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

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  • Posted April 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    For me, this was a book like no other! I have not found myself u

    For me, this was a book like no other! I have not found myself underlining, making margin notes and dog earring a book for many years - but this book just ignited me so much that I had to make notes, notes and more notes! I did not merely really like this book, I loved it! No, I have none of those conspiratorial affiliations or associations - this book is just unique and very different. I'm a history buff, especially a British history buff, and I love the cultural aspects of history. This book could have been more tailored to my interests!

    Susan Bordo is a philosopher, cultural & feminist historian, and humanities scholar from the University of Kentucky. She has presented us with a finely detailed, acutely researched and edifying history about the 'becoming' of the famous English Queen, Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo details precisely how the myth of Anne Boleyn has been created, defined and re-defined over the centuries.

    This is not just a history book, nor is it to be considered necessarily biographical in nature. It is rather a book that details how the cultural history of Anne Boleyn over the centuries has morphed into the myth behind the Queen and about how those myths have shaped our understanding, and our version about the 'reality' of this fascinating woman, who, many feel, was a modern age woman confined by the 'feminine strictures' of her 16th century world. Anne Boleyn; was she a saint or a sinner? Was she really the instigator of reformed religion in Britain? Was she, in fact, malformed? Did she truly have the adulterous relationships that led her to the scaffold or was this simply a conspiracy that allowed Henry to bed a more fecund woman who could, he hoped, provide him with a true heir to his throne? How have the myriad characterizations of Anne in books, plays and movies, shaped our common perception of her as a female and Queen? What do we really know about the woman who was Anne Boleyn.

    Drawing from myriad and prime sources such as the writings of Eustace Chapuys ,and Thomas Wyatt, Ms. Bordo sets the stage for the beginnings of the mythology that would develop. Topics covered in this book include how a variety of plays and movies, and the actors and actresses in them, have formed a part of our cultural understanding of Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo goes into detail about how each actress who has portrayed Anne Boleyn, and each writer who has written about her, have added their own 'personality' stamps to our conceptualizations about this legendary Queen. She has interviewed many of the living actress' and writers up to, and including, Natalie Dormer who played the Queen in the acclaimed TV series, "The Tudors" and writers such as Hilary Mantel. "Additionally, Ms. Bordo has spoken to the directors of plays and films about Anne Boleyn as well. She has researched all of the biographies and extant writings about this, most famous, Queen, and she delineates how these very diverse depictions have shaped our modern understanding and cultural opinions about this maligned, but thoroughly modern, Queen and woman by looking at her in relation to the realities and social norms of her own time.

    I especially like an included quote from the famous author, Hilary Mantel, ( author of "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing Up The Bodies" fame) which states "...we always write from our own time...". How true is that? Each generation puts it's own stamp on the 'reality' of history and historical figures. Ms. Bordo attempts to sift through the various 'versions' of Anne Boleyn that have been devised by many authors, film makers, actors, and 'news' sources over the ages to try to distill what the reality of Anne Boleyn was.

    I even enjoyed the Chapter headings of the book! They are all so descriptive! Here are a few:
    Part One : Queen Interrupted
    Henry: How Could He Do It?
    Part Two : Recipes for Anne Boleyn
    Annes After Lives from She-Tragedy to Historical Romance
    The notes and sources pages are monumental! The pages are filled with rich fodder for future reading. The sources include books, periodicals, and websites. Another favorite inclusion is a "fact checker" which posits the facts versus the fiction in some well read books such as "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory.

    When I read historical fiction I remember, first and foremost that I am reading historical fiction - not history. One of my favorite things to do is read a good historical novel along with a non-fiction book concerning the same time period. I enjoy understanding to what extent the author has used the facts and how they have woven their fiction around the facts.! I think doing this had provided me with a wealth of solid historical background that I would certainly not have enjoyed had I merely read the fictional work. I love factual history, which in many cases, can be even more fascinating than fiction!

    Have a look at "The Creation Of Anne Boleyn's" Face Book page and the author's blog/website.

    This book was a delight to read, and I know, without any doubt, that it will be of interest to a wide array of people; those who love history, those who love British history, cultural historian fans, those who question how the media can "make or break" popularity. It's winner of a read!

    This is the advertising verbiage for the book:

    "...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...."

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, feminist scholar Susan Bordo beg

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, feminist scholar Susan Bordo began with an agenda.

    "I would find the 'real' Anne Boleyn and rescue her from the pile of mythology that had built up around her. Presumptuous. Grandiose."

    As she proceeded to explore the various historical sources, and the spins and interpretations put upon Anne Boleyn by a plethora of historians, novelists, playwrights, moviemakers, actors, and bloggers, Bordo discovers the “real” Anne Boleyn is not so easy to find.

    The book is divided into three sections: Queen, Interrupted - a look at the historical record; Recipes for “Anne Boleyn” - how the fictional story of Anne Boleyn has been mixed and rebaked, according to the time in which it was told; and An Anne for All Seasons - a look at how Anne has been portrayed in motion pictures, with especial attention to Anne of the Thousand Days, the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the Showtime series The Tudors.

    I found this book provocative and insightful, the arguments well made, and the book itself flowed well. If you are an Anne Boleyn fan, or even an enemy, you need to read this book.

    Bordo points out (repeatedly), that the main historical source for much of the contemporary material about Anne’s life comes from her sworn enemy, who had his own agenda and was trying to the best of his ability to instigate a Spanish invasion of England. Eustace Chapuys, Spanish ambassador, and personal friend of Katharine of Aragon and Princess Mary, never heard a rumor that was derogatory to Anne that he failed to pass on, whether it could be verified or not. Most historians agree that Chapuys was an extremely partisan and unreliable source, yet while sometimes they dismiss what he wrote, in other places they heavily depend upon him for some or much of their material. Additionally, each historian brings his or her own prejudices about Anne, which become apparent in their choice of language (including Bordo, as she admits).

    Like Anne Boleyn herself, Susan Bordo is not afraid to make enemies and burn bridges. She blames historians David Starkey and Alison Weir, among others, for giving too much credence to questionable historical evidence and negative portrayals of Anne Boleyn. She also loathes the way popular novelist Philippa Gregory has played fast and loose with what historical facts are agreed upon. Bordo even picks fault with novelists she greatly admires, such as Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Out the Bodies. When it comes to motion picture portrayals of Anne, even though Bordo cites the historical inaccuracies of Anne of the Thousand Days, and The Tudors, she is a big fan (as am I) of the underlying spirit, sexuality, and complexity brought to the role of Anne by actresses Geneviève Bujold, and Natalie Dormer, both of whom she interviewed at length for this book.

    Bordo takes an analytic look at how Anne Boleyn has fascinated generations, and how each has remade Anne to fit its stereotypes and needs. Was she a scheming seductress? A Protestant martyr? A loving, protective mother - or a cold, calculating one? A raging, vindictive nag? A helpless victim? Was she an early feminist, insisting on sovereignty over her body, and the freedom to express her thoughts and ideas? Bordo includes some interesting answers from a web poll asking “Anne Boleyn - Angel or Devil?:”

    “It’s far too simplistic to define her as either an ‘angel’ or ‘devil.’ She was an intelligent, educated, highly sophisticated woman, who certainly possessed many flaws, significant among them being considerable arrogance, but who was also far too complex to be dismissed simply as a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ character... She really was a great deal more than a home-wrecking harlot who ran off with another woman’s husband, but she also wasn’t an innocent lamb who had no idea what she was getting herself into. She was hugely complicated and not easy to dismiss.”

    I loved this book because it challenged me to think beyond my own vision of “who Anne Boleyn really was” and to consider that all great historical and fictional characters are impossible to fit into neat little boxes.

    "Anne has been less the perpetual victim of the same old sexist stereotyping then she has been a shape-shifting trickster... In cutting her life so short and then ruthlessly disposing of the body of evidence of her “real” existence, Henry made it possible for her to live a hundred different lives, forever."

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2013

    Expensive-more fan review than scholarly

    Like the author I have a huge interest in Anne Boleyn and feel she was not quite as horrible a person as history has made her to be. That being said I don't quite know if I got my money's worth from this book. The first half is more "scholarly" than the second, but I found some of the author's facts to be puzzling. She mentions a "Sommersby" portrait of Anne Boleyn I can't find anywhere online except for a mention on her own website. I did find a "Somerley" portrait online with comments that it could be Anne, was the author meaning to reference this portrait instead? She also asserts siblings kissing on the mouth is "completely appropriate behavior". Maybe so for her, but in my opinion I don't think so. I also was not surprised, knowing the author is a feminist, to find many of the wrongs done to Anne attributed to women hating men. The second half of the book was fun review of most books and entertainment about Anne. Being a fellow fan of The Tudors I loved the interview with Natalie Dormer. It did feel though like I was reading more of a fan magazine than histrical novel.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013

    Confused--your distribution chart lists a one star rating, but t

    Confused--your distribution chart lists a one star rating, but there isn't one among the actual ratings/reviews.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Susan Bordo impressively analyzes how and why the modern world sees the doomed queen. Simultaneously scholarly and conversational, she debunks the "truths" nearly everyone spouts about Anne and presents contemporary Tudor era accounts and biases which curiously resemble our own political situation. "Who" reports information becomes paramount in discerning the truth of the information reported. Those characters with political and personal agendas are exposed and reevaluated. Yet Anne remains an enigma who will continue to haunt us all.
    This is a book Tudor scholars and casual fans can enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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