Under the Molehill – First Impressions

When I started reading this I wasn’t really sure how the book was structured. Even after 20 pages in, I was still unsure about what I was reading exactly. With a subtitle of An Elizabethan Spy Story, I sort of imagined that it would be like a historical-fiction – taking an interesting part of history and fantasizing it a little bit. It took me awhile to fully comprehend that that was not the case. Instead, it turns out to be following the thought process of the author as he attempts to solve the mystery of who the mole is. For some reason, this was not as obvious to me as I now feel like it should have been…

Maybe it is because I have never read a book structured like this before… maybe it is because the title preconditioned me to think it was something else. Regardless of the reason, it is comical to think that it has taken me close to 60 pages to finally get the gist of it.

I do want to point out a quote though. At the end of Part I Bossy wrote “…we get a snapshot of the scene in Castelnau’s chamber. I imagine he was writing the letter himself; Feron (again probably) was in the room…” This quote struck at me, mainly because it made me feel like I wasn’t completely off track. Bossy is looking at all of these documents with his own interpretation of the events, and is even fantasizing how events took place. So, while this book is not as fictional as I initially thought, there is an element of fiction in it. That does beg the question as to the trustworthiness of the text. Are many parts of exaggerated, a part of Bossy’s wild imagination? Or for the most part this book is just the scientific relaying of a theory with evidence as backup?

4 thoughts on “Under the Molehill – First Impressions

  1. I totally agree with what you said in this post, Hilary. I too felt like the book seemed to take forever to get going and then was still somewhat lost even after I thought I had figured out where Bossy was actually going. I agree too with what you said about the title being a bit misleading, because it definitely led me to believe that there was going to be a more fictional element to the book, but I also felt that (possibly because of my assumed fictional element that) the pace of the book was going to be faster and that it wasn’t going to be written as academically as it was. Did you feel this way too? Regardless, I am looking forward to reading the next book and hope that we all enjoy it a bit more than this one.

  2. Before I started reading the book, I felt much the same way you did. I assumed that the book would be a work of historical fiction, especially with the subtitle of “An Elizabethan Spy Story”. I had to do a search on the internet to see if it was an actual historical study. I began to feel that it was not fiction after seeing all of the footnotes and realizing how dull the reading was. However, I can see why the book was added to the class curriculum, as it gives us a sense of what is going on behind thee scenes in Elizabethan history. Another mistake I think that Bossy made was that by marketing the book as an Elizabethan spy story, the title put off more serious historians, who expected the book to be historical fiction, while at the same time fooling the people who were expecting a gripping, semi-fictional story, but found out that it is an extremely in depth and dry historical study.

  3. I noticed similar quotes to the one that Hilary has supplied, and it does cause one to question how much liberty Bossy took in writing the book. However, I think that his scholarly tone could be characterized as misleading on that point because his tone suggests that the book is factual, yet statements like the one Hillary mentioned would not be present in a purely factual book. So, I guess it could be considered a highly factual native and fiction. It seems as though the author tried to write three books in one, a history book on plots against Queen Elizabeth, a narrative of his research experience, and a fiction based upon the history and what he found in his research.

  4. The amount of conjecture, the scholarly license (maybe coining a phrase there) Bossy takes with his sources and his reconstruction of the narrative do leave one questioning how well ‘Under the Molehill’ might holdup to scrutiny. The story itself does not seem hopeless, but rather Bossy’s handling of it. What Bossy does in the quote you provided is something, at least to my understanding, that historians generally avoid doing.

    To take an example from my own work (and once again to take us back to the Middle Ages!): the palace coup by Edward III against his mother, Isabella of France, and her purported lover, Roger Mortimer. We know that Edward, with the help of several companions, executed an efficient and timely arrest of both his mother and Mortimer. I like to think, in my own imagination, that Edward and his friends, after planning their coup in a menacing looking room from the set of Game of Thrones, moved through secret passages in Nottingham Castle, and emerged through a hidden door beyond a tapestry into the room of Isabella, finding her and Mortimer plotting the eventual murder of none other but Edward himself! But I would never do that. There is so much implied in my little narrative above that betrays any meaningful reconstruction of the events, and stretches the bit of evidence we have to the breaking point.

    Considering the praise and prestige achieved by Bossy during his career, I would be hesitant to conclude that he allowed his own desires or fantasies to distort his reconstruction of an ‘Elizabethan Spy Story.’ But I cannot help sharing your criticism and, to a degree, skepticism of his work. While I leaned on him being a cynical, old, grumpy professor in class on Thursday, I continue to find myself questioning his motives and what exactly his intention was.

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