A Review of The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo


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.

My Review

When I first heard that Susan Bordo was writing a non-fiction book about Anne Boleyn, I was immediately intrigued but at the same time wondered whether there was a need for another book about Anne. Was there really anything left to say that hadn’t already been said countless times before?

Regardless of my hesitations, I followed Susan’s Facebook page with keen interest and very quickly realised that the project Susan was working on was unlike any other. This was not just a regurgitation of what other historians had published over the years, but a completely novel way of looking at —and of interpreting— Anne’s story.

In his masterful biography of Anne Boleyn, the late Professor Ives dedicates one chapter to discussing the ‘Sources’; where does what we know or think we know about Anne actually come from? How much of it is reliable and how much of it was written by her enemies? This is a central theme of The Creation of Anne Boleyn and an area that Susan explores in great detail, with at times eye-opening results.

She eloquently disentangles the fact from the fiction and successfully demonstrates how stereotypes and fictional representations of Anne, created by novelists and filmmakers over the years, have come to be accepted, by many, as fact.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Anne’s many “rebirths” or re-representations in literature and popular culture; sometimes revived as the ruthless marriage-breaker capable of multiple adulteries and incest, or the blood-thirsty murderess and at other times, as the Protestant saint but, as Bordo shows, the real Anne was none of these – she is not so neatly boxed.

As for the six fingers, goitre and third nipple… many Anne Boleyn myths are explored and debunked and about time I say!

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is engrossing, informative and highly entertaining, Bordo’s candour is a welcome relief in the often stuffy world of the Tudor academic. I could not help but draw parallels between the author and her subject —a woman she obviously greatly admires —intelligence, wit and a “not afraid to call it as they see it” attitude aplenty!

While extensively researched, a few historical inaccuracies did find their way into the first edition but this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, which I have no hesitation in recommending.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a thought provoking must-read for those familiar with Anne’s story and newcomers alike. I highly recommend the Ives-Bordo combination, read in succession, for the most comprehensive and balanced look at the real Anne Boleyn.

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  1. I am reviewing this for the Literary Review and look forward to it. It is fascinating how fictional portrayals of individuals becomes historical fact. I found this was very clear in the case of Lady Jane Grey and her mother when I wrote my triple biog of the Grey girls, the Sisters Who Would be Queen. I very much enjoyed writing about Anne also in Tudor: The Family Story, and Henry’s execution of Anne as a special interest . V much enjoyed yr review

  2. My list keeps growing, this looks like another great read, thanks so much, Natalie!

  3. Nita Pitts says:

    “While extensively researched, a few historical inaccuracies did find their way into the first edition but this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, which I have no hesitation in recommending.”
    Which historical inaccuracies? I bought the book but have not read it, yet.

  4. I enjoyed reading the book THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN . It was a simple read that explained and dispelled myths about Anne and her life . I found it interesting that the author included details about interviewing actors that have portrayed Anne Boleyn .

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