Monday, 8 April 2013

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen - Susan Bordo

A ground-breaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn’s life and legacy from a preeminent cultural thinker puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.   Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life, and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once-beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships. Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and re-imagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto "mean girl," feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies..

As an early modernist, I always have a lot of interest in Tudor history considering most of my studies were around Elizabeth and her court and Anne Boleyn was her mother. I thought this book, with its focus not on the actual history but on the perceived social history, sounding amazing. And I was right.

Bordo explores the history of Anne Boleyn with a wit and a critical eye. She starts off looking at the official records we still have of the queen, going through the story of her courtship and ultimate death while looking at what we actually have in the historical record and why those things may be subject to scrutiny. In this section, she also looks critically at other "history" books and shows when their sources may be suspect, something I appreciated because I feel like not enough books truly fact check their sources sometimes. 

After going through Anne's own period, Bordo begins looking at how she was received through the ages. She looks at how Catholics vs Protestants viewed her, how Victorian children were taught about her and what she stood for in various ages. It's in this section that we see how different myths that we've all seemed to have heard before got started and see how controversial all this can be.

My favorite section, however, is the last where Bordo looks at how the media, especially of the last hundred years, has treated Anne. She looked at different versions of Anne in film and talked about how to treat historical fiction. Her chapter on The Tudors was incredibly interesting, especially when she talked about her interview with Natalie Dormer, the girl who played Anne Boleyn in the show and how she struggled with the script given to her. My favorite chapter, however, was probably the six page rant about Phillippa Gregory and why she's a good writer but not a good historical novelist. I agreed with all her points and found it a very important addition to the book.

The best part, though, was the afterword, where Bordo talks about what drew her to Anne in the first place, the connections she sees with her own daughter and what inspires her about Anne. After reading all this history and all this perspective, reading how Bordo truly felt was a nice touch and a great ending to the book.

Bordo writes with wit and humor, perhaps a bit harsh at times but never uncalled for. I found myself giggling at many side comments and liked that she didn't pretend to be completely impartial. When she thought something was more likely, she'd say it but always preface it with 'this is what I lean towards' and why. 

I definitely want to read more from Bordo after this. She's a great writer and this book is a must for any fan of history, Anne Boleyn or The Tudors. I loved it.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn comes out April 9th (tomorrow~!) from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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