am
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Anyanka
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Jaye said:

Finally there is the running joke throughout the book about Yorkshire and what a backward place of ill-repute it was.  I'm not sure I get this joke, and would like if other readers would like to comment on this.

thanks for listening..   JayeKiss  


 

At that time Yorkshire was several days journey into a much wilder country. This would give the impression that the people were behind the times with news, gossip and fashions. Sadly this attitude was still prevalent in the 1980's when I moved from the North-East to London.

Plus, it could play into the impression that the former Yorkists kings were licentious and worth being replaced by the Tudor dynasty.

It's always bunnies.

November 18, 2010
12:04 pm
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Sharon
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Hi Anyanka and welcome. Love your signature.

This is a bit off topic, but it is in reference to the north country.  I had no idea what the reference to Yorkshire meant in the book either.   I was listening to an entertainment broadcast yesterday and they were talking about a movie that is being released soon called “Made In Dagenham.”  It is a dramatization of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination. They wanted equal pay. Looks like an excellent movie.The girl who was reviewing the film said the woman who started the strike had two things going against her.  (1) She was female.   (2) She was from northern England. In other words they thought she wasn't very bright.  (the reviewer's words, not mine)

It reminded me of the remarks I'd read in “Wolf Hall.”  So, thank you for the explanation.

November 19, 2010
3:00 am
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Claire
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Oooh, you'be brought up the whole North/South divide! Traditionally, there is a joke that you're a Northerner if you were born anywhere north of the Watford Gap which is near Daventry in Northamptonshire (in the Midlands). Some rather insular southerners believe that there is nowhere else of importance outside of London and that may have been the same in Tudor times. Not so long ago, you could only be a BBC newsreader/TV presenter if you spoke the “Queen's English” in a posh southern way, northern accents were definitely looked down upon but these days there are all sorts of accents on TV. 

I'm a Northerner by birth (born in Lancashire), half Welsh and half English, and a Midlander by upbringing (Warwickshire), although the Midlands is seen as the North by most Southerners. I have lived in both the Midlands and the South and here are the differences I have noticed and when I say South I mean South-East, commuter land for London:-

  • People seem to get friendlier and more trusting the further North you go – I love being called “love” or “ducky” by shop assistants “oop north” and being thanked with a wave when I give way when driving rather than being ignored.
  • The Southern fish and chip shops don't sell curry sauce, mushy peas or gravy – I couldn't cope with that!
  • The South is a bit of a rat-race, everyone is stressed and in a real hurry 
  • There are too many cars and too many people in the South
  • My husband, Tim, a Southerner, says “it always rains up North”!
  • The very different accents and sayings/dialects

Obviously there are exceptions to this and these are rather sweeping statements but you get the idea! There are still differences and stereotypes between “ooop North” and “dan saf”.

For those of you in the USA who might not have heard some of the diverse accents we have in the UK, Tim has put some together at http://speedy.theanneboleynfil…..uthern.mp3 and this is the order:-

Black Country – Midlands.
London Posh – South. Interview with actor Nigel Havers.
Newcastle – North, the Geordie accent.
Essex – South but not posh! This is Stacey Solomon, star of the X Factor and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. She is from Dagenham in Essex.

Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn

November 19, 2010
5:44 am
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Anyanka
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I'm a Monkeyhanger. Though DF was a true Cockney.

And I joke that my Brummie born DH is a Southerner.

It's always bunnies.

November 19, 2010
10:46 am
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Claire
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Yes, us poor Midlanders are seen as Southerners by Northerners and Northerners by Southerners!

Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn

November 19, 2010
11:56 am
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Sharon
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And here I thought only America had a North vs. South problem!  I guess our West would be your Midlands.  I think though, the way Claire described it, our South would be England's North, and our North would be England's South. 

November 22, 2010
7:04 pm
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Boleynfan
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Yep, I would agree, Sharon! Except maybe with the whole Southern Belle, traditional Southern thing, as well as th stereotype that Southerners are nicer and more friendly (think less honking…Wink).

 

Sorry to bring us back to Wolf Hall (we've very successfully veered off topic and I'm glad, I like the whole North-South thing!) but just a quick question: What would everyone rate Wolf Hall? Did you, or did you not, like it overall?

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

November 23, 2010
10:56 am
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Sharon
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On a scale of 1-10 I'd say an 8+, almost a 9. (like how I pinned that down?…LOL) I, too, had trouble getting into it.  It was a bit dry.  As I said before, I really did not like any of the characters except him, but I believe that was the point.  It actually changed the rather low opinion of him which I had held before reading the book.  He was a remarkable lawyer, loyal to his king, and a loving family man.

November 23, 2010
4:36 pm
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Boleynfan
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I would probably say 8 (similar to yours haha). It would have been an 8 1/2 or 9 but it was dry, you're right, it took me a while getting into it, and I wasn't so keen on the portrayal of Anne. But yes, great book, and deserving of the prize it got.

"Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be"

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