Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell, and the Power of Popular Fiction

Mark Rylance portrays Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. Photograph: BBC
Mark Rylance portrays Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. Photograph: BBC

It is fascinating to see the effect that a popular work of historical fiction can have on revising the public’s beliefs about a traditionally reviled figure like Thomas Cromwell.  Of course, one would like to believe that the average everyday reader of historical novels knows the difference between fact and fiction – and the reality is that most of us do.  Nevertheless, popular novels, such as Wolf Hall and The Da Vinci Code, do have a profound impact on how once settled history is perceived by both the general public and even by some historians and scholars.[…]Continue Reading

Outlander, Austen, and Quick: The Emotionally Vulnerable Hero

“In vain I have struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

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Pride and Prejudice (1995). Photograph: BBC

So says Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett in what is not only one of the most famous scenes in Pride and Prejudice but arguably one of the most beloved in all of English Literature.  […]Continue Reading

Austen, Heyer, & the Prince of Orange: Pugs in Literature and History

Pietro Benvenuti Ritratto di Elena Mastiani Brunacci 1809
Portrait of Elena Mastiani Brunacci by Pietro Benvenuti, 1809.
(Palazzo Pitti)

Pugs feature in many of our favorite Regency novels and, in most of them, the cheerful little dog, which currently ranks 32nd most popular breed in the United States, is not portrayed in a very flattering light.  […]Continue Reading

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Historical Romance Heroine

If you don’t take care my gel, you’ll turn into a radical like that Wollstonecraft woman.”
The Stanforth Secrets, Jo Beverley, 1989.

Mary Wollstonecraft John Opie Tate Museum
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1790.
by John Opie
(The Tate)

Born on April 27th 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 when she was only thirty-three years old.  In it, she argued against the natural inferiority of women, writing that “…it cannot be demonstrated that woman is essentially inferior to man, because she has always been subjugated” and that it was the neglected education of her “fellow creatures” that was the primary source of their misery.

As modern readers, it seems to be a perfectly reasonable, wholly uncontroversial argument.  Indeed, basic commonsense.  But what of readers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, you ask?  Surely they must have been scandalized by Wollstonecraft’s arguments for equality.[…]Continue Reading

Villains, Shysters, and Pettifoggers: The Lawyers and Law Clerks of Bleak House.

Charles Dickens, 1852.

In my last article on Law and Literature, I discussed the workings of the early nineteenth century British Court of Chancery, both in reality and as portrayed by Charles Dickens in his magnificent novel, Bleak House.  Such a serious subject in a work of fiction, especially one written in serial form for the Victorian masses, must necessarily be offset by a strong cast of characters with whom the reader can relate.

As always, when it comes to depicting the frailties of human nature, Charles Dickens does not disappoint.  From the noble to the ridiculous, we are given a glimpse of the people whose lives have been touched by the infamous lawsuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  And none of them are more fascinating than the range of lawyers and law clerks that navigate (with varying degrees of skill) the murky waters of Chancery dysfunction.

[…]Continue Reading