Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Werds By The Pound

Since the beginning of the year I have been consuming books by the pound. Eg. I am currently (re-) reading Antonia Fraser's Cromwell: The Lord Protector. Now there's a book with some heft to it. More than seven hundred pages of the finest niggling detail you could possibly imagine. And that's my review of it more or less.

When I first read it, probably not long after it was first published, I devoured it then and thought it quite the work of biography. Now, on re-reading it, (and I'm about halfway through) I find it cluttered by the undergrowth of detail. Fraser somehow seems to miss the forest for all the trees and bushy bushes she's uncovered. So that, as far as I've come, I have no sense at all of how and why the Roundhead revolution occurred, what the political, social and religious situation was that gave rise to the Puritan phenomenon and how it was actually able to seize power in England.

It's a period (the middle of the 17th century) that perhaps many non-Brits don't know much about. And in a certain sense, they wouldn't learn much more from reading this book. Oh sure, they beheaded King Charles I. They (Cromwell) developed a new style of army, or new tactics, which affected military campaigns on into the future. They "subdued" Ireland. (Hah!) Quite viciously.

You might be surprised to learn that England was a "Protectorate" for some years...the "Protector" being Oliver Cromwell. A euphemism, really, for "Dictator" since at some point or other Cromwell, after having disposed of the king, subsequently "dismissed" Parliament at sword point.

But in this book, you don't get the impression of why this all occurred, what its roots were. I always thought that England was, after Henry VIII, essentially Anglican. Fraser does show that in the 17th century there was considerable dispute over the status of various Christian denominations. The Anglican church, represented by King Charles, was deposed as the state religion amid controversy and battles among Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholic bloody papists! and Puritans and a host of other Anabaptists and obscure sects. What Fraser doesn't give us is the historical context of it all. Instead she jumps straight into details of various battles won by Cromwell over Royalists (Cavaliers), Presbyterians, Irish and God knows who else...leprechauns.

So, now, the legend is that Murrica was colonized by the persecuted Puritans of the Mayflower, who fled England because they could not practise according to their religious conscience. Even Cromwell considered emigrating. But in Fraser we find that it was the Puritans who, for a time in England, trampled on freedom of conscience. Who knew, eh?

Unfortunately, by the end of this book, you may know it happened, but you still won't know why.

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2 comments:

wild thing said...

How anyone can handel a seven hundred page book about politics is a mystery to me. Oliver Cromwell. You know that name calls up bad feelings. Not because I know his story. Not because he was one of my uncles I disliked. But as a kid I heard him spoken about in adult conversations and the tone of those conversations definitely turned me off. He a bad man. He no good, I sensed.

I saw the Boston Tea Party mentioned in connection with "Old Crommy, (Crummy?" and grew curious. Heard it mentioned often enough. Never knew what it was about. So it was between the British and the American Loalists, and about taxes on tea. Man, the things people fight about. I bet the ladies that held 'pinky up' tea parties never thought about that. They probably just wondered why the price of tea had gone up so much.

Is there a "Boston Tea Party" in "Alice in Wonderland?" or am I confusing things? It wouldn't be such a surprize because I think many political situations found there way in children's stories and even nursery rhymes.

Larry Keiler said...

WT, you know you would make a good writer of what I've called "fractured history" (like the Roberta Peary North Pole story I wrote) cuz when it comes to historical stuff your mind kinda works the same as mine.

(Which is a sneaky way of saying I am a great writer of fractured history...

The Boston Tea Party didn't happen until more than 100 years after Cromwell. But there is a sort of connection since many of the first colonists in the New World were Puritans like Cromwell.

And then, there was also a Cromwell before the Oliver. Thomas. Who (I think I have this straight) was one of Henry VIII's ministers, and also came to have a bad reputation in British history.

Now, the Tea Party was really only symbolic. The dispute was over taxation by the British Crown. The Yanks dumped tea in Boston Harbour rather than pay the tax imposed by the king.

But if you chose, you could write the Alice in Wonderland Boston Tea Party, for which the rabbit was very late and the Mad Hatter couldn't stay awake...or whoever it was that kept falling asleep....

Cuz you are right. There was a Tea Party in Alice, altho not really the Boston Tea Party, but that's no reason not to make it so in your own story.

And the contemporary example is the so-called Tea Parties held just in the last week by members of the Murrican Republican Party, which were about as Alice-in-Wonderlandish as you can get...

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