“I am going out of life dragging their corpses.”

Katherine of Aragon

I was going to say that it takes a great writer to bring me near tears at the death of Katherine of Aragon. The truth is, Hilary Mantel (author of Bring Up the Bodies, which includes Katherine’s death) is a great writer, but the reality of Katherine of Aragon’s life is as tear-inducing as anything in Thomas Hardy: born Spanish royalty, betrothed to English royalty, married to a king, suffered the death of her infant son, had her daughter taken away from her, was herself thrown away, died soon after. Although Mantel’s portrayal is fiction and although it is hard for some to believe that a woman who died surrounded by servants and wealth was a woman abused, that is part of who she was.

The following is a conversation from Bring Up the Bodies between Thomas Cromwell and the ambassador of Emperor Charles V to England, Eustache Chapuys, in which Chapuys is voicing his regret at having not been present at Katherine’s death. Her words are those of a dying woman abused by her husband for long enough that she came to believe she deserved it.:

He rubs his blue hands. ‘I told her chaplain, you know. When she is on her deathbed, I said, ask her whether Prince Arthur left her a virgin or not. All the world must believe a declaration made by a dying woman. But he is an old man. In his grief and trouble he forgot. So now we will never be sure.’

That is a large admission, [Cromwell] thinks: that the truth may be other than what Katherine had told us all these years. ‘But you do know,’ Chapuys says, ‘before I left her, she said a troubling thing to me. She said, “It might be all my fault. That I stood out against the king, when I could have made an honorable withdrawal and let him marry again.” I said to her, madam–because I was amazed–madam, what are you thinking, you have right on your side, the great weight of opinion, lay and clerical –
“Ah, but,” she said to me, “to the lawyers there was doubt in the case. And if I erred, then I drove the king, who does not brook opposition, to act according to his worse nature, and therefore I partly share in the guilt of his sin.” I said to her, good madam, only the harshest authority would say so; let the king bear his own sins, let him answer for them. But she shook her head.’ Chapuys shakes his, distressed, perplexed. ‘All those deaths, the good Bishop Fisher, Thomas More, the sainted monks of the Charterhouse…”I am going out of life,” she said, “dragging their corpses.”


Tuesday Reading Roundup



Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. When DC was trying to relaunch some classics with 1980s grit and sadness, they turned to Frank Miller, who had already written The Dark Knight Returns. Year One is the story of the rising of James Worthington Gordon and The Batman, who in this telling both arrived to clean up Gotham on the same day. The new show Gotham has to be laboring under Frank Miller’s Batman’s shadow once again, although I’ve not read anything directly connecting the show to this book. At any rate, among the best parts of Year One has to be this.

Benediction by Kent Haruf. A few years ago, I adored Haruf’s Plainsong. Benediction has that earlier novel’s same simplicity, strong characterization, and focus on real story (not plot-drivenness, but story). For one instance that stands out in contemporary fiction, there are very few living novelists who can describe a meeting in a church basement where the basement is real and the people in it are real and the things they talk about and argue about and speak spitefully and speak charitably about are real. Holt, Colorado–where all of Haruf’s novels take place–is a real place.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Mantel’s Wolf Hall was among the best books of 2009, and its sequel is somehow just as good. The two books (and a third in-the-making) follow the life of Thomas Cromwell, who was born a commoner but rose to be a chief adviser to Henry VII (historical spoiler alert: but did not end his life happily). I am not someone who loves every British historical drama that comes along, but this is not just historical fiction. It’s just a great and ambitious novel. Which I’m only 1/4 of the way through.

“A Net, at last, for the Golden Gate Bridge?” by Tad FriendSixteen-hundred suicides in since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate might finally be getting a net.

“An Open Letter to the Director of Blue Jasmine by Wade Sheeler. Although I’ve closely read most of the articles appearing in the wake of the resurfacing of child sexual abuse allegations, this isn’t one of them. Admittedly that makes it safer to share, but in my defense, it’s just a good article and few of the sex abuse allegation articles are. It’s from August 2013, and it calls Woody Allen to task for refusing to move beyond his long-time soundtrack choices.

Steve Jobs said a thing in an interview once, which was quoted on Twitter. It really reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s word to beginning writers that the most important thing is to actually finish what you’ve started, because the process is so great a teacher.

The Trinity (this ed.) by Saint Augustine. This is going to be on here a while. The introduction by Edmund Hill is fantastic, worth reading on its own for situating Augustine’s work theologically and historically. And then I shared a bit from Augustine himself yesterday.

“‘Tuches Sleeps With the Dictionary!’: Remembering Lester Schonbrun, and the dingy Times Square games parlor where he found a second home” by Stefan Fatsis. In this obituary over at Slate, Fatsis leads the reader into the wild world of boardgame hustlers and champions in 1960s and 1970s New York City.

“Waving to Virginia: Patti Smith Reads Virginia” by Maria Popova. Brain Pickings remembers the death of Virginia Woolf on March 28, 1941 with an archived performance/reading by Patti Smith.

Tuesday Reading Roundup has been a regular feature of this blog and its predecessor for a few years. Entries must: 1) Have been read by me in the previous week; 2) Have been interesting, thought-provoking, and/or entertaining.