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« Stardate 2378: A Starfleet Captain challenges a final grade | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

November 27, 2009



I don't see how you can mention the novel's use of "he" without also mentioning the fact that it's written in the present tense. The two go together. We are experiencing the world from within Cromwell's consciousness. With the first few sentences, we are seeing through his eyes as he lies on the cobbles and looks up at the boot that his father has just kicked him with: "His left eye is blinded, but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father's boot is unraveling." And this unflinching observation even in moments of extreme distress is the key to Cromwell's personality. Here is the death of his younger daughter, after his wife and elder daughter have already succumbed to plague: "Grace dies in his arms; she dies easily, as naturally as she was born."

Why then doesn't Mantel write in the first person? Because a first-person narrative is a narration - the "I" is a story-telling character who looks back on the story he tells, explaining, justifying. Cromwell is not like that. He does not tell his story to anyone. Then why not use his name? Because she wants no omniscient narrator, no one to call him "Cromwell" and tell us his history. This is dramatic irony with a vengeance. We the intended readers know every detail of Cromwell's future (as educated Englishmen and women, how could we not?) yet the voice of the novel itself knows only the past.

For me, the unidentified third person was less difficult than many other stylistic experiments, from Joyce to Henry Green to Cormac McCarthy. I thought it was fully appropriate and it increased my appreciation for the novel.


i think the presence of both the third person and first person narrator make the novel more understanding. cromwell's thoughts not only presents the religious tensions of england, but also the inherent secrets (mostly assumed by the writer i think) of his own life. thus we do not read a dry history but an enthralling story.
i don't know but sometimes i have felt that the author is satirising the churchmen by showing how 'unreligious' they are (e.g.- cranmer, or to some extent thomas more too).

Alison Brewin

I felt the use of present tense was brilliant, and her capacity to give us essentially a first person narrative in third person also brilliant. But I agree that her placement and use of pronoun 'he' was needlessly distracting and found myself reading back to determine who the speaker was too often.

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