This is the Tudor segment of the Tudors-and-Plantagenets pair of posts that you may expect from this blog. The second episode of the Reading the End Bookcast, which appeared last Wednesday, does also mention the Plantagenets, although quite a bit farther back in time (Henry II).
(PS I love the Plantagenets.)
So, the Tudors! Susan Bordo has written this book (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) that is right in my wheelhouse, a biography slash cultural history of Anne Boleyn as a person and as a semi-mythic figure. In the first half of the book, she explores what is known about Anne’s life. For this she draws from primary sources as well as numerous biographies of Anne, noting the biases of the various biographers and the places where the history is incomplete or untrustworthy (which is like, a lot of places, because this all happened in the 1500s). Bordo does not think much of David Starkey and Alison Weir. I do not think much of Alison Weir myself. Alison Weir and I are in an argument about Richard III that I cannot imagine will ever be resolved.
Though not as well-written or Janet-Malcolmy as a Janet Malcolm book, I loved this segment of the book for the way it explores different biographers’ and historians’ take on the same events. Since Bordo has roughly the same dog in this fight that I do — she likes Anne Boleyn and does not think she probably was such a vengeful hussy as some people have believed — I did not feel unduly worried that I was being sold a bill of goods. The book is obviously researched carefully, and Bordo says upfront which historians agree with what she thinks and which historians do not.
(I should just admit right now that I own prints of Anne Boleyn’s and Richard III’s portraits, and I have plans to get them shipped to me in New York, frame them, and hang them up on my living room walls.)
In the second half of the book, Bordo goes on to explore the portrayals of Anne in popular culture throughout the centuries, with a particularly lengthy discussion of Anne of a Thousand Days, The Tudors, Hilary Mantel’s books, and The Other Boleyn Girl. Here is where I discovered that Natalie Dormer is an adorable dear who really wanted to be the best Anne Boleyn in all the land but sometimes the showrunners of The Tudors were like, “No! Boobs!” My favorite bit of the second half of the book was when Bordo was talking about lesser-known portrayals of Anne — I kept tearing pieces off my electricity bill (which I was using as a bookmark) and marking pages with them so I could get remember to read, for instance, Mary Hastings Bradley’s 1912 The Favor of Kings.
I did regret that Bordo’s focus narrowed so sharply in the latter third of the book. There’s a chapter called “Anne’s Afterlives” that I enjoyed tremendously. That’s where all the pieces of my electricity bill went. I’d have loved to hear more about historical novels featuring Anne — where they all got their information and what the reception of them was like and so forth. Bordo covers these, but mainly only talks about Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel in more recent years. Has nobody else written novels with Anne Boleyn in them? I would read them! I would not read them with quite as much glee as a novel with Anne Boleyn that was published in the early 1900s, because early 1900s romance/adventure novels are my fave; but I would still read them. I’d at least start them!
In sum, an extremely enjoyable read if you like Anne Boleyn or thinking about mythologizing history. I like both.
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Also, the above links to places you can buy this book are affiliate links. If you click on them and then buy a book from that website, I get a very small amount of money. This in no way influences my reviews.