Monday’s Muse… Golden phrases

Anne Boleyn
This week I’m inspired by the delightful prose of Hilary Mantel.
Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This week’s Muse comes straight from the pages of the book I’m currently reading, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies.

Being the sequel to the Man Booker Prize Winner Wolf Hall, and shortlisted for this year’s prize in its own right, it should come as no surprise that this tome contains some simply beautiful, original phrases.

So today is a tribute to the inspirational quality of:

Golden Phrases

A few examples:

  • Of Anne’s father, the Earl of Wiltshire:
  • “He is not a man wedded to action, Boleyn, but rather a man who stands by, smirking and stroking his beard; he thinks he looks enigmatic, but instead he looks as if he’s pleasuring himself.”

  • Of Anne in her chamber:
  • “Anne dangles her velvet slipper, like a child about to dip a toe in a stream.”

  • Of Jane Seymour:
  • “When Henry talks about Jane, he blinks, tears spring to his eyes. ‘Her little hands, Crumb. Her little paws, like a child’s. She has no guile in her. And if she does I have to bend my head to hear what she says. And in the pause I can hear my heart. Her little bits of embroidery, her scraps of silk, her halcyon sleeves she cut out of the cloth some admirer gave her once, some poor boy struck with love for her… Her little sleeves, her seed pearl necklace…”

  • And my personal favourite… of Stephen Gardiner:
  • “When Stephen comes into a room, the furnishings shrink from him. Chairs scuttle backwards. Joint-stools flatten themselves like pissing bitches. The woollen Bible figures in the king’s tapestries lift their hands to cover their ears.”

    Mantel’s prose is so striking, so clear. Her sentences are short. Her images are vivid. You cannot help but lose yourself in the world she paints. Certainly this type of writing would not move me without a strong story to back it, but Bring Up The Bodies – the tale of the deconstruction of Anne Boleyn – could hardly be said to be lacking in plot. Not at all to undermine Mantel’s skill, but the Tudors have handed writers a sizzling plot on a platter.

    This, and Mantel’s silken sentences, transport you so completely, it feels wrong when you look up and see yourself wearing jeans and a t-shirt, rather than the embroidered cloth and heavy skirts of another age.

    In other news, I’m┬áthree-quarters of the way through this book now, so a review is forthcoming. Stay tuned!

    ~ DF

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  1. Dee

    Reading Mantel right now. Great selections.

    I tried to find halcyon sleeve online too. All I can come up with is that it is a shade of blue referring to the halcyon bird which is a kind of kingfisher.

  2. Phoebe

    But just what is a “halcyon sleeve”? I can’t find a definition anywhere, and since the phrase is used twice by two separate people in the book, it must mean something other than “peaceful” sleeves.

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