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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

When Anne of A Thousand Days was screened in London recently, audiences cheered Anne's defiant speech when she said that her daughter would be a great Queen.  No one who saw Genevieve Bujold make this speech could ever forget it, because she is so fiery, independent and proud.

The Anne of this film became a feminist icon for many young girls and women who saw this film.  Before this, Anne had often been represented as a nasty, scheming, ambitious woman who was venomous to Queen Catherine and her daughter Mary.  As Susan Bordo points out, this version came straight from Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, and he had every reason to dislike 'the concubine', as he called her.  Many historians even today also rely on Chapuys, without verifying his statements.  David Starkey, for example, writes about Anne in a rather critical way.  Yet there is little evidence to support many of Chapuys's writings about Anne.

Susan Bordo summarises Anne's story, and she then looks at the many different versions of Anne over the years. Unfortunately, as she points out, Anne has again become the nasty 'other woman' in the eyes of many people.  This is largely due to Phillipa Gregory.  I was pleased that she takes a harsh attitude to Phillipa Gregory's version of Anne in The Other Boleyn Girl, and she lists the historical inaccuracies in the film.
Phillipa Gregory has even accused Anne of murder with no evidence at all!

Bordo enlivens the book by telling readers personal anecdotes, and her interviews with people who have played Anne, such as Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer.  I especially enjoyed her interview with Genevieve Bujold.  I liked Bujold's answer to the question about which actress she would recommend to play Anne, but I won't tell you what it is.  You will have to read the book!

I did take issue with Bordo's argument about Queen Catherine.  She thinks that Queen Catherine should have accepted King Henry's suggestion that she should enter a convent.  However, Catherine of Aragon didn't want her daughter to be made illegitimate, and she was, arguably, right.  She was also a strong woman who insisted on her rights, and I think that Bordo's argument here is inconsistent with her admiration of Anne's strength of character.

This is a hugely enjoyable book for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn.  I highly recommend it!

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