Monday, May 13, 2013

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whether you believe Anne Boleyn was the tragic pawn of powerful and ruthless men or a manipulative whore that stole a crown and spent her days scheming to murder her enemies, or something in between, you have to admit that Anne Boleyn was fascinating. Susan Bordo's "The Creation of Anne Boleyn" discusses how Anne has been portrayed in both fiction and non-fiction, TV, movies, and documentaries and how that has changed over time. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author explored and compared the many versions of Anne's life and character throughout history and how each portrayal of Anne was adapted to fit in with the era in which it was written. It's easy to see how the "true" Anne Boleyn could be lost somewhere in history. It makes me hate Henry all the more for all that he did to remove any mention of her so that now, we're left with mostly conjecture about who she really was. Of course, that may be the very thing that causes me to be so drawn to her above many other dynamic women in history. I admit, I haven't watched many of the movies and documentaries mentioned but there are several that I am eager to see after reading this book.

Bordo is very opinionated about the way she believes many popular authors have unfairly characterized Anne. From the beginning, this approach was very off-putting for me since my introduction to Anne Boleyn was from authors such as Alison Weir, Norah Lofts, and Jean Plaidy and I was almost offended at, what I felt, was Bordo practically accusing them of fabricating history (as far as Weir and Lofts, not much is said about Plaidy). As you see by my 4 star rating, I ended up finding this to be an excellent read, and I may have even rated it a 5 had she not been so harsh on Alison Weir. I am much more inclined to see Anne Boleyn much the way Bordo does, as an intelligent, charismatic, and complex woman as opposed to the sly temptress that she is so widely believed to be. However, I think that, with the lack of information available about Anne Boleyn and since the information that is available cannot necessarily be taken at face value, Alison Weir's interpretation of historical events and Anne's character is just as likely as Bordo's interpretation.

I found "The Creation of Anne Boleyn" to be thought-provoking and it definitely motivated me to revisit some of my favorite Tudor reads and led me to discover some books and movies I wasn't familiar with. I appreciated that there were many points of view discussed and compared even though there was a clear bias. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is curious about Anne Boleyn because it does present so many differing points of view as well as the author's own opinion about Anne's character and why she has been portrayed so many ways.

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Wendy Darling said...

I always find it so interesting when authors are so vehement about events and people for whom we have so little concrete knowledge, too. Who says your interpretation is right, lady?! :P

Thanks for this thorough review, Donna. I actually just started a historical YA novel based on Anne Boleyn's life, so I'm curious to see how that goes. I don't know too much about the specifics of her life, so I think that's probably going to work in my favor going into it. So cynical, I know. ;)

Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

Donna Smith said...

@Wendy Darling

I love Anne Boleyn. I've read a ton of books about her. It was probably more than a decade ago, way before the TV series The Tudors became so popular, but I was obsessed with the British monarchy from William the Conqueror to James I. But Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth I are the two who I was most intrigued with.

I try to read any new books that are released about Anne or Elizabeth so I'm sure I'll be reading the one you're reading when it comes out. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about Anne Boleyn once you read a bit of her story, even though it's fictional. Thanks for stopping by!

Donna Smith said...

It's funny too Wendy, I absolutely do not believe that any author, be it historical scholar or a writer of fiction is above being questioned, critiqued, or otherwise disagreed with. It would be extremely hypocritical for me to think so. However, when it is done to those authors I feel a kind of loyalty to as a reader, I don't like it and my initial reaction to this book was a bit hostile. It was actually an excellent read and it may have even been unfair of me to have given it 4 stars instead of 5 because it was honestly due to her aggressive critiquing of those authors I love. Some of which I even, begrudgingly, agreed with.

Susan Bordo said...

Donna, I really appreciate your honesty and authenticity! I want you to know that my criticisms were not made out of hostility but because they were necessary to my argument in the book that much of what we believe about Anne has very shaky foundations. I couldn't make the omelette, so to speak, without breaking some eggs! I actually don't enjoy criticizing people, and there are some authors that it actually pained me to critique. But we just can't keep bowing down to received wisdom and I strongly felt we were overdue for many of the points I made--reluctantly in some cases (Weir and Mantel), and less reluctantly in others (Starkey.) I also enjoy Phillppa Gregory, but as a teacher have gotten tired of the authority she holds in many students' minds. Anyway....I thank you so much for responding so thoughtfully and in such an involved way. No author could ask for more from a reader!! Susan

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