WSJ Bookshelf, First Monday of August 2013

Today’s Wall Street Journal Bookshelf review, by Kirk Davis Swinehart, is of Allegra di Bonaventura’s For Adam’s Sake, which tells the “intimate history of racial slavery in early New England through the entwined lives of five families . .  .”

Splendid!  Self adores books about the earliest American colonies.  They never fail to disappoint.  The last such book she read was Mayflower:  A True Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick.  (It was from Philbrick that self learned that the early white colonists were but poor physical specimens (most were short, with rotting gums — dentition was not apparently of major concern among the first colonizers) compared to the resplendent Native Americans, whose bodies were taut and hard from years of outdoor activity:  hunting, etc Before self gets too carried away with the magnificent physicality of the First Peoples, she will return to the Wall Street Journal review of di Bonaventura’s book:

Ms. di Bonaventura, a Yale-trained historian and lawyer, found the threads of her story in a little-known diary kept by one Joshua Hempstead, a widowed yeoman shipwright whose English-born farmer father was among New London’s original planters.  From 1711 until his death in 1758, at the age of 84, Hempstead steadily documented the vicissitudes of everyday life at the scruffy western edge of Britain’s empire, in a claustrophobic community where people of every social station rubbed up against one another with sometimes calamitous consequences.

The book, “700-plus pages,” traces “the parallel lives of slaves and owners over several generations, from 1670s through the 1750s.”  It begins with the story of “Maria, a deaf woman transported in chains from her native West Indies to New London.”  She married another West Indian slave and had two children, one of whom was a boy named Adam, who “for 27 years . . . would remain the property of the John Rogers family.”

Self cannot wait to begin this book.  Course, that probably won’t be until several years from now, as her reading pace is extremely slow.  Nevertheless, she WILL get to it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

WSJ: Pride of Tudor England

Since self is currently reading Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, she finds herself exceedingly curious about everything Tudor.

By coincidence, there’s an article in the Wall Street Journal of 2 August about Hampton Court, the place where Henry VIII married Katherine Parr, his last wife.  The author of the piece is Elizabeth Fremantle.  Fremantle’s historical novel, Queen’s Gambit, about Parr, is appearing this week.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Hampton Court was originally built in 1514 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to demonstrate his wealth and position, but passed to Henry VIII on Wolsey’s fall from grace.  The symmetrical plan, grand first-floor staterooms and red brickwork were an innovative blend of Northern Gothic with Italian Renaissance — the perfect statement of aesthetic sophistication for the young Tudor monarch.  It became one of his favorite residences.

Further on:

The Tudor court was a moving population of about a thousand —  that is, a thousand who needed feeding twice a day, whose clothes needed laundering, whose fires needed stoking, whose waste needed to be dealt with.

It is hard to imagine from such a distance in time what it might have been like to be one of the forgotten army of laborers who sustained such a carnival, confronted daily by the baffling excess and privilege of the rich.  The work was brutal, starting before dawn, ending after dark, and the heat from the blazing fires unbearable.

So, this was how the place existed, in the period of time covered by Wolf Hall.

Fascinating, simply fascinating.

Such Mastery: About Hilary Mantel Again

You don’t need to know much about English history to appreciate the immediacy of the writing in the following passage, which describes the moment Cardinal Wolsey, erstwhile advisor to Henry VIII, arrives with his retinue at Esher after a hurried and chaotic flight from his estate at Hampton Court:

The Cardinal’s not used to the place since they built Hampton Court.  They’ve sent messages ahead, but has anything been done?  Make my lord comfortable, he says, and goes straight down to the kitchens.  At Hampton Court, the kitchens have running water; here, nothing’s running but the cooks’ noses.  Cavendish is right.  In fact it is worse than he thinks.  The larders are impoverished and such supplies as they have show signs of ill-keeping and plunder.  There are weevils in the flour.  There are mouse droppings where the pastry should be rolled.  It is nearly Martinmas, and they have not even thought of salting their beef.  The batterie de cuisine is an insult, and the stockpot is mildewed.

—  from Wolf Hall, which self is discovering for the first time

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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