Sunday, February 22, 2015

The great matter

It wasn't great, of course, it was sordid, several more butterflies to the wheel within the confines of a literally mad system, presided over by a literally mad king. Kings had to be exceptional not to be mad or weak or both and in that sense Henry certainly was not exceptional in his increasing detachment from reason into raving and deadly egomania.

I am re-reading Hilary Mantel's incredibly excellent account of the process. It departs probably seriously from any empirical account (we can't be totally certain as there are these huge gaps about Cromwell, but it is rather unlikely and central to the book that he would have had such an inner life and perception as Mantel provides him with). But the feel of the era, the feel of the murderous high political process of the time - they are amazingly captured, in a way no historian can, whether a good or bad historian.

The great matter is that: the way literature creates and distills meanings, shapes our human perception, captures the essence of it. Mantel's perception is scary, there is a huge intelligence there, a deep, deep understanding of history, the shape of it, the meaning of it. Literature, fiction and poetry, is truly the best we can show of ourselves.

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