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The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen Hardcover – April 9, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 263 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The inspiration of an extraordinary afterlife in biography, fiction, and cinema, Henry VIII’s second consort undergoes a discerning cultural inspection. A university professor, though not a historian, Bordo daringly intrudes on the turf of such popular authors as Alison Weir, David Starkey, and Philippa Gregory, all of whom have written about Anne Boleyn. Connecting speculative passages in their works to biases in contemporary sources, Bordo depicts Anne’s allure to preface the main subject of this work, her image after death. Polemicists of the Reformation invented a satanic Anne for Catholics and a martyred Anne for Protestants. Novelists later created a character whom writers revive repeatedly—Anne as a disturber of conventional female roles. That the real Anne, whose involvement in religious politics probably precipitated her downfall, indubitably was. Bordo flourishes in this discussion, especially in her analyses of actresses (most recently, Natalie Dormer’s “smoldering, brainy Anne” in the 2007 television series The Tudors) who have played Anne on screen. Whether Anne is regarded as a temptress or a feminist precursor, her imaginative force in popular entertainment is one that Bordo perceptively illuminates. --Gilbert Taylor


"[R]ichly engrossing....[Her] enthusiasm is infectious and her range impressive...[S]himmers all over the fictional landscape, always with an acute eye...[C]reates in its readers the deep hunger for more of the same; it'll be a cold-hearted reader indeed who doesn't finish the book wishing Bordo would have expanded it into a big fat study of the history and fiction of all the wives - or better yet, of Anne's own daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. But our author is something of an intellectual dynamo, and unlike poor Anne, she's got plenty of options."
—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

"Engrossing....Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion. . . . a strangely tasty book."
—The New York Times

"Bordo’s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read."
—The Boston Globe

"A fascinating and accessible study of Anne Boleyn's history and popular myth."
—Shelf Awareness

"A feast of feminism and history…fascinates readers, and informs and entertains along the way."
—Roanoke Times

"Delightfully cheeky, solidly researched…[Bordo] uses her good sense and academic training to shrewdly chip away at historical commentary, which has hardened speculation into supposed "facts."
—The Daily Beast

"Engrossing…blending biography, cultural history and literary analysis with a creative writer’s knack for narrative and detail."
—Louisville Leo Weekly

"Rivetting…Bordo’s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact, and develop into tangled webs of fact and fiction that become known as the truth. "

"Bordo’s skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters."
—Bitch Media

"The perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking."
—The Anne Boleyn Files

"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."
—Historical Fiction Notebook

"The University of Kentucky humanities chair does a superb job of separating fact from fiction in contemporary accounts of Boleyn’s life, before deftly deconstructing the myriad and contradictory portraits of her that have arisen in the centuries since her death. . . . The young queen has been the source of fascination for nearly half a millennium, and her legacy continues; this engaging portrait culminates with an intriguing exploration of Boleyn’s recent reemergence in pop culture."
—Publishers Weekly

"A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike"
—Kirkus Reviews

"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."
—Suzannah Lipscomb, author of 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII

"If you think you know who Anne Boleyn was, think again. In this rigorously argued yet deliciously readable book, Susan Bordo bursts through the dead weight of cultural stereotypes and historical clichés to disentangle the fictions that we have created from the fascinating, elusive woman that Henry VIII tried—unsuccessfully—to erase from historical memory. This is a book that has long been needed to set the record straight, and Bordo knocked it out of the park. Brava!"
—Robin Maxwell, national bestselling author of Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Mademoiselle Boleyn

“By turns sassy and serious, playful and profound, Susan Bordo cuts through the layers of legend, fantasy, and untruth that history and culture have attached to Anne Boleyn, while proving that the facts about that iconic queen are every bit as intriguing as the fictions.”
—Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

"In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, we watch Anne Boleyn the woman transform into Anne Boleyn the legend—a fascinating journey. Susan Bordo covers Anne's historical footprints and her afterlife in art, fiction, poetry, theater and cinema, each change reflecting the concerns of a different era. Meticulous, thoughtful, persuasive—and fun."
—Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

"Reveals just how little we know of Anne’s actual relationship with Henry VIII then provides a fascinating cultural history of the famous queen over the centuries....Stands out from all other scholarship about Anne Boleyn because (Bordo) takes the popular influence of historical fiction seriously."
—Carolyn Harris,Royal Historian

"Brilliantly readable...Bordo does a superb job of plucking out new sources and re-examining the traditional ones...HIGHLY recommended for folks who want some Tudor love. "
—Deanna Raybourn, NYT best selling author

"Susan Bordo’s riveting new study, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, brings Anne to life through a close reading of existing sources contemporary to her, as well as through a lively exploration of the many cultural representations of Anne, from the 17th century to the present...Bordo’s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact, and develop into tangled webs of fact and fiction that become known as the truth."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547328184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547328188
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (263 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #544,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Sara Thornton on May 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A common criticism of this book is that it's a thin biography of Anne Boleyn (often with the outrage that it trashes -rightly - Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl) and provides no new bombshell tidbits. However, the title indicates it is no biography. It is specifically the creation, not the biography, of Anne Boleyn. One of the few disagreements I have with this meticulously researched, footnoted, and written book is its subtitle: A New Look At England's Most Notorious Queen. Personally, the first queen I think of when reading that is Isabelle of France (the She-Wolf of France), wife of Edward II. Now SHE was notorious- taking a lover, deposing her incompetent husband and then likely aiding in his murder - and then being deposed by her son in turn. Back to the book. Professor Bordo examines very carefully not just a myth, but all of the myths of Anne. The Catholic-hating six-fingered she-devil, the Protestant martyr, the swooning Victorian innocent, the fiery proto-feminist. She examines why each formed and the culture that formed it. She also lays out just how much "real" information comes straight from her enemies and asks the oldest of legal questions: Cui bono? Who benefits, who gains and what is gained by perpetuating that particular tale? The pro-Catholics looking to heal the great English schism? The Elizabethan Protestants shoring up their new religion? Victorian moralists seeking to improve young ladies' virtue?

The book is carefully written, precisely worded, and documented clearly. By examining the modern media versions of Anne, Professor Bordo also looks at how each approached the historical facts and how each "Anne" actress viewed her. The interviews are intriguing- how did this particular person feel or approach or tackle the material she was given?
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Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this more than I did. Bordo is splendid in her critique of the "received" history of Anne Boleyn, pointing out the pernicious tendency of even objective historians to color the tale with their own prejudices. It was fascinating to trace the historical evolution of Anne's image, from scheming sex crazed heretic, to soulful Reformation martyr, to Victorian victim, to power feminist. Bordo's interviews with two of the most influential Anne interpreters: Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer, illuminate the interplay of sexism, commerce, and wish fulfillment in each generation's re-imagining of Anne's character.

So far, so good. However, when Bordo attempts to psychoanalyze the 400 years dead Henry, (Did a childhood dominated by strong female figures, but with unrealistic expectations of autocratic masculinity result in borderline personality disorder? Discuss....) she wanders into shakier territory. When she attempts to conflate her own, very 20th century sexual misfires and 60s radical follies with the enormity of Tudor sexual politics, she sinks into glurge of Oprah-esque proportions. Ultimately, Bordo is guilty of the same misprision as the writers she critiques, namely reinterpreting a complex, multidimensional tragedy in light of her own limited experience.
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"The Creation Of Anne Boleyn" must surely stand as Susan Bordo's crowning achievement. It is clear from the minute dissection of Anne's life, both pre-Henry and with-Henry, that the scholarship involved is intensive; it seems that very few written accounts, factual and fictional, were not closely studied over the course of her writing of this book, which began as a joint effort going in a totally different direction and culminated with Ms Bordo's obsession with all things Anne.

This is part history and part commentary on cultural mores and attitudes, about any number of topics that touched Anne's life, and usually a history, by its very nature, becomes at least a little dry; but Ms Bordo succeeds in making this account come to life with her inclusion of all the different takes on Anne over the past 400 years. She spends a lot of time on "The Tudors", the soap-operish (but very watchable) Showtime telling of the story, and she addresses all the small issues everyone has had about it; she covers (with more reverence) "Anne Of The Thousand Days", a 1969 movie about Anne and Henry with Anne played, to great effect, by Genevieve Bujold, a French-Canadian actress not well known until then (although I saw her in a stage production put to film of "Antigone" and am convinced that she can make any character her own), with Richard Burton as Henry (Elizabeth Taylor, perish the thought, wanted to play Anne; I can't imagine what a disaster that would have made of the movie, with all due respect to Ms Taylor). Ms Bordo covers the beliefs of the day, towards Anne and also towards her headstrong and independent style of life; she also takes on the possible reasons why Henry acted as he did.
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Anne Boleyn has been alive and well in the public imagination for five hundred years, and interest in her hasn't abated one bit. Over many years Anne has been portrayed in many shapes and colors although it was likely she was of middling height,was olive-complexioned with very long dark brown hair and sparkling black eyes. Although the ideal female coloring in the Renaissance was blonde with very light skin like Botticelli's Madonna, it is ironic that Katherine of Aragon as a Spaniard is most often represented in art and film as swarthy and raven-haired when actually her hair was red-brown, her skin considerably lighter in tone than Anne's. Anne possibly may have had a mole or two, but certainly no goiter or wen on her neck, no crooked tooth.

One famous physical anomaly was Anne's sixth finger which the author wryly remarks will not stop pointing. Contemporaries often know nothing whatever about Anne except the Sixth Finger. If Anne had indeed had an extra finger, the superstitious Henry would have run the other way as fast as he could go, such manifestations being the mark of Satan. Besides, says author Bordo, all the skeletons in Peter Ad Vincula where Anne was buried were dug up and examined and no sixth finger popped up.

Eustache Chapuys, the ambassador to England from the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, wrote voluminously of Anne, of Henry, of the British court, was one of the first spinners of the Anne Boleyn myth and he carefully and meticulously molded her into a witch like shrew. Rabidly pro- Katherine (who was Charles V's aunt ) and pro-Mary, (Katherine's only child), he was a Catholic to the core, and spent some twenty years during his ambassadorship in undermining Anne both before her death and after.
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