Dec. 10th, 2010

wordweaverlynn: (reader)
I have finished Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's extraordinary novel of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas More. The tough, pragmatic Cromwell draws fire from those who admire the sainted More, since Cromwell served on the committee that questioned and ultimately condemned More. Those who admire Anne Boleyn also loathe him, blaming him for her fall and execution (although he also helped engineer her marriage). This book presents him, not as a saint, but as a skillful organizer, a tireless worker, an intelligent and shrewd businessman who knows how to get things done, and as a kind, loving father and mentor.

The book was wonderful; even when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it or even dreaming about it. The marriages, divorces, and religious dilemmas of Henry VIII were more than a private matter even then, and they became a turning-point of history -- one with philosophical, economic, and religious echoes now as basic freedoms are eroding, governments resort to torture and imprisonment without charges, the middle class is endangered, the Catholic Church faces sex abuse scandals, the Anglican Church faces schism over the rights of women and gays. But the book's appeal is far more than that, even more than its sure, simple, vigorous language. It asks what makes a good father, and by extension a good monarch, a good government, a good church, a good society. Without getting forsoothly all over the page, or pausing for encyclopedia dumps about the sixteenth century, it brings the time's assumptions, beauty, and horrors alive on the page.

So what do I read now? I need either a superbly written Tudor history or biography to delve deeper into the period, or something incredibly well-written about something completely different. Fiction or nonfiction. What do you suggest?

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