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HILARY MANTEL is a marvelous writer, whether she’s documenting the Tudor goings-on of Henry VIII et al or delivering a lecture as part of the London Review of Books Winter Lectures at the British Museum.
I’ve enjoyed one of her books, Wolf Hall, and have its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, on order. Also, the 21 February 2013 issue of London Review of Books has an article of hers, “Royal Bodies,” based on her Winter Lectures presentation. Here, I offer information on all three, plus an opera.
The first of a trilogy, Wolf Hall concerns the first of several quandaries of England’s Henry VIII. Here he is, married to Katherine of Aragon for 20 years—and she’s delivered him no male heir. True, there’s a daughter, Mary, but what will she ever amount to?
In walks Anne Boleyn. No, make that swans.
The art of Wolf Hall is how well this historical novel places us in the 1500s, yet makes a direct link to our times. No wonder it earned Hilary Mantel the 2009 Man Booker Prize, 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and other honors.
Mantel’s second novel in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, occurs in nine months during 1535-1536, and specifically in the last three weeks of life of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Like Katherine, Anne had failed to give Henry a son—only a daughter, Elizabeth. Yes, that Elizabeth.
What followed were alleged infidelities, royal skullduggery, papal excommunications and a beheading—all the things that make opera great fun.
And, indeed, the Metropolitan Opera performed Donizetti’s Anna Bolena during its 2011-2012 season. It was also included in the Met’s Live in HD series—a neat way to see great opera in many local theaters. Check http://goo.gl/MDMvA for Met Live in HD information. See http://goo.gl/1kBsm for a video excerpt with Anna Netrebko, one of my favorites, portraying Boleyn.
I’m confident Bring Up the Bodies does historical novelistic justice to this dramatic tale. My Amazon order is in.
The London Review of Books article, “Royal Bodies,” is a wonderful example of Mantel’s writing—and her humor as well. Here’s an excerpt describing the British love affair with its royalty.
“I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”
This gets my award for fine writing. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013