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

Posted By Claire on May 14, 2013

creation of Anne BoleynI have been following Susan Bordo’s journey into Anne Boleyn’s story, and how her image has been reconstructed time and time again through the ages, since early 2011 so I was looking forward to the release of her book, particularly because she interviewed me as part of her research.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a very different Anne Boleyn book. It is exactly how it’s described in its blurb, “part biography, part cultural history”. The first half focuses on Anne Boleyn’s life, and subsequent downfall, but then the second part, “Recipes of Anne Boleyn”, looks at representations of Anne in literature and Part III, “An Anne for All Season”, examines the Anne of the big screen and TV, the “Viral Anne” of websites and blogs, and how Anne is seen by today’s young women. The latter section was of great interest to me, being someone who blogs about Anne on a regular basis and who is always ‘hearing’ other people’s views of Anne. Anne is one of those “marmite” historical characters: people seem to love her or hate her, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I found Part II fascinating because Bordo examined literature that I haven’t yet looked closely at in my research, including Victorian history books and Mary Hastings Bradley’s 1912 novel about Anne. These books are now on my “to read” list.

Bordo doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to examining how today’s authors and historians have portrayed Anne Boleyn. She is highly critical of Philippa Gregory, who she believes deceives readers by claiming to be “a trained historian” and whose Anne is “a ruthless human predator”. She is also critical of  G W Bernard whose book she describes as “a sensationalistic, poorly argued extension of an equally flimsy scholarly article from 1991”. David Starkey, she believes, presents Anne as a “bloodthirsty” woman who “hunts down all enemies and rejoices at their deaths” and Alison Weir “is not above using dramatic but unfounded stereotype”. Strong words, but then Bordo feels strongly about her subject and how authors and historians treat Anne. Bordo prefers the “more balanced assessments” of the likes of Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb and David Loades, as do I. I too have a problem with the Anne of “The Other Boleyn Girl”, so I can see where Bordo is coming from when it comes to Philippa Gregory. I love historical fiction, but the author’s notes section of the novel make it clear that Philippa Gregory feels that her book is based on fact and that that was what Anne was really like. It has led to confusion and to people regarding her book as more than just a novel. Regarding Bernard, I agree that his book was based on the academic arguments he and Eric Ives had in journals in the 1990s, and I think that Ives won the arguments with his more convincing evidence, but the book was still an interesting read and Bernard is someone I respect as an academic historian. We all have our opinions though and passions always run high when Anne is involved!

Susan Bordo’s book was a refreshing read. I read about Anne on a daily basis, I write about Anne on a daily basis, but this was different to any other book I’ve read on her. It was fascinating to read how Anne’s image has changed over time, how different eras viewed her, and to hear it from someone who is not a historian but an academic in the field of philosophy and cultural studies. Bordo looks at Anne and her image with fresh, and different, eyes. The book is also meticulously researched and I enjoyed reading the views of actresses like Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer, who both played Anne, and everyday women who are interested in her. Some historians have been critical of the online history world, arguing that Tudor history sites are just glorified fan clubs, so it was nice to see websites and blogs being give credit for the work they do in promoting history, educating people and bringing like-minded people together on fora where historical debates can take place. OK, so I’m biased!

Historian Suzannah Lipscomb said of the book, “Susan Bordo astutely re-examines Anne’s life and death anew and peels away the layers of untruth and myth that have accumulated since. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a refreshing, iconoclastic and moving look at one of history’s most intriguing women. It is rare to find a book that rouses one to scholarly glee, feminist indignation and empathetic tears, but this is such a book.” I agree wholeheartedly. The first half brings Anne and her story to life and the second half gets you thinking.

All in all, the perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking.

Book Blurb

From Amazon:
“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.”

Book Details

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 9, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547328184
ISBN-13: 978-0547328188
Also available in the US as a Kindle version.
Available from, Amazon UK or your usual book retailer.


8 Responses to “The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo”

  1. Lisa H says:

    Terrific review. You did a great job of moving me from “I want to check that one out sometime” to “I want to read this book NOW!” LOL.

  2. […] The Anne Boleyn Files Review May 14, 2013 […]

  3. Denise Hansen says:

    Very balanced and through review Claire. I have a copy of the book and I enjoyed it as well, although I had already been treated to a number of teaser excerpts from Susan’s facebook page and website prior to the book’s release. For many of us, Anne Boleyn first entered our minds and imaginations through the pages of historical fiction, film and television,. It was great to see the acknowledgement of that cultural Anne in this book. I am also glad that Susan Bordo gave you the credit you deserve for maintaining this blog. I visit your page every day.

  4. Deborah Braden says:

    Claire, I read this book as soon as it was available in the US. I was very impressed how Ms. Bordo appeared to introduce the evidence in an objective manner being careful to credit primary sources and identifying secondary sources. I liked her approach of researcjomg and comparing how Anne has been depicted in the media sources and how opinion has evolved or stalled. After all, in your blog, how often have people been introduced to Anne through TV, movies, etc. I was totally unaware that so much was written about her during the 1800’s. I highly recommend this book.

  5. AB says:

    I have not yet read this book, so I can’t comment. But I do think people sometimes rush far too easily to defend people who lived hundreds of years ago. Anne was not a witch, an adulteress, or a murderess, but how do we know David Starkey, Alison Weir, Gregory etc. are not essentially correct in portraying Anne as manipulative, cruel, ruthless and arrogant? She may have been. People only disagree as it offends their own personal view of Anne. Yet it may be valid. We can’t say. They have a right to portray her this way.

  6. Claire says:

    I think they have a right to portray her as they like but other people also have a right to challenge them if they back up their theories with evidence. Everyone interprets things differently and that’s what makes history interesting.

  7. Alan says:

    Hi, I picked up this book yeaterday at a library-one I was not a memeber of and so I did not have the option to check it out. I have to say that the cover is just AWFUL. It’s worse than a cheap romance. it looks more like some book intended for a teenage audiance. Very Cheap lookig and could have been so much better. Does not do it subject justice.

  8. Claire says:

    Which cover? The UK and US ones are completely different.

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