July 29, 2021

The literary feat of transforming a historical villain into a hero | Babelia


“He concentrates on his desk. It’s only May, and two queens of England have already died.” Thomas Cromwell is 50 years old. He has just witnessed the decapitation of Ana Bolena. She is responsible for the insults and curses on her multiple adulteries that have led her to the scaffold. Henry VIII again has a free way to marry, this time with Juana Seymour. In just four years, the most powerful man in England will be beheaded in the Tower of London, by order of the king he helped so much, at the hands of an inexperienced teenage executioner who only separated the head from the third rush.

Hilary Tablecloth He has managed, through historical rigor and the necessary imagination, to enter that head and transform one of the most vilified characters in the history of England into an antihero with whom the contemporary reader identifies. “Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm what you already believed before? While in my case, everything I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, gradually crumbles, a fragment, another piece and then another. With each passing month, the corners of the certainties of this world collapse: and also the world that is yet to come, “Cromwell reflects on the figure of Tomás Moro, his fanatic enemy, the detractor of the Protestant Reformation revered as a Catholic martyr. Another beheaded in the Tower of London.

The Mirror and The Light (The Mirror and the Light), the third novel in the trilogy started in 2009 with In the court of the wolf and continued in 2012 with A Queen on stage, is preceded by the unanimity of critics, who consider the novel over 900 pages an achievement that has achieved “what the Aeneid made by the Romans or War and peace for the Russians, “in the words of Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. The new novel will be published in Spain by Destino in May, at which time the publisher plans to relaunch the two other two titles.

Tablecloth has sold five million copies of the first two deliveries, and obtained with each of them the prestigious Booker award of novel in English. And he has managed to turn “one of the greatest bastards in English history … into a living, friendly and almost admirable human being,” Melanie McDonagh wrote in the Evening Standard.

Many centuries later, the ineffable conservative politician Enoch Powell would say that “every political career inevitably leads to failure.” Mantel’s feat is to compile with an overwhelming tenacity everything Cromwell did, said or left written to make the character think out loud and come alive. That technique that Shakespeare already discovered and that meant “the invention of the human”, in the celebrated success of the critic Harold Bloom.

If in the first two novels the chief minister of Henry VIII is the son of the blacksmith of Putnam who embodies the Machiavellian prince, the Renaissance man who frees England from the vassalage of Rome and forges the political and administrative power of the Tudors, the culmination Of the saga is the decline and doubts of a man more and more alone to whom his certainties have abandoned. He who “could write the draft of a contract, train a hawk, draw a map, avoid a street fight, furnish a house or compose a jury,” is surprised at the ignorance of his contemporaries when his wife, Elizabeth Wyckes, warns of the suspicion that Henry VIII will cause with his arbitrary desire to get rid one after another of his women. “Half of the world will be against. All women in England. All women who have conceived females but not males. All women who have lost a baby. All women who have lost any hope of conceiving a life. All women over forty years old. “

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the series 'Wolf Hall'


Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the series ‘Wolf Hall’

Cromwell loses his cool in his last years. He betrays himself with a superb alien to the reality of his true power, which depends exclusively on a vain and despotic king surrounded by mirrors in which he tries to see reflected a beauty that left him long ago. He faces Lord Suffolk when the noble celebrates the death of Ana Bolena.

– “You giving me lessons? A couple from the kingdom? You, where do you come from?”

– “I am where the king wanted to put me. And I will give you all the lessons you should learn.”

“Cromwell thinks, what are you doing? Normally you have always been the spirit of courtesy. But if you can’t tell the truth even in the middle of a beheading, when can you say it?” Mantel puts in the protagonist’s mind.

At 67, the writer has become a revered British institution with a Corsican patent to tell her own truths without anyone dare to discuss them. “The exit from the EU has seemed to me a very serious matter. Something that I have taken very badly personally, because I have always identified myself as a European author. It is in that space where I feel at home,” he explained recently to Irish Times. Few have been able, like this European, to give their compatriots a sense of possession of their history. How The Aeneid to the Romans, or War and peace to the Russians.

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