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A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

by Susan Bordo

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-32818-8
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A dissection of the many varying portrayals of Anne Boleyn (1501–1536) since her death.

Bordo (Humanities/Univ. of Kentucky; The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private, 1999, etc.) begins her study of Boleyn through the ages with the attempted eradication of the doomed queen’s presence from Henry VIII’s castle and life. It was with this erasure, writes the author, that Boleyn ceased to exist as a person and became a character known only through the lenses of others. The chief contemporary accounts of her time at court come from a diplomat and supporter of Boleyn’s predecessor, Katherine of Aragon. The portrait is that of a villain, which Bordo thinks is unfair and probably historically inaccurate due to the biases of the sources. The author examines many of the histories and fictions that make Boleyn their subject, from early biographies to novels, plays and TV shows. While she makes a compelling case for her assertion that Boleyn was a strong and independent victim of the times rather than a bloodthirsty and power-mad vixen, Bordo’s own biases are apparent. She portrays the former queen not as simply misunderstood but as a feminist hero for the ages. The angle won’t surprise those familiar with her other works, but occasionally the book feels less like history than sociological theory. While the obvious discontent with many Boleyn accounts is a main focus of the book, one consequence of all the attention given those works is the likelihood that readers who are not well-versed in the lore will become curious about all the stories, including the negative.

A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike, though not for readers seeking a general biography of the queen.