Mar. 19th, 2017

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I’ve been wanting to revisit Wolf Hall ever since I read that Hollywood Reporter interview with Steve Bannon where he compares himself to Thomas Cromwell.

I figured Bannon couldn’t possibly have been comparing himself with the actual historical personage, a dogged, calculating and mercenary figure from all contemporary reports (though I suppose Bannon’s many detractors might use that very string of adjectives to describe Bannon himself) so Bannon’s Man Crush must have been sparked by one of the fictional portraits.

Anne of a Thousand Days. A Man For All Seasons. The Tudors. The Private Life of Henry VIII.

Wolf Hall is the only one in which Cromwell comes off at all sympathetically.

Plus Cromwell is not dead at the end of Wolf Hall! Because the hardest thing to fathom is why Bannon would want to compare himself to someone who’s not only beheaded on order of the tyrant he served but beheaded by a drunken executioner with a rusty sword.


Wolf Hall is a brilliant novel but difficult to read because… pronouns!

So, I figured Bannon must have seen the BBC’s excellent dramatization of Wolf Hall. Which I watched again yesterday. All eight hours of it. While desultorily pecking away at various writing projects and feeling alienated by the weather: Cold. Grey. Light snow falling like ugly ash from some conflagration in heaven.


The production is even more wonderful the second time around. It has such a sense of modernity to it, all the while remaining extremely faithful to the details of the Tudor universe. Much of that is the dialogue, which is lifted word for word from Mantel’s book. This dialogue utilizes the archaic vocabulary and stilted grammar of those times, but somehow manages to infuse those things with a contemporary sensibility. I suppose that’s because the dialogue is spoken by tremendously talented actors. They perform a similar magic with all the bowing, scraping, curtsying, and hat doffing that were embedded into the social rituals of that era.

In particular, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is just superb. In the opening episodes, he’s attractive, likeable, someone you might easily fall in love with. You root for him. By the final episode when he’s arranging Anne Boleyn’s downfall, he’s metamorphosed into something of a monster – and yet, you still root for him. The acting craft at a very high level, that.


I was hoping Wolf Hall would be a panacea for my (futile!) absorption in current events.

After all, the endlessly absorbing events it describes happened so very long ago.

As someday, the endlessly absorbing events of this peculiar moment in time will have happened so very long ago! And that’s what one needs to hold on to: Every era you awaken into tries to choke you, tries to derail you with its own urgency, its own frenzy, its own chaos. Meanwhile, off in a corner of your peripheral vision, the truly important things are taking place.

What are those important things?

Damned if I know.

But I never doubt that they’re taking place.

When I was very, very young, my maya detectors were far more finely tuned than they are now. I can remember understanding when I was around 12 years old or so that very little generated by the social universe of humans had any significance whatsoever.

It was all distraction.

So there was simply no reason to pay much attention to it at all.

This understanding vanished the following year when I hit sexual maturity.

But I still feel flickers of it from time to time.

And I wish I knew the answer to this question: Distraction from what?


Meanwhile, Wolf Hall did not purge me of my obsession with current events.

Just read this puff piece in New York on Enslaved House Elf Kellyanne Connor, and thought, Huh! The capitulation is underway! Of course, mainstream media cannot afford to remain alienated from the seat of power.

Can’t remember in what context I read yesterday that some power broker was urging the liberal left to “tone down the rhetoric.”

But that’s just common sense. Flies! Vinegar! Honey!

And anyway, I’m not a member of the liberal left. I’ve always loathed identity politics.


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