Wolf Hall Questions and Answers
by Hilary Mantel

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Why does Mantel use what can only be described as a "floating he" in Wolf Hall? Often, one doesn't know to which he "he" refers.

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This criticism of the book is perhaps understandable. It is difficult at times to keep track of precisely who "he" is referring to, particularly in some passages. However, it is important to consider why Mantel made this choice to use "he" as a pronoun so much in her novel. It certainly should not put readers off engaging with this text, that one the English Booker Prize, and has been lauded all over the world. What the repetition of "he" does is to highlight and foreground the thoughts and opinons of Thomas Cromwell constantly, helping the reader to see things from his point of view and understand the complex thought processes that he has. Note for example the following quote in which the grief Cromwell experiences over the death of his wife is explored:

Last night he kept the vigil alone. He lay awake, wishing Liz back; waiting for her to come and lie beside him. It's true he is at Esher with the cardinal, not at home at the Austin Friars. But, he thought, she'll know how to find me. She'll look for the cardinal, drawn through the space between worlds by incense and candlelight. Wherever the cardinal is, I will be.

Note how the repetition of "he" focuses the reader on the thoughts and perspective of Cromwell, and this in turn emphasises the aching need that he has for his wife and his desire for her to return from the other side and "lie beside him." Cromwell historically is a character who has been much maligned. Mantel's aim in writing this book, and indeed in planning a trilogy of which Bring Up the Bodies is the second book, is to explore the ways in which this is an innacurate judgement on this historical figure, and through the repetition of the pronoun "he," she forces the reader to see that Cromwell is much more than the simple stereotype he has been made out to be in history books.

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