Earlier today I came across a wonderful article written by Hilary Mantel, the author of Wolf Hall. I was greatly moved by the piece because many of the sentiments she describes are those which I have experienced but perhaps cannot word as eloquently.
The article is about how the past has a way of moving her and bringing her to tears. When talking about what makes her cry she says,
“it was a view, a prospect, a picture in a museum, or some pinprick contact with the past – one of those moments when history dabs out a pointed fingertip and the nail sinks straight through your skin. I have cried in many art galleries, and aroused the suspicion of the curators. I once cried at Ullapool, because I was overwhelmed by the idea of “north”. I cried the first time I visited Haworth, because I had suddenly glimpsed the narrow graveside nature of the Brontës’ lives.”
I love the image of history as a pointed fingertip that can suddenly poke you and get under your skin.
She goes on to describe how on a visit to Sutton House, one of the oldest houses in East London built in 1535 by Ralph Sadleir, a courtier of Henry VIII, she manages to explore the entire house without shedding a tear until she reachers the cellar. In the cellar she finds the building’s “flesh and blood”, the Tudor bricks; some marked by the bricklayers who worked them, one stamped with a dog’s pawprint and in another brick, the outline of a blade of grass. Hilary then describes how she begins to sense the Spring of 1535, “when Thomas More was still alive and pearls were still warm on the neck of Anne Boleyn. It was then that the shock of the past reached out and jabbed me in the ribs. They were as alive as I am; why can’t I touch them?”
I love these words because I am truly fascinated by the past. The thought of Anne Boleyn-alive- sends a tingle down my spine. She was not just a character in a story, she was a real person. And all that separates me from her is time. Really makes my mind boggle…
Read the full article- ‘Unfreezing antique feeling’.