Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Brooding at the crematorium

Went to a funeral today. My solitary suit, a light grey, mini-tweed bought for my daughter’s wedding (see inset - photo credit Sir Hugh) was out of place, as were my thoughts. Despite being urged I was unable to offer thanks to a god who, I was told, not only bestowed life but created the brain tumour which capriciously subtracted life from a gentle, sixty-year-old woman both of us rather liked. However I held my peace and did my bit. From memory I bellowed “All things bright and beautiful” and would have done the same for “Love divine, all loves excelling.” had I known the tune.

Such ego-centricity! But for a moment emotion exceeded a sense of duty. I suddenly realised that the frail, hunched figure on the front row was Mavis’s bereaved mother! Natural law should ensure parents never have to attend the funerals of their offspring.

MY NEW computer – swank, swank – was assembled to ease my advancing years. USB is great but I hate feeling through the cat’s-cradle at the back to plug in something new. Instead I have a twin-berth dock at the front into which goes: (a) a four-socket USB hub, (b) a hub for camera and mobile phone cards, (c) a remote hard drive holding all the contents – nearly 9 GB – of my previous computer.

JOHNNY-Come-Lately I am almost through Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize. Would it have been as popular if it had been straplined “How the Tudors did politics.”? Not everyone raves about politics and re-creating historical events as fiction requires a talent for animating the familiar. Mantel has this talent but Gore Vidal (whom I otherwise admire enormously) doesn’t with his accurate but dull series which includes “Burr,” “Lincoln”, etc. Mantel has one failing – anachronisms such as “cutting a deal”.

FUNERARY ADDENDUM Honesty compels this footnote. Both my sisters-in-law died young and horribly, one of cancer of the spine, the other of motor neurone disease. The former took a year to die and spent it - as a Christian believer - in robust dialogue with the local vicar. Her funeral was High Anglican and the vicar was able to refer to the discussions he had had in some detail. Not that my opinion matters, but I found this acceptable. It was exactly what she wanted and I found myself absorbed by the ritual. My other sister-in-law also had time to consider her funeral and chose a Humanist service with music by Brahms and Simply Red. The eulogy wasn't a eulogy as such, simply a number of observations gathered from her nearest family and presented by a man whose only qualificaion was that he was a Humanist. The event made a direct intellectual appeal to me and I was astonished to find myself discussing the service with an elderly aunt whom I had always regarded as a freethinker (she did chemistry at Oxford when this was a distinctly unfashionable career choice for women) and finding her leaning towards country churches with yews and wisteria. I have to say that both funerals fitted the nature and character of my darling sisters-in-law and that this, in the end, is what matters.


The Crow said...

Very sorry for the loss of your friend, BB, and having to endure being told it is God's will and master plan. Those kinds of remarks make me want to spit out, "Hogwash!" Agree with your comment that parents shouldn't have to survive their children, seems unnecessarily brutal.

(Cool looking new computer.)

Hattie said...

I read A Change of Climate and most of Beyond Black and decided Mantel wasn't my cup 'o tea. But I'll download a sample of Wolf Hall and maybe give it a try.

Julia said...

I agree with you and The Crow - phrases such as hogwash often come to mind at preachy funerals.

Love divine is one of my favorite hymns; somehow the words stretch across the music well.

Good point about the anachronisms, including Thomas Cromwell's enlightened behavior. He seemed too good to be true, though I enjoyed imagining that he was genuinely as nice as he was portrayed.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: The contradictions bug me. We're required to praise him for the good stuff, but what about the bad? "Ah," I'm told, "you cannot know the mind of God." Followed by blackmail: sign up with us or be prepared for mega climate change.

Hattie: I'm not sure a sample, especially if hacked out of the centre, would get you on track.

Julia: God (see above). Love divine: but were we singing the same tune? There are six options; the one I favour is to be found at


Wolf Hall. People who expect a saintly version of Thomas More (viz. A man for all seasons.) will be due for a shock.

Rouchswalwe said...

There's a scene in "The Two Towers," when Bernard Hill, who plays Théoden King, sinks down in front of his young son's fresh grave and says to Gandalf: "Simbelmyne. Ever has it grown on the tombs of my forebears. Now it shall cover the grave of my son. Alas, that these evil days should be mine. The young perish and the old linger. No parent should have to bury their child." There is no comfort.

Plutarch said...

Although I have had temporarily to abandon Wolf Hall, I, like Julia, am surprised by the portrait of Thomas Cromwell. I always thought of him as cruel and scheming monster, but then I had never looked at him closely. The book as a whole seems to be probably deliberately) anachronistic. One of its attractions is that it makes us see and understand the past in terms of the present. Bernard Shaw does the same sort of thing with St Joan, but in a quite different way.

At the funeral of the brother of a friend of mine there was no service, just Bach. No words at all.

Avus said...

Like you, BB, I heartily dislike the bland hypocracy of the usual christian funeral service.

However, two days ago I attended the Buddhist funeral cremation service of someone very dear to me. It was so different. There was feeling and involvement. Calmness and reverence. Relaxation and cleansing.

At the subsequent wake all non-Buddhists, like me, commented on how refreshing and meaningful it felt. I have never experienced that before at the usual crematorium "offering".

Barrett Bonden said...

All: I felt I had to add a postscript to the funeral bit.

RW (zS): I am not a Tolkien fan but this aptly catches the unfairness of parental bereavement.

Plutarch: Are we talking about different things? The way Mantel treats history is probably anachronistic. What I find inconsistent is simulated contemporary speech (eg, "I have rebuked you, so now we can fall to idle boyish talk.") with twentieth century argot (Eg, "You are worse than useless", "I suggest we pack Anne's bags and send her down to Kent." amd, as I mention above "cutting a deal". A minor point and not too frequent, but it jars slightly.

Avus: I think the main fault is where Christian trappings are adopted without any sense of conviction. Simply because they are the default state. The result is usually tawdry. No one would default to a Buddhist funeral and so it is reasonable to assume the event was Buddhist by conviction. But you are right. What little I know about Buddhism is that that it is an internal religion and its adherents take responsibility for themselves. This seems to satisfy the mind rather than primitive emotions.

Julia said...

You're right, a different tune! I was thinking of Hyfrydol, which is one of my favorites.

Lucy said...

I am sorry about your friend and the funeral. At times like these it's just too easy for things to be taken over by a glib and unsatisfactory religious establishment. There are all manner of compromises and alternatives that can be made with this, but ill and bereaved people are often not in a state to make such decisions and are easily railroaded. We all enjoy making flippant plans for our own funerals, what we'd like to have played and read etc, perhaps we ought to get around to making them more firmly, including what we don't want.

I liked the dramatis personae in 'Wolf Hall', and wish more books had one. Any comment I might make about anachronism, how supportable it is or isn't, and how much anachronistic language creates anachronistic thinking and characterisation, has been more or less covered by the others.

I suppose WH was to some extent a revision of the revision. We were, I think, at least those of us from the broadly protestant with a small 'p' media via English tradition, rather raised with the idea that the Reformation was a Good Thing, shame about the destructive aspects but the Catholic church had it coming, and our Protestant martyrs were nobler and sadder than theirs.

Then came a bit of a reaction that iconoclasm was rather a tragedy from the point of view of our artistic heritage, the dissolution of the monasteries was a great loss since monastic life is more favourably looked on again...

HM rather restored me at least to the idea that the RC church did indeed have it coming, the monasteries were probably no great loss, that people shouldn't have been expected to believe like children and be kept in ignorance any more, and that protestantism paved the way for the literacy and humanism that we care about now.

I was thoroughly pleased with the rewriting of Thomas More as sadist, fanatic and general creep. I think it might have been Schama who said that the English have been inclined to let him off the hook too easily, probably largely thanks to Robert Bolt. I liked Cromwell's remark that TM probably wasn't paying attention to something because he was too busy thinking about penning his next billet doux to Erasmus!

One or two other things I felt a bit uncertain about: some narrative devices like the use of the narrative present which I suppose is so ubiquitous now there's little point in questioning it any more, and the way 'he' was always Cromwell unless otherwise stated which was maybe a bit distracting but kept me on my toes, and perhaps served to reinforce how totally subjective and oriented to Cromwell's point-of-view it was.

The other bizarre thing: you suggest an alternative title, but why, oh why is it called 'Wolf Hall' anyway? The place is barely mentioned, and never features as a setting! Must be leading to the
sequel I reckon.

Must go, been here far too long!

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Some people seem to think that considered assessments, as long as they need to be, are somehow unbloggish. Not I. Starting at the end, it's almost as if you took the words right out of my mouth. "Why Wolf Hall?" I asked Mrs BB as I turned the last page and she, not surprisingly buried in a book, merely shrugged her shoulders. Short and reasonably memorable are the only reasons I can come up with and here I must break off briefly. I am in the throes of devising a title for my own novel and it is an odd project. Plutarch, who has read the whole MS and made a number of valuable suggestions, has slapped down my third title suggestion for semiotic reasons and yet it too meets the above Mantel criteria. I may well post something about this.

I wasn't against HM's cast list, only what it seemed to portend: it was there because it would be needed. And so it proved. There is an even better solution which I have already blogged about. The first time I read War and Peace involved an utterly virgin copy from Stoke Newington library provided with an accompanying bookmark: full names on one side, patronymics on the other. A floating cast list,in effect.

My knowledge of history is not profound enough (Nay, it is veritably shallow) for me to have opinions about the great figures of our island tapestry and therefore I am left in the comfortable position of being able to judge people like More and Cromwell as fictional characters who work or don't work. I was in the USA when the film of A Man for All Seasons was released and several of my acquaintances saw it in awestruck reaction. As if they'd watched The Bible as a documentary. I found it rather facile and I had another lurking reservation which only became clear after I saw Amadeus at the National. There's something about Paul Scofield I can't take: too precious, too "grand".

So to have More presented as a right jesuitical bastard was OK with me and fed a secret, unarticulated belief that anyone with his responsibilities in Tudor England would have been much more likely to twiddle rack screws rather than rush off into a corner to pray.

As to Cromwell, traditionally primus inter pares among bastards, and now seen as humane (if not entirely human), well I can live with that too. Cromwell was a man who got things done, and some of these things were impossible. It seems reasonable to believe he was a man who understood and traded on human weakness and therefore perhaps capable of applying some of this understanding towards himself. One of the most remarkable of Mantel's achievements was, having decided to offer Cromwell as a presence rather than a person, she was able to move me to tears with her account of both the life and death of C's wife.

As to whether the RCs "had it coming" (I love that dismissive phrase) I'll refrain from comment. I have regularly used Works Well as a pulpit for my atheism and I'm pretty sure it doesn't go down too well with my audience. I am in a hole and for the moment I'm laying down my spade.

Cheers, and thanks for "heavenly lengths".