Obscure reference in 'Bring Up The Bodies'
September 6, 2017 5:59 AM   Subscribe

What is the 'fallen man' referred to in this throwaway passage from Hilary Mantel's 'Bring Up The Bodies'? I assure you this is not my homework.

I am re-reading 'Bring Up the Bodies' because I am in love with Hilary Mantel's writing, particularly the way she doesn't trouble herself with explanations.

However, I have had the following passage stuck in my head for days now because I just cannot understand what the 'fallen man' is, that Rafe and Gregory are kicking about. I understand they are pretending it's Frances Weston - but what is it really? A shadow? Some sort of insect? An imaginary creation? A dustbunny? A broomstick?! HELP ME!

Note: it cannot really be a man who has fallen over, as they subsequently throw the figure out of the window to see if he bounces.

The offending passage:
When he goes upstairs he sees Rafe and Gregory jumping around near the great window. They are capering and scuffling, eyes on something invisible at their feet. At first he thinks they are playing football without a ball. But then they leap up like dancers and back-heel the thing, and he sees that it is long and thin, a fallen man. They lean down to tweak and jab, to apply torsion. 'Ease off,' Gregory says, 'don't snap his neck yet, I need to see him suffer.'

Rafe looks up, and affects to wipe his brow. Gregory rests hands on knees, getting his breath back, then nudges the victim with his foot. 'This is Francis Weston. You think he is helping put the king to bed, but in fact we have him here in ghostly form. We stood around a corner and waited for him with a magic net.'

'We are punishing him,' Rafe leans down. 'Ho, sir, are you sorry now?' He spits on his palms. 'What next with him, Gregory?'

What next indeed. Explain yourself, Mantel.
posted by citands to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A puppet, maybe? At any rate, can you give a page # or reminder of where this is in the novel?
posted by TwoStride at 6:11 AM on September 6

The fallen man is Francis Weston, but imaginary. At first the narrator thinks Rafe and Gregory are pretending to play football, but then realizes that they are pretending to stomp and kick at an imaginary body.

There's nothing else there.
posted by anastasiav at 6:26 AM on September 6 [9 favorites]

yep, totally made up.
posted by runincircles at 6:34 AM on September 6

Full agreement with anastasiav. The key (for me anyway) is "we have him here in ghostly form".
posted by komara at 7:15 AM on September 6

he sees that it is long and thin, a fallen man

Are people really suggesting that there is nothing there at all? There is something he "sees." It is "long and thin." They are pretending it is Francis Weston, which is why they say it's in "ghostly form," but this is clearly a physical object.
posted by FencingGal at 8:04 AM on September 6

"Are people really suggesting that there is nothing there at all?"


"eyes on something invisible at their feet"
"he thinks they are playing football without a ball"
"here in ghostly form"
"waited for him with a magic net."

All this without any description of a real person, no talk of real touching or physical interaction, no description of the 'victim' himself. You're keying on the word "see" which is not meant literally.
posted by komara at 8:09 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]

I vote for "shadow"--from a distance away, the narrator can't see it, it is "invisible." It is Rafe and Gregory's actions--their interaction with "it"--that make it visible for him.
posted by correcaminos at 8:10 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]

Yes, there is nothing there at all. It is "something invisible at their feet", and he 'sees' the shape by virtue of the ways in which they interact with it.
posted by theatro at 8:10 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]

You're keying on the word "see" which is not meant literally.

Actually, I'm keying in on "it is long and thin" in combination with "sees."

I'll bow out after this, since we're not here to argue with each other.
posted by FencingGal at 8:20 AM on September 6

"Are people really suggesting that there is nothing there at all?"

Yes absolutely: he decides to make the same leap of imagination the boys are / indulge in the same flight of fancy.
The Cromwell books are full of this blurring of the line between the real and the imagined: when he thinks somwhere that if ?Wolsey were to have it in for ?Norfork, he would seep along the grain of wood in his table, or something; when he imagines a feast to set up a scene in his memory palace; the thing about the monarchy being descended from Trojans and snake women; talking about the gargoyles watching the coronation; "who will swear in the boggarts in the hedges and the unicorns in the forest", etc., even the first line of "Bodies": "His children are falling from the sky." (Not to pile on with the examples but they're all so gorgeous.)
We're supposed to weave in and out of the subjective with him.

Mantel in her other books and personally, if you read her memoir "Giving Up The Ghost" is very interested in this blurring of reality and phantasy, even supernatural. Her "Beyond Black" about a medium has fabulous depictions of the limbo the dead exist in, and talks from the psychic's perspective quite matter of factly.

It's part of why the books stand up to so many rereadings.

God I love Hilary Mantel.
posted by runincircles at 8:21 AM on September 6 [12 favorites]

the monarchy being descended from Trojans and snake women

Just FYI, those aren't Mantel's inventions. The first legend of Britain being founded by deamon and Trojans is from Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century History of England, the main source for the legend of King Arthur. The second refers to a legend about one of the founders of the Plantagenet dynasty, that he had returned from Crusade with a foreign bride later discovered to be a demon. They're legends, but they're ones someone like Cromwell would likely have known, same way as an American would have heard of Washington and the cherry tree. Like, not actual history, but a sort of popular history tale that was circulating at the time.
posted by Diablevert at 8:53 AM on September 6 [5 favorites]

Thanks Diablevert, that is v cool to know!
posted by runincircles at 10:10 AM on September 6

The boys are making it up, but they are pretending to kick Westons spirit, which he has somehow sent out to their house (while his body attends the king) and they have caught in a magic net.
posted by Hypatia at 10:49 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]

OK so two things: one, I understand that often Mantel is saying one thing but means another, or multiple others. "His children are falling from the sky" is so beautiful because it's at least three things; the falcons are his children in the absence of any other; he has literally named his falcons after his children, so beings with the name of his children are literally falling from the sky; and the allegory of his dead loved ones, winged and wheeling. Beautiful! Literary! Explicable!

This is why this phrase stuck with me. I've been wringing out 'fallen man' for all the possible secondary connotations and coming up blank... because there actually aren't any?

Secondly, though: I think I get it now, with the help of anastasiav and komara. My sincere thanks! I can read it now as 'see' in the sense of 'their interaction with the invisible object indicates that it is a long and thin invisible object, not a ball-shaped invisible object as he had first assumed', and 'see' in the sense of 'buys into their imaginary kickable person conceit'.

I still don't understand why they are playing this weird game, pretending to kick an invisible man, but I will chalk that up to 'lads/bants' or maybe 'there was no telly in the 1500s'.
posted by citands at 11:15 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]

I would have immediately assumed the "fallen man" was an empty bottle. "Dead men" is a not uncommon term for empty beer bottles.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:22 AM on September 6

I still don't understand why they are playing this weird game

A proper historian would be able to answer this better, but regarding the strange little game they're playing --- I know that during the Salem witch trials of the 17th century, much was made of "spectral evidence" --- the belief that those in league with the devil could send their spirits abroad and interact with people or come to them in dreams even if their physical bodies were elsewhere. Can't seem to dig up a source to verify that this was a common belief in Cromwell's time a century earlier, but witch trials certainly were, Mantel includes one in the book. They boy's game seems to point to such a belief.
posted by Diablevert at 12:01 PM on September 6

I still don't understand why they are playing this weird game, pretending to kick an invisible man,

A proper historian would be able to answer this better

-- kids do this now. probably they stop at younger ages than Rafe and Gregory's, or at least they stop being able to have imaginative games together, rather than separately. but it's nothing specially historical. They're playing at hurting this man who just said things they didn't like, to relieve their feelings. They're old enough to need or just to be able to elaborate an extra layer of pretending to explain why you can't see him, instead of being young enough to just pretend they've got him there for real.

if you mean, why this specific elaboration of the spectral-self excuse, I think one of them is humoring the other and they're both playing it up for the onlooker's benefit, to please him. the only thing that seems questionable here is whether they were really doing this before he came upstairs or if it's all semi-staged for him, to show off how much they hate Weston. pretending for real or pretending for pretend, if you will.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:16 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


Maybe so:
As a younger woman she turned inwards, towards the near-hallucinatory visions she’s always valued so highly, the ghosts who populate her books (sometimes the result of migraine and pain medication). Now she can think of projecting that imaginative power outwards, in collaboration with other people.

“I didn’t know that I had, in a sense, left myself behind until the shadow of that pain lifted. You’re not conscious of it, you don’t know what daylight is, until you go out into it, and then you can’t help but get a surge of energy and hope. And then you think, but where’s my life gone? I want to do all these things and I’m 61. (From a 2014 article in the Evening Standard)
She apparently suffered from quite painful endometriosis until fairly recently (although it sounds as if it's merely less painful now, after surgery), but the way people have been describing her in this thread she seems narcoleptic to me, and while many anecdotal accounts link endometriosis and narcolepsy (and they are both autoimmune diseases), no causal connection between them is recognized.
posted by jamjam at 5:54 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]

if you mean, why this specific elaboration of the spectral-self excuse

Kids play similar games w invisible objects and people the world over, I completely agree. But in terms of its function in the novel, this idea that people could send their spectres forth while their bodies were elsewhere was something adults actually believed, was accepted as legit testimony in court on some occasions. To have this scene crop up in a novel replete with witch burnings and persecutions and intrigues and enemies shouldn't pass, I think, as a mere children's game; to Cromwell, it's a fresh reminder of very real dangers, of ways his enemies may strike at him even when they seem to be elsewhere, innocent.
posted by Diablevert at 6:45 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]

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