Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn

Who was Anne Boleyn? For centuries, the second wife of Henry VIII has been the subject of countless interpretations--fictional, biographical and everything in between. She has been cast in every possible role--as heroine and villain, as hapless victim of Henry's whims and political harbinger of her own tragic fate, as religious martyr and demonic temptress. Her story, retold countless times, continues to fascinate and inspire countless writers, artists, historians and readers.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn looks at the many metamorphoses of Anne Boleyn throughout history, which have manifested in historical works, literature and popular culture. In the first section of the book, author Susan Bordo revisits the real life of Anne Boleyn by discussing (and challenging) some of the commonly held beliefs about Anne; many of the beliefs that Bordo challenges come straight from the correspondence of one of Anne's most volatile enemies at court, the ambassador Chapuys. In challenging the facts about Anne Boleyn presented by Chapuys, Bordo also challenges many historians--modern and otherwise--who rely perhaps too heavily on Chapuys' correspondence for their interpretation of Anne Boleyn's life.

The second and third sections of the book tackles Anne Boleyn's many fictional representations after her death, including her portrayal in literature, theater and, more recently, film and television. Bordo looks primarily at Anne's portrayal in Anne of a Thousand Days, The Tudors, and The Other Boleyn Girl; brief mentions of other film and TV interpretations are also included.

In discussing how Anne has been revisited over the centuries in these fictional works, Bordo looks at broader social, political and entertainment trends that have influenced the way Anne has been depicted; despite the more recent historiography of Anne Boleyn challenging the notion of Anne as a shrewd vixen-like character, this type of Anne Boleyn, who seduces Henry VIII for her own gain and gets a 'comeuppance' in the end, has swung back around in the last decade or so with works such as The Other Boleyn Girl and in some respects, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies novels.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is an essential book for anyone with an interest in Anne Boleyn; it is also of interest to anyone who loves to study historiography and historical figures in popular culture.