Likely Stories: The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantell

May 14, 2020

 I finally got a copy of the third volume of Hillary Mantel’s magnificent trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.  Her first two volumes—Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—garnered well-deserved Booker Prizes.  Hilary’s incredible story—with nearly 1,700 pages—delves into the minutest details of the lives of the interesting family of Oliver Cromwell.


While reading her latest book, I took some notes of interesting passages.  I believe these tidbits will more than whet the appetite for those interested in the period.  Here we go!  Hillary writes, (Page 8) “‘Would that my niece had imitated Katherine [of Aragon] in other particulars’, Norfolk says.  ‘Had she been obedient, chaste and


 meek, her head might still be on her shoulders’.  (Page 13) “Thomas Cromwell is now fifty tears old.  The same small quick eyes, the same thickset imperturbable body; the same schedules.  He is at home wherever he wakes: the Rolls House on Chancery Lane, or his city house at Austin Friars, or at Whitehall with the king, or in some other place where Henry happens to be.”  (Page 23) “For this is England, a happy country, a land of miracles, where stones underfoot are nuggets of gold and the brooks flow with claret.  The Boleyns’ white falcon hangs like a sorry sparrow on a fence, while the Seymour phoenix is rising.”  (Page 208) “The king begins, as he often does, as if they had just been speaking and for some slight cause had broken off: a door opening, or a spark flying from the fire.  He says, ‘In the days when I wanted her, and could not have her, when we were apart, Anne Boleyn and I, let us say I was at Greenwich, she was here at Kent—in those days I used to see her standing before me, smiling just as if she were real, as real,’ the king stretchers his hand out, ‘as real as you Cromwell.  But now I know she was never truly there.  Not in the way I thought she was’.”  Anne Boleyn was beheaded in Volume Two.

Continuing, Hilary writes, (Page 435) “What is a woman’s life?  Do not think, because she is not a man, she does not fight.  The bedchamber is her tilting ground, where she shows her colours, and her theater of war is the sealed room where she gives birth. 

Surprisingly enough, this is a quick read—mainly because the text is so detailed and tight—a good reader can whip through 100 pages at a sitting.  An unexpected surprise was a discussion about the death of Thomas Becket.  There is a play—Lion in Winter—which also mentions the murder by Henry II.  Again. the details of that incident come alive in the hands of Hilary Mantel.  If you like history, if you have a penchant for knights, queens, and all sorts of individuals to the lowest laborer, this is a story you might want to stop after a hundred or so pages, to find the first two stories of King Henry VIII.  In The Mirror & the Light, a masterpiece of the first order awaits you my gentlemen and ladies of the court.  15 shining stars for all three volumes.