Anyone who knows me, or anyone who has taken the time to read this blog, knows of my fascination with Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, and all things Tudor. It began when I was about eleven years old with a contraband copy of Elizabeth Jenkins’ classic Elizabeth the Great. Contraband because I’d stolen it from my older sister. So fascinated was I that I continued my criminality by promptly stealing a book she had about Anne Boleyn. I’m not sure, but I think it was Evelyn Anthony’s Anne Boleyn, one of the few books about her that Bordo does not mention. Just so you know, my sister stole that one back, but I still have Elizabeth the Great.
Since then, I have read, and enjoyed, many books, novels and venerable biographies, about both mother and daughter. Bordo mentions several of my favorites including The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell (she also wrote Mademoiselle Boleyn, another favorite, about Anne’s time at the French Court, which Bordo mentions in the bibliography), The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I didn’t like Bring Up the Bodies quite as much). I also enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, which Bordo eviscerates with great enthusiasm, because having half a brain, I didn’t take Philippa Gregory’s portrayal of Anne seriously. Nor should anyone else because it is a novel. With the way Bordo tore into Philippa Gregory for resurrecting the nearly demonic Anne of Chapuys and Sander, I’m surprised, and a little disappointed, that she didn’t do the same to such works as Joanna Denny’s Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen, that go to the other extremity and glorify St. Anne, mother of the English Reformation. And, unlike Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Denny’s Anne Boleyn was, supposedly, nonfiction.
Also, like a lot of people, I found David Starkey’s Six Wives, which Bordo finds so offensive, to be entertaining and, truthfully, I was actually more interested with what he had to say about Katherine of Aragon in that book than in his version of Anne. His Katherine was no patient, long-suffering, doormat. A difference from the norm that I greatly appreciated. Another thing about Katherine: when Bordo points out that Katherine of Aragon is rarely portrayed as anything other than the stereotypical dark Spaniard when, in fact, she was fair with what we would call strawberry-blond, or red-gold, hair, and blue eyes, I almost cheered. It is, as you know, one of my pet peeves. In light of that, I want to take a moment to applaud Natalie Dormer for taking the time to actually research Anne Boleyn and to fight for the right to portray her as she should be portrayed, even going so far as to dye her hair. But, if we’re going to nit pick, I would like to point out an historical inaccuracy of Bordo’s own. When discussing Anne’s visit to Calais as the newly minted Marquess of Pembroke, Bordo says that Queen Claude of France refused to be there to greet her. By this point, fall of 1532, Claude was dead. The Queen of France was Eleanor of Austria, sister to Emperor Charles V and niece to Katherine of Aragon.
I loved The Tudors, despite its hodgepodge of historical inaccuracies and its inconsistent, though gorgeous, costumes. It was wonderfully bold and extravagant. Anyone who watches a show on Showtime of all channels, even one based on historical fact, and expects it to be accurate needs to get their IQ tested, because they obviously aren’t as smart as they think they are. Frankly, I was impressed by the amount of dialogue and speeches that were taken straight from historical sources. Though, of course, some (read most) of them were out of context.
Bordo also spends at lot of time discussing one of my favorite movies: Anne of the Thousand Days. I adored this movie and Genevieve Bujold is, for me, the quintessential Anne. The argument Anne and Henry have in her room in the Tower, something that would never have actually happened, is my absolute favorite scene. Especially the part about Elizabeth. “My Elizabeth shall be Queen! And my blood will have been well spent.” While I enjoyed Natalie Dormer’s Anne in The Tudors, as well as Natalie Portman’s turn in the role in the Hollywood version of The Other Boleyn Girl (it was loyal to the book, after all), Bujold continues to reign supreme as the Anne Boleyn.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, in which Susan Bordo gives us an in depth look at the many faces Anne Boleyn has donned over the centuries since the first fictions were created by Chapuys, Sander, Fox, Cavendish, and, probably, by Anne herself, and the struggle of each subsequent generation to interpret and cope with the enigma that she was, and continues to be.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars