So it comes to an end, this incredible tale, the finest recreation of the past I know in any form. It has facts in plenty, and more fidelity to the truth than the average professor's history book, but it also has thoughts, feelings, and images. Of course they are guesses, but without them something is lacking that Mantel has in astonishing superabundance.
I know Mantel's Thomas Cromwell better than any other person I ever met in a book. He stands before us in his silks and velvets, risen from blacksmith's son to Earl of Essex and Lord Privy Seal, then beheaded for the crime of rivaling the king in power and pride. Mantel has made him believable, has made him a man. Over three volumes and 1500 pages she has given us all that we can know of his life, and much more. All of it seems plausible to me.
I know of no other books like these. The history is perfect, in fact probably a little too perfect; this final volume could have been shorter, but there was just so much Mantel had learned and wanted to tell us. If you wondered why certain people appear so often – Thomas Wyatt, Lord Lisle, Ambassador Chapuys – it is because they left us troves of letters, allowing us to see this world through their eyes. If you wondered why she mentioned obscure prophetesses, it s because they were written up in broadsheets or because their trial records survive, full of detail about their lives and their foretellings. These are the windows through which Mantel glimpses the Tudor world. In other places you can feel the documents that lie just behind her writing, the lists of confiscated goods, the descriptions of court masques. All was just as she describes it.
Over it all looms the awful presence of King Henry the Mad, crazed for a son, fixated on a sort of loyalty no person with a will can ever give. He executed hundreds, many, like Cromwell, for wholly imaginary crimes. Cromwell did his bidding, trumping up charges to bring down Anne Boleyn when Henry no longer wanted her, twisting the words of unhappy courtiers into active treason. When Cromwell fell in his turn he was not widely mourned, which makes him a bold choice for the central character of this vast novel. Mantel shows us his vengefulness, his greed, the cold-blooded ways he destroyed Henry's enemies. But also his loyalty to his friends, his hatred of war, the wonderful way he opened his home to a flock of young men, trained them, and launched them on their careers.
To me these books are a great gift. I treasure them, and I feel a heavy debt of gratitude to Hilary Mantel for bringing them into the world.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Posted by John at 5:30 PM 2 comments:
Monday, April 27, 2020
Castello di Vincigliata
the castle's web site promotes it as
one of the most romantic and beautiful wedding venues, only a few km from the centre of Florence. Plunged among the rolling Tuscan hills, it is the ideal place for celebrating your special day.So, you know, if you were thinking of getting married in Tuscany, give them a call. Just out of curiosity, would you find out for me how much it costs?
The castle's own web site reveals that this is no pristine medieval construction. As they put it,
In 1840 Sir John Temple leader was exploring the hill of Fiesole,when he came upon the overgrown ruin of a medieval castle. He instantly fell in love with it and decided to restore it to its former glory. Of the many stories he uncovered, Sir John especially coveted the one about Donna Bianca.Wikipedia tells us that under Temple's ownership the castle was "entirely reconstructed in the feudal style."
Sir John decided that Vincigliata was a perfect place to host his many noble friends. With the help of a young architect Fancelli, he started the daunting task of restoration. In pure spirit of renaissance patronage, he commissioned 80 masons, artisans, sculptors, glassmakers and antiquarians and with their help, Vincigliata was reborn after 10 years of work.
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc did some of his "restorations" with less. So who built the castle that Sir John found in ruins?
a brief article in Italian, which confirms that there was a medieval house here. In fact there is an estate inventory of 1335 that describes the place as
medietas pro indiviso cuiusdam resedii cum turre, curte, giardino, terra laborativa, puteo, e arboribus positum in populi Sancte Marie de Vincigliata comitatis Florentiae, loco dicto ala torreThat is, a house with tower, wall, garden, fields, well, and woods in the parish of St. Mary de Vincigliata in the county of Florence. So there was something fairly impressive here by 1335. However, our author (Alessandro Rinaldi) does not think that describes our house. He seems to think that whatever was there before was mostly swept away after 1365, when the property fell into the hands of the Alessandri family.
Photo from a set posted by one of my favorite bloggers, Vertigo 1871
They were not, however, soldiers. Or knights. They were merchants. Of course like most rich merchants of that era they spent some of their profits buying land, both as a safe investment and by way of elbowing their way into the old aristocracy. And what did you, a merchant trying to pass as a nobleman, build on the country estate with the money you made in banking or trade? Why, a castle!
described in a will of 1429 as "a Lordly palace with battlements and subterranean vaults, with an outer wall." Our man Rinaldi calls this new structure
an eloquent expression of the neo-feudal aspirations and mentality of the Florentine aristocracy of the 15th century.It just tickles me that our nineteenth-century English romantic, full of neo-feudal aspirations, rebuilding a castle as a place to entertain and impress his friends, was following so closely in the footsteps of the fifteenth-century Alessandri, who were also building a sort of lark instead of a fortress.
Posted by John at 9:56 PM 2 comments:
Labels: architecture, folklore, history
Things We Don't Know: the Flu
The flu, which has been around for a long time, kills on average 40,000 people every year. And the amount we don’t know about the flu is amazing. We don’t understand why the flu is seasonal. It’s such a profound thing that there’s this three-month period where it’s very active and then almost nine months where you have a hard time finding it, depending on which hemisphere you’re in.
–Bill Gates, from this interview
–Bill Gates, from this interview
Posted by John at 9:21 AM No comments:
Re-Opening and Urban Life
Writing in the Times, David Rubin and Paul Offit describe a Pandemic model they have developed and applied to data from 46 US states. The exercise, they say
revealed that crowding and population density, whether in densely populated areas in New York City or a meatpacking plant in South Dakota, are the most important factor in determining the havoc the virus can wreak.Re-opening Philadelphia, they argue, would be disastrous, but in Harrisburg the virus would probably "fizzle out" if some basic safety measures are retained.
After accounting for age distribution and health issues it was clear that risk not only of infection but of death broke between two groups: those in densely crowded areas, and everyone else. Large, densely populated areas like New York and Chicago had nearly twice the rate of transmission in the first two weeks of their outbreaks than the least densely populated areas we are tracking, like Birmingham, Ala., or the metro area of Portland, Ore. Yes, we did find that warming spring temperatures in some areas are helping to reduce transmission, but that effect is dwarfed by the impact of population density in our largest cities, particularly in the North.
This means that areas in the country that are less densely populated or are already benefiting from warmer spring temperatures will probably be able to reopen more quickly, as long as the number of cases in their area have sharply reduced — we can’t give an exact rate — and if they maintain workplace safety, moderate distancing, and test to identify and trace outbreaks early."Re-opening" is going to be a slow and partial thing no matter what governments decide; anybody out there really want to attend a movie in a crowded theater right now? My office is in Washington, DC, and whatever my bosses say I'm not going back until I've been vaccinated.
Large, densely populated cities are going to need a more cautious plan. This is not just because more crowded areas increase the risk of spread, but also because we’re learning that crowding itself may also affect the death rate. The relationship between the amount of virus to which one is initially exposed and the severity of the illness is found in most infectious diseases. Models assessing outcomes from the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic reveal that the likelihood of death was dependent upon the number of infected individuals with whom that person came into contact. When a family is infected by chickenpox, the second child to contract the virus often becomes more seriously ill, presumably because they have been exposed to more of the virus.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Exploring Istanbul by Foot and Tram
tour of Venice.
sarcophagi of Sidon I wrote about in February.
Posted by John at 1:05 PM No comments:
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