Wolf Hall and fiction vs. history

TalkReformation Era: History and Literature

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Wolf Hall and fiction vs. history

Edited: Nov 28, 2021, 5:34pm

I’ve been thinking about this study for some time. I’ve already read a handful of books.

One of the books I’ve started to read, though it is contemporary fiction, is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell.

Do people think this book is worth the effort? And does it contribute anything valuable with regard to this subject? Is it reasonably accurate or faithful to the historical facts?

(It’s a perpetual question whether fiction tells us something more than primary materials or even actual histories.)

What do people think?

Nov 29, 2021, 9:01am

I think it would be fair to classify Wolf Hall as controversial. As one who takes issue with some of its characterizations, I'll just say that it's a lot more frustrating trying to debate against fiction than against non-fiction.

Edited: Nov 30, 2021, 12:10am

Yes, I see what you mean about arguing against fiction. It would be like arguing against imagination. Einstein has supposedly said something like, Imagination is more important than knowledge. As a librarian, I’ve always put fiction in that “imagination” category. It’s pretty unassailable there.

But, for me, to be honest, non-fiction (which represents knowledge in this analogy) still tempts me more. Even though when you’re done with a non-fiction book you may forget half of it before you set it down. But non-fiction still has longevity. When you’re done with a non-fiction book, there’s always a bibliography at the end and more book lists to make. After a fiction book, unless there’s more by that author (and you like that author), you are out of luck. Unless there’s a sequel!

(Even as a librarian, I’ve never gone for the read-a-likes thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate if someone is reading a specific genre, or something. But a writer who writes like someone else, just seems to me to be wasting everyone’s time.)

Still haven’t decided whether to read Wolf Hall or not. It’s 600 pages, darn it, and I haven’t finished MacCulloch’s book yet.

I’m reading, The Praise of Folly and Other Writings, Erasmus; The Reformation: A History, MacCulloch; and possibly Wolf Hall, Mantel.

More comments on Wolf Hall?

Dec 6, 2021, 2:07pm

Wolf Hall is actually not a bad place to start (or end), keeping a few things in mind:
- It IS fiction
- The more you know about the period, the more you will see in this book.

It may be historical fiction and it may have its issues but it is also pretty accurate (where it wants to be) and where it is not, it actually makes you realize what IS important and sends you reading the non-fiction - if you can spot it (thus my comment that the more you know, the more you will get out of it).