Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wolf Hall Readalong: Parts I and II, in Which I Am Confused

Do schoolchildren in Britain learn the kings and queens the way American schoolchildren learn the names of presidents? I think it would help to know the characters in this novel as historical figures, and to have a better idea of the intrigues of the court.

I am holding onto my knowledge of Thomas Wyatt and his poem "Whoso List to Hunt," and waiting for the appearance of Wyatt (or Anne Bolyen, or Henry VIII).

"Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind"

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind.
But as for me, alas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore,
Fainting, I follow. I leave off, therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Wyatt is said to have written that sonnet about Anne Boleyn. She is the deer (or hind) in the poem, and Henry VIII is "Caesar" and the diamond collar says "touch me not" in Latin.

The first fifty pages of Wolf Hall were slow going for me. The character of Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, and cardinal, dominated the narrative. I got confused when Wolsey was evicted from his palace, and fled to Esher, and suddenly the narrative went to a flashback. The unfamiliar characters, the fall from Henry VIII's good graces-it all confused me. Finally, I found my way, and became engrossed in Thomas Cromwell's story, his family life, and his losses. After a couple of forays to the interweb (I resorted to Wikipedia) I felt a bit more confident in my knowledge of some of the historical background.

Cromwell is an appealing character, and the loss of his wife and daughters to plague is touching. I hope I'll soon be so deep in this book that I won't want to come out.


LL said...

Like you I have been a bit confused as well, but I am starting to get more and more interested in the story. My heart is just bleeding for Cromwell -- what a hard life to lose his whole family! I liked the sonnet you included -- I am very interested in Anne Boleyn and the allure she seemed to have (even if she is a pretty nasty person, from what I've read).

What Remains Now said...

I enjoyed your review. I'm hopeful that the final analysis of the book will be positive. I'm enjoying it, but have experienced a few difficulties.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I love that poem you shared! Yes, the first 40 or so pages for me were extremely difficult. I didn't know who was speaking, and that flashback was jarring as well. Somewhere along the way, it all just clicked for me also, and now I'm nose-deep into the pages and really enjoying it. There are approximately 250 or so pages for this next section so I'm trying to get through it early! So glad you are joining in this readalong (safety in numbers and all). :)

Bethany said...

From the sounds of things, the start of this book might just be quite poorly executed.

But to answer your question - yes, we do. All school kids learn about Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, etc etc. Though I'm Scottish, so my knowledge my differ from and English person's!

Jessica said...

I think its all the minor characters in this that can also be confusing. Its fine knowing your kings and queens but Wolsey and Charles Brandon were also really big deals in Henrys court.

I hope you enjoy it, its not an easy one but the atmosphere was well done I thought.

Plus I like Mary Bolyens portrayal which is much more accurate than the other Bolyen

bibliophiliac said...

@LL - the more I read, the more conniving and nasty Anne Boleyn seems!
@What remains-I do think I will like the book in the end, but I'm having to work for it!
@Natalie-thanks, so far your reviews have been much more coherent than mine...
@Bethany=I do have a hard time keeping my kings and queens straight!
@Jessica-there are so many historical figures with whom I'm not familiar-I may end up learning a bit of history...