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on 9 April 2014
This book attempts to review the known facts about Anne Boleyn and rebut some of the accumulated folk wisdom, if that is the word, about her.

I accept that when you see a historical film or drama that incorrect impressions can creep in without your realising. And which drama influences you most may depend on your age or other things, so one generation may see A Man for All Seasons and another generation may read The Other Boleyn Girl. I'm sure if you are a historian this is all very annoying.

Susan Bordo spends a lot of her time here proving that a particular BBC drama called The Tudors was historically incorrect. This seems a bit over the top to me, as the UK reviews treated it as utterly laughable and it sank without trace over here.

OTOH, I appreciated the opportunity to learn what the known facts were.
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on 30 December 2013
Through my interest in Anne Boleyn and Tudor history I have read many books which look at and recount the life of Anne Boleyn, where she was born, when she started her relationship with Henry VIII, how she was executed; yet never before have I read a book like the one written by Susan Bordo. Bordo's book is not a simple retelling of Anne Boleyn's life, nor is it an attempt to examine how she might have felt or the motives behind her actions - Bordo's book is a look at Anne Boleyn and how she has been portrayed throughout history. From the generations after her death to almost five hundred centuries later in today's modern times.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is just as the title suggests - an examination of how Anne Boleyn has been formed, portrayed, reformed and portrayed again throughout the centuries. Bordo looks at the different interpretations of Anne Boleyn, her actions and her life throughout different time periods and examines why certain beliefs and feelings developed. For example during Mary I's reign Anne was seen as a whore, the woman who stole Queen Katherine, Mary I's mother away from her husband. Yet in Elizabeth's reign, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, Anne was seen as a reformer and a remarkable woman. Why the changes in attitude to a single woman? Differences in culture, beliefs and allegiances.

I loved this book and have to say that it is one of my favourite books about Anne Boleyn. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is not just simple biography of Anne and her life; it is an examination of how Anne Boleyn has been portrayed throughout the centuries and why these different portrayals have come to be. This book encourages readers to find out the truth about the real Anne Boleyn and not to take everything they see or read as simple fact. Bordo's book also gives the reader a strong sense of empowerment, to take learning into their own hands.

I strongly recommend that anyone who is interested with Anne Boleyn stop whatever they are currently reading and go and get this book - you will not regret it!
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on 27 January 2014
The Creation of Anne Boleyn is only minimally a biography of Anne Boleyn. Instead, much of the focus is placed on the stories and mystique surrounding this famous queen, and how the "facts" and attitudes about her were developed. This was a fascinating book, which I feel I need to read over at least once more, as there is no way I could have absorbed everything in just one reading.

Bordo's analysis is fairly no-nonsense, taking on many of the accepted "facts" about Anne's life and death in a matter of fact way. She zeroes in on the less believable conclusions drawn by many modern historians and quite clearly deconstructs these notions. Bordo is extremely well informed and precise, clearly documenting what makes sense, and eviscerating the ideas that do not. Even so, I found her criticism well thought out and quite reasonable, rather than coming across as the catty disagreement professional criticism often appears to be (especially surrounding such a polarizing figure.)

In the book, we are taken from the rhetoric of Anne's lifetime, through that of her daughter and up to the present day. It is fascinating to see how each incarnation of Anne over the years has been shaped by the societal conciousness of the time. Is Anne portrayed as she was? Or as we want her to be? And how much does society overall care about the difference?

Being a longtime "Tudorphile", I found Bordo's conversational style very easy to read and relate to. While I have read criticism of her habit of interjecting personal anecdotes, I found it a very friendly, approachable method of communicating that she is not so different from those of us reading the book (although naturally, a much better writer!)

This book is not a biography, nor is it meant to be. It is an in-depth look at not only a historical figure, but about the way history morphs over time. I feel that many of Bordo's questions and conclusions could easily be applied to other historical figures and events. This book is a well written, well thought out examination of Anne's life, death and afterlife, packed with facts, psychology and a sense of unending curiosity that all too often is missed in the study of history.
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on 4 January 2014
I love books that are just as much historiography as history; sometimes it can be just as interesting to dissect the "known" story and how it came to be as telling the story itself. This may seem an odd preference from a blogger of historical fiction but it's actually what a lot of good historical fiction does. It removes the stereotypes, the images from movies and TV and (yes) the bad historical novels. It reminds you that these characters didn't always exist in books - they were real people. This can be surprisingly hard to remember when you've read a dozen novels about Henry VIII.

I've been reading about Anne Boleyn for two decades now and thought that I couldn't possibly come across a book that would make me consider her in a new way. Susan Bordo's Boleyn did the impossible - it made me excited to read about the Tudors again while reminding me to approach history and historical fiction with curiosity and a questioning mind.

Boleyn is divided into three parts: the first part is a kind of mini-biography of Boleyn but with the very clear purpose of examining the known sources on her life and evaluating their veracity. The fascinating final chapter in the section asks "Henry: How Could He Do It?" This is the first biography of Anne (at least that I can remember) that asks such a question and doesn't treat her death on the scaffold as the inevitable end point of her life.

The second part looks at how Anne's death laid the groundwork for subsequent centuries' making and re-making of her image. It's incredible to see how many different faces the historical Anne acquired in the progression towards the present day. The third part is a treat for historical fiction fans, looking at the last fifty years of portrayals of Anne, from the well-meaning historical inaccuracies of Anne of a Thousand Days to the travesty of The Other Boleyn Girl. Bordo's interview with actress Natalie Dormer actually made me appreciate Showtime's The Tudors in a new way.

I have only one small problem with this book and that's the strange pseudo-computer generated cover. The book deserves much better and I hope it won't dissuade readers from picking it up.

Readers looking for similar books can try out A Magnificent Obsession; Queen of Fashion and The Resurrection of the Romanovs. All three books in varying ways either challenge the history we thought we knew about famous figures such as Queen Victoria, Marie Antionette and Grand Duchess Anastasia or present one aspect of their life in such a new way, it makes us reconsider their entire lives from a new perspective.

Bordo's book has every right to stand amongst these finely written works of history and I hope every historical fiction fan has an opportunity to read her work.
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on 31 March 2014
I really enjoyed the first 40% or so of this, in which the author relates the chronological events leading to the death of the real Anne. But thereafter, I found Bordo's analyses of the ways in which this historic character has been fictitiously represented through the centuries to be increasingly dull - and I really started to lose interest when she began work on the various movie and TV interpretations of Anne. My reaction was - who cares? I suppose I can't forgive her for rubbishing my personal favourite - namely the film version of The Other Boleyn girl, which may be historical nonsense but is still a hugely entertaining film!
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on 26 February 2014
I found this book very interesting in shwoing how Anne has been 'created' over the centuries by historians and fiction writers alike. The first part is particularly good. As the book progressed it was a little repetative and I could have done without her obvious 'crush' on some actress I had never heard of. She also didn't seem to appreciate that Anne was not some 18 year old teenager when Henry met her but a woman in her mid-twenties, an appreciation of which may want her to think again on a few parts of an otherwise readable book.
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on 13 February 2014
It did a good job debunking the various stereotype images that different historians and writers had constructed about Anne.It summarised the known facts and isolated them from conjecture.Unfortunately it made no reference to W S Packenam-Walsh's book A Tudor Story.This is probable conjecture and relates to the author's "discussions " with Anne using the mechanism of séance!
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on 12 March 2015
Really liked this book. Didn't really expect to but I thought the angle was different, and it proved to be so. It makes me see that all I have read before was based on biased evidence, and that if not biased, thoughts on her behaviour at the time were open to interpretation. Eg: little is known abt her other than what Chapuys wrote, and his hatred of her makes his 'evidence' very doubtful. Eg: her laughing whilst awaiting execution; her jailer gives his idea of why she laughed, which can be taken another way. All authors I have read whilst if they mention Chupuys bias, fail to repeat it or even mention that he was the evidence himself. Makes me never to even think about reading p Gregory or even mantel (spelling !?). Will look for more work by this author.
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I found this an interesting read even though it didn't always do exactly what I think that the author intended.

The book is a re-examination of the life of Anne Boleyn but not a retelling of her biography but a look at how her life has been represented in other biographies, TV programmes, plays, films, etc. The author addresses the issues with a feminist approach and her theme is that the Tudor Queen has been represented as evil or a witch at worst, and a manipulative shrew at best. It is an interesting idea and she presents her case well but in doing so she is forced to present other historical characters in a way that could also be challenged by other historians - it is all down to interpretation and opinion in the end.

It is a really good idea if you have some knowledge and understanding of the "facts" about Anne's life and more particularly her death before you start reading. The author does go into some detail in the first few chapters but obviously cannot give a full narrative and still explore everything that she wants to in a reasonable length book. A particular concern of the author is how much credence that other biographers have given to the views of the Spanish ambassador at the time (probably because his missives are one of the most complete primary sources) and she names various other people that have written about Anne and critiques their books - I own most of these other biographies and will reread them in the light of this book at some time.

Having established her view that Anne was an intelligent, vivacious, Protestant and human figure who has been vilified by commentators at the time and since, the author then examines more modern representations in popular culture. She very obviously is not a fan of Phillippa Gregory's book "The Other Boleyn Girl" or of the TV series "The Tudors". I can't make a judgement about this because I haven't read/seen any of the material she examines but her writing is entertaining and the ideas she raises are worth some thought.

I am not sure exactly how far I agree with the premise that the author puts forward here but she makes a compelling case for thinking about Anne's representation and challenging the received view. I don't think that I will read Tudor history in the same way again.
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on 20 January 2014
Have you ever been so excited, and experienced so much build up, about an event or item that there was almost no way to avoid a big letdown, or at least a minor disappointment? Well, that didn't happen. I am the little pig who went squee squee squee all the way home I loved this book so much!

Bordo has the intellectual chops and the academic clout to pull no punches when taking apart the misogynistic cocoon that has frequently shrouded the authentic Anne Boleyn, and there was no historian so grand that he or she was safe from the accusation of shenanigans. She called historians out for any assertion about Anne's life that lacked credible evidence, including G.W. Bernard and his "hunch" that Anne had committed at least some of the adultery she was accused of (p.233). She also frequently illustrated how a historian's personal interpretation of data was often presented as "fact", such as David Starkey's descriptions of Anne as a "ruthless predator" with no actual proof to back up his claims (p.3-6). She also took apart the motives behind Starkey's irrational, hypocritical, and petulant tirades about "feminized history", much to my delight (149).

Neither were fictional authors who misrepresented Anne Boleyn allowed to go on their merry way. If an author stated that he or she tried to make the character or history of Anne Boleyn mostly accurate but changed things for the sake of the narrative flow or story, it was fair play to them. Bordo would point out their historical errors and lament their contribution to the ongoing demonization of Anne Boleyn, but she also clearly supports the fiction author's right to borrow from, but not necessarily recreate, history. For example, Hilary Mantel's work, which is hardly flattering to Queen Anne and is not particularly realistic, was lauded for its creativity, writing style, and the fact that Mantel never claims that "her" Anne is the "real" Anne Boleyn (p.227). In contrast, the work of novelist Philippa Gregory is eviscerated, not so much for her egregious "distortions of fact" as it is for her "self-deceptive and self-promoting chutzpah", wherein she falsely claims to be a "trained historian" who has "very strict rules of accuracy" in her writing (p. 226). Furthermore, Bordo meticulously presents Gregory's novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, for what it is - a well-written and entertaining, but profoundly inaccurate, portrayal of history.

The only part of the book that didn't give me undiluted pleasure was the agonizing fact that Dr. Bordo disdained the theory put forth by Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley and myself about Henry VIII putative Kell positive blood type, believing it to be mere sociobiological claptrap. Her thoughts on the theory were scathing, especially the speculation about McLeod syndrome. She argued that the "gap between "could" and "true" widens to the point of absurdity" when the theory posited that severe mental deterioration as a result McLeod syndrome could have spurred Henry to turn so suddenly and viciously against Anne, and scoffs that McLeod syndrome would "collapse the three-year trajectory of a politically troubled, emotionally intense marriage into a diagnose from House" (p. 122). Ouch!

Such harsh evaluations by an academic hero of mine caused my bottom lip to tremble in a rather pathetic manner.

In spite of the fact she does not endorse the Kell/McLeod theory, Bordo's book is nevertheless excellent. It is a thorough examination and dissection of Anne Boleyn's historical and cultural aspects, and I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone who is interested in this famous queen and her multifaceted reputation.
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