on May 23, 2002
I had more or less given up reading historical novels when I ran out of books by Jean Plaidy to read. For me, she was one of the truly rare authours (saving Sharon Kay Penman of course) who got the feel, tone and character of her subject matter right. So that I had more or less stopped looking out for new books in this genre to read. And then I saw "The Other Boleyn Girl" at my local bookstore, and after sampling the first chapter, I realized that I had to buy this book. And I'm awfully glad that I did. What a simply wonderful read!! Phillipa Gregory did a really splendid job of evoking the splendor and turbulence of Henry VIII's court. I also thought that her choice of narrator, Mary Boleyn (the elder of the Boleyn sisters) was an inspired as well. Most historians (and perhaps I've only read the those that espoused this majority view) tend to dismiss Mary as an empty headed good time girl because she was used and cast aside with very little ceremony; and because she never rose as high as her sister, Anne. But you have to wonder: Mary was also the only Boleyn sibling to survive the vicissitudes of Henry VIII's reign, and the fall of the Howard-Boleyn fortunes; she also managed to marry for love (and a happy and lasting marriage it proved to be too) the second time around. So perhaps there was a lot more to the 'other Boleyn girl' than everyone credits?
Gregory's novel opens and closes with two executions -- it begins with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. With this rather grim events framing her book, the novel proper starts in 1522, with Anne arrival at the Tudor court, where her elder sister, Mary, is already lady-in-waiting to Henry's wife, Queen Katherine. From the very beginning we see that while there is a bond that ties the Boleyn sisters together, there is also a deep rooted rivalry between them. It is a tense time at court: the queen (already quite a few years older than her husband) has yet to produce a male heir to the throne, and people are beginning to question if the aging queen will ever be able to bear children again. Some of Henry's advisers are even began to gently hint that he should put his Spanish wife aside and look for a younger more fecund wife. In the midst of all this intrigue, Mary soon catches the king's roving eye. Although she is married and still quite loyal to the queen, her family (her ruthless parents as well as her uncle, the powerful and equally ruthless Duke of Howard) decrees that she put her marriage and loyalties aside and cater to the whims of her king. Bedazzled, it doesn't take Mary very long to fall in love with both her golden king and her role as the his 'unofficial' wife. A few years and two royal by-blows later however, Mary is shunted aside when the king begins to loose interest in their relationship and her ambitious family fearful that they will loose all the power that they have gained, throws the more ruthless and seductive sister, Anne at the king's head. From then on Mary, her eyes finally wide open as to how low her family will stoop in order to gain power, watches from the sidelines as her family, led by Anne, begins their high stakes play for the queen's crown. Finally realizing that she can only depend on herself for her own future, Mary is inspired to take a few risks herself in order to gain some measure of happiness and security.
The sheer scope of this novel is gigantic -- there were so many things that were going on both on and off stage and the number of people that were involved in all these shenanigans! So that it was a treat to find that the novel unfolded smoothly and effortlessly, and that Gregory did not drop the ball once. She kept each chapter short and succinct, and yet still managed to give the reader an enthralling and exciting account of what was going on. I also liked the manner in which she depicted all the characters in this novel. From Queen Katherine who was portrayed not only as a loyal and loving wife, but also as an intelligent woman who saw and understood what was going on around her, even as she clung to the hope that the king would recover from his obsession with Anne; to the authour's chilling portrayal of the Boleyn family (father, mother, Anne and George). With a few well chosen words and phrases, she's paints them as wildly ambitious, ruthless and pettily cruel individuals, willing to use each other in order to achieve a particular goal. But the authour's characterization of Mary Boleyn was probably the best thing in the novel. Here we see a young and intelligent woman with a heart and a sense of morality that is constantly at war with her feeling of familial obligations. How Mary struggles with this dueling feelings and the decisions she makes -- sometimes good, sometimes bad -- is what makes this novel worth reading.
All in all, I'd say "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a rich and rewarding read.
on January 11, 2003
The Other Boleyn Girl, is hands down the best piece of historical fiction I have ever read. Upon reading it, I have been searching for other books of its genre and subject matter to delve into.
Gregory made these characters come alive for me, and made me understand how difficult it was to live as a woman in the early 1500s. Mary was especially well crafted. At 13 years old she went from her forced marriage to being thrown into the King's arms as his mistress. The inner struggles she fought between being true to herself and her heart, or true to her family were especially poignant.
Anne Boleyn, the most famous and tragically terminated sister, is portrayed in such a venomous way. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted, and to rise in power and prestige. In the end it killed her. But her character, as portrayed by Ms. Gregory, was compelling and convincingly ugly, despite her beauty.
King Henry VIII also jumped off the pages. He came off as a spoiled brat, even as he grew older, who always got what he wanted. He and Anne were well matched for each other as no level of deceipt was too high.
Ms. Gregory was brilliant in choosing Mary as the narrator of this book. In doing so, the manipulative and scheming nature of Anne was able to come alive, as was the unorthodox lifestyle chosen by George Boleyn, the brother. The relationship amongst the Boleyn siblings, in and of itself, could fill a novel. The complexities of a family struggling to maintain individual identities, while working to bring the family up to the highest level of stature is intense.
This book is a page turner; it is incredibly compelling, deep and fascinating. I learned a great deal about the monarchy of Henry VII as well as life in the court during that time period. At the same time, I found myself incredibly entertained and saddened when I reached the last page. I cannot wait for more from Ms. Gregory.
on January 26, 2008
I couldn't stand this book. Not only does it completely butcher history, it maligns Anne and makes her sister Mary look like a saint (when in fact she had also been a mistress to King Francis of France before coming to Eng. Court). *SPOILERS*: Gregory writes as if the accusations brought up against Anne (adultery, incest and witchcraft) are true (any historian will tell you Henry just wanted to make way for a new wife to bear him sons). *END SPOILERS* Throughout the book I felt that she was really shoving down my throat that "this is definitely a good person" and "this is definitely a bad person." The characters are always very black/white and sinner/saint, ridiculously sweet/innocent and ridiculously conniving/evil (instead of letting each character have their own positives and negatives). No char development or depth. PG tells you who to like instead of letting you decide for yourself.
I think I would actually be able to tolerate/overlook (some of) the inaccuracies if the characters were actually developed and realistic, each having good points as well as flaws instead of them being just "good" and "evil."
The majority of other authors will either (A) stick to the facts and actual events and create their characters and stories AROUND that. Or (b) it will be a completely made up story, set in a certain period with accurate detail as to daily life/events for that period. Or (c) there will be a few actual historical characters around which the story is set, but the story itself is complete fiction (ex Girl With A Pearl Earring). With b and c, the authors flat out tell you the story is fiction. With a, the authors usually write a note if they have left out/ignored a fact, purposely changed something in the story, or whether there are several theories as to what happened (and why they chose to go with whatever reason they ended up writing).
The problem is that Philippa Gregory acts like she's writing A, claims she "sticks to the facts" when she actually ignores the majority of facts and instead of writing her books AROUND them, she writes OVER them (basically she's trying to re-write history). It's extremely frustrating to people who study history, are historians or people who just plain old really enjoy history that this author INSISTS that all of her books are based on fact. In reality she completely ignores the majority of the facts, making her books mere skeletons of history - names, dates, marriages, births and deaths are correct (well, maybe not birthdates in this book, but you get my point), but other than that don't count on the rest of it. In some cases PG even makes up facts (she claims that she's SURE Anne Boleyn is guilty of at least one murder/poisoning, but offers no proof, and I don't think any of today's historians would agree that Anne was a murderer. In fact Historians tend to distance themselves from PG books and PG herself because they don't want to be related to what is clearly utterly false). And Ms. Gregory breaks the first rule of historical research, which is to USE PRIMARY RESOURCES. When she actually does reference sources, they are secondary and usually have not stood up to the test of time or academic debate. If PG admitted that she was changing historical facts to suit her stories, I think people would be more accepting, but unfortunately she claims her books are all Fact based and makes no notes in the text of the actual facts.
on April 4, 2005
The author lost my interest right off the bat when she proclaimed Mary to be the younger Boleyn girl. All historical sources agree that she was the elder daughter. That doesn't really matter to the story, so why not get it right? I was also annoyed by the portrayal of Mary as an innocent young girl when she first met Henry VIII...in fact, she had previously been the mistress of Francois I of France and had been kicked out of the French court for prostitution, which is why she returned to England while Anne remained in France. When Mary arrived at the English Court, an innocent she was NOT. I found the author's portraits of all 3 Boleyn children to be biased in the direction she wanted them to go, as opposed to being realistic based on the historical data available. The author was prone to conveniently leaving out facts that were relevant to the story but did not support her simplistic view of each character. Anyone who has read historical accounts of these characters and times will be severely disappointed in this book. I only hope that the general public does not mistake this book for history.
on May 1, 2008
I am in my final year of graduate school, about to receive my Master's in History. I bought "TOBG" in an airport in Minnesota, en route to California, hoping for a good vacation book. And sadly, that's all it is. If you're looking for anything serious about the Tudor Era, this is NOT IT. I read this book like one would read the National Enquirer -- scandalized and titillated, intrigued and entertained -- but NOT historically fulfilled. This book is seriously a little bit of minor research into the lives of the Boleyns and the Tudors, and then a huge slog of rumors about Anne Boleyn propegated as truth. What honest history Ms. Gregory leaves in is random and awkward (such as the mention of Anne's dog, Purkoy, which was haphazardly thrown in towards the end, after he was long dead -- only someone who truly had read up on their Tudor history would recognize and understand such an obscure reference). Her writing style is a tad awkward as well. Enjoyable, but awkward.
What saddens me is this latest rash of interest in King Henry VIII and his court, probably spawned by this and the TV show, "The Tudors." People who read Gregory in the hopes of learning more about the era are going to find themselves sadly bereft of any real historical knowledge. If you are really interested in reading about Anne Boleyn, pick up "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir. Don't be daunted by the length -- it's a really good read, with a lot of factual information. Read Gregory like you would read a tabloid -- for entertainment, without believing a word of it.
on June 7, 2005
My first thought while reading this book was to wonder what the author has against Anne Boleyn. It appears to be quite a lot. It also raised an intriguing question. Does the author have this poor a relationship with her own sister? She must,if she has one, or she would not refer to all such relationships as competative and resentment driven, which is the main of several hammers she continually hits the reader over the head with.
Historically it takes all the wildest accusations of a suspicious and superstitious era toward a woman whose demise was determinedly orchestrated for political purposes, and uses them as the "facts" upon which the story revolves. I was very disappointed in that, and the continual harping of the "other Boleyn girl" Mary about the hate (her word, frequently used) she felt toward her sister. The scene when Anne is due to arrive, (after Mary has fervently wished her to drown in passage) when Mary throws herself into Anne's arms in joyous welcome, is just one example of the discordant elements in these relationships which never become defined and never make any sense.
There are endless inaccuracies and a deliberate disregarding of those few things that are known for certain. Much of the information is still being argued by true historians.It has never been clear for example, which was eldest and no, everyone does not agree that Mary was the eldest herself. That argument continues. I don't have a problem with an author making a suggestion of her own, it can make for interesting contemplation, but not to the degree of sensationalism achieved here. I don't believe there one lurid possibility she didn't include. It becomes just another trashy novel.
And that cute little piece When Mary as a girl, witnesses an execution, with all its heavy handed, and punishingly obvious portents and symbolism, is the first hammer alongside the head
All I can say further is "I'm sorry Anne, for both of us, but at least you didn't have to read the thing. Heaven knows why I did."
on April 17, 2005
Gregory seems to want to take up right where Anne Boleyn's detractors left off and accuse her of the worst possible, and then add on top of that a one-dimensional portrayal in a wildly sensationalist and inaccurate book.
Many of the inaccuracies have already been pointed out. In historical fiction, a little liberty with the facts is fine--how else are we to get into the characters' heads?--but in this case lack of research shows a gaping plot hole: why on earth would Henry drop the younger, fertile sister for the aging one if he was so fixated on having an heir? Evidence is marginal and sketchy at best that George was homosexual (bisexual, perhaps) and it's fairly commonly thought that the incest charges were just to turn public opinion against Anne.
My issue, other than the historical, is that the characters are so flat. We are told, rather than shown, over and over again, that Mary and Anne are rivals; yet Anne switches from slightly shrewish to ungodly annoying at the drop of a hat, with never a swerve into the tender sister Mary supposedly loves.
And what of Anne the Queen? Just as we could dig into the relationship between these two sisters--what Mary thinks of Anne's reign, the implications Anne's Lutheran sympathies have for the Howards/Boleyns--Mary is conveniently distracted by a trite flirtation with William Stafford.
May I recommend Alison Weir for accurate representation of this court?
on July 4, 2006
I cannot believe so many people love this book, despite that it has been recommended to me by many people.
The first 200 pages read like this...OVER and OVER: As family meetings occur that predictably decide the current course/path to keep the Boleyn throne-happy goals on target, Mary Boleyn continually observes and is continually mystified by the horrible regard her family has for her own feelings. Anne Boleyn is continually portrayed as this one dimensional ambitious snake who is nearly solely behind and guiding Henry vIII's ultimate decision to denouce his marriage (hardly plausible), and every scene about the entire court catering to the king is played over and over in the same predictable manner: We all get that everyone kisses the king's you-know-what. I kept wondering, should I just've skipped a hundred pages?
With such interesting subject matter, better character development wouldve been a good start for the author.
I am in total shock that this book is as loved as it is. Yet again more evidence that people just enjoy the likes of today's manufactured steamy celeb gossip style prose.
on July 29, 2004
This woman knows absolutely nothing about the politics Tudor period, and it shows. She has Henry still claiming Katharine as his wife when from the moment the annulment trial was convened her official title in England was Princess Dowager; she has More and Fisher excuted in the wrong order (this is more important than it sounds); Henry Carey was never acknowledged as the king's illegitimate son; she has several wrong dates, birthdates and Catholic/Protestant terms; apparently absolutely nothing else was happening in England outside of the king's bed. Highly soap-opera but not history.
on July 12, 2008
Upfront, I must confess: I never read popular fiction, don't care for romance novels, and love classical and modern literature. I read 'War and Peace' at age eleven, and as an adolescent, devoured Balzac, Zola, Galsworthy, Hugo, the 'Odyssey' and 'Iliad', Emily Bronte, and a great deal of nonfiction, mostly history.
I read TOBG out of curiosity, being a historian (specialties: Anne Boleyn's early years in the Renaissance courts of Margaret of Austria/France and how they affected her notions of queenship/monarchy; her lost portraits - reassessing a lost image). After forty years of formal (advanced degrees) and informal research, I feel compelled to write a review.
What a disaster: I have no idea how this travesty was foisted upon an unsuspecting public with such extraordinary success.
Let me begin by stating PG is a technically impoverished 'writer'. TOBG is rife with errors: grammatically incorrect sentences, missing commas, changes in point of view from first to third person omniscient; characters exit scenes in which they did not appear in the first place. Moreover, the 'style' - if one can call it that - is simplistic, cliché ridden, and without distinction. Modern idioms; telling, not showing; passive writing - all sins in 'Creative Writing 101', which most learn in grade school.
Regarding character: PG resorts to stereotypical and old fashioned views of women: the bad (assertive/dark) girl meets a horrific end, and the good (passive/fair) girl is rewarded with true love. All rather ridiculous. What we now call the "Madonna/whore" complex. Mary Boleyn is the perfect lover, mother, wife, even tempered, wise, but delightfully sweet and alluringly innocent; whereas Anne Boleyn is a vicious, arrogant, not very bright, sour, manipulative, shallow, vulgar female dog, given to physical altercations. The latter's professions of being in love with Henry Percy? Impossible to believe.
Katherine of Aragon, too, is portrayed as a one-dimensional character, noble and proud. Cliché. Curiously, Henry VIII is passive and easily duped by any pretty face; reduced to little more than a plot device, without a distinct personality.
Beyond the above, I am deeply troubled by PG's deliberate distortion of history, and even more so by her constant insistence of erring on the side of historical facts, not fiction. This Anne Boleyn is utterly unrecognizable to me as a historian - what a slanderous, vicious, assault on a dead person. Like anyone, Anne Boleyn was a three dimensional character: brilliant, intellectual, an able politician, exceptionally loyal to family and friends, dignified, highly educated, elegant, culturally accomplished, known for her cheerful and spirited nature. But under stress, as during the protracted annulment and as queen, became short tempered, aggressive, overly intense and passionate.
Of Mary Boleyn we know virtually nothing. However, PG (in a video interview) confessed to admiring her for bravely following her heart and marrying for love over her horrible family's objections. A modern perspective, a misreading of sixteenth century court mores and standards of behaviour - something she often does. PG claims there is no solid evidence for Mary's reputation for promiscuity at the French court, which I find bizarre. François I recalled Mary as "una grandissima ribalda, et infame sopra tutte", which PG downplays/denies. Anne Boleyn and the family assisted Mary as much as possible, but her rash behaviour was perceived as a major embarrassment. Henry VIII was not amused to have, as brother in law, someone from the obscure gentry.
The Boleyn - Howard family never pushed either sister into Henry VIII's bed; horrifying thought. Boleyns always MARRIED well, and virginity was paramount - any whisper of 'reputation' decreased an entire family's stock. Hence, Mary marrying William Carey, a minor noble after her disgrace in France, and it being highly improbable, even impossible, Anne Boleyn consummated her relationship with Henry Percy. Too great a risk for someone with great presence of mind.
Anne Boleyn was the younger of the sisters, born c. 1501; Mary was born c. 1499 or 1500. Evidence? Anne Boleyn's first letter in French, assisted by Semmonet/Symmonet, a male tutor in the household of Margaret of Austria, which is in a mature hand; Lord Hunsdon, Mary Boleyn's grandson, supplicated Elizabeth I for the Ormonde title on the basis of Mary being the elder - to which Elizabeth, significantly, did not object.
Henry Carey was not Henry VIII's son, born several years after Mary's affair with Henry VIII; Catherine Carey, the elder child, might have been Henry VIII's, but it is highly unlikely. The affair has been pushed further back into the early 1520s, shortly after her marriage (1520).
Anne Boleyn never "stole" Mary's son, but rather, arranged a good education for him after his father's death in 1528. The paltry £100 stipend Anne Boleyn obtained for Mary is actually closer to £50,000 today. Hardly poor. And Stafford also received an income.
Catherine Carey did not attend Anne Boleyn before the latter's death.
Perhaps most disconcerting is PG's reliance on Dr. Retha Warnicke's legitimate historical revisionism, which has not passed the test of time. Revisionist history is best left to scholarly debate, not used as the basis of a bodice ripper romance novel. To her credit, Dr. Warnicke has vocally and publicly distanced herself from PG.
George Boleyn, an avowed homosexual, in love with a man, lusting after his sister, committing incest? What? There is no evidence for a deformed foetus, incest, witchcraft, etc. in the historical record.
I looked at her 'bibliography': shoddy. Outdated (Bruce - 1972), controversial (Warnicke), negative (Weir - not a historian, and unreliable), general and/or anachronistic works. Elton and Bindoff? I remember these as a first year undergrad. I suspect she skimmed the sources, and not actually read them. PG is no historian, despite protesting otherwise. Where is Dr. Eric Ives (1986)? Hugh Paget's watershed article (1981)? Only secondary sources, no primary?
As for the charges, adultery by a queen was not a capital offense/treason: Anne Boleyn was accused of plotting the King's death, to ostensibly marry one of her 'lovers' after. These charges were deliberately constructed to impugn her moral character.
To give weight to these ridiculous charges, as PG does, is utterly irresponsible. Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, both able politicians, were engaged in a bitter struggle over Church revenues and foreign policy. She would have struck him down, had he not struck first. The charges were sloppy and concocted in great haste - none of the dates and places matched; Henry VIII's behaviour remained curiously passive throughout, an element that puzzles historians even now. Not even Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador and Anne Boleyn's sworn enemy, believed a single charge.
"Most people think the trial was a show trial, but it is an interesting accusation. Anne had three miscarriages by the time of her trial, and she was not a woman to let something like sin or crime stand in her way - she was clearly guilty of one murder. I think if she had thought that Henry could not bear a son she was quite capable of finding someone to father a child on her. If she thought that, then George would have been the obvious choice."
How grammatically incomprehensible! Three miscarriages? Three pregnancies. Not let sin or crime stand in her way? Slander; Anne Boleyn was deeply religious, in the New Faith. Clearly guilty of one murder? Not a shred of evidence. "If Henry could not bear a son" [sic]? Did I miss that possibility in biology? George, the obvious choice?
Why this hatred of Anne Boleyn? Is PG a Catholic in the tradition of Sander, the one who created the six fingers myth during Elizabeth's reign? Well, she at least did not include that, for which deserves one star.