Blonde, Brunette or Beheaded

How did a woman rise from relative obscurity to influence the course of history and become queen of England? That is the question nearly every biography and fictional account of Anne Boleyn seeks to answer. In The Creation of Anne Boleyn Susan Bordo seeks to answer that and a less explored question: how did Anne go from historical figure to cultural touchstone?

Bordo is a cultural studies specialist rather than a historian. She is primarily interested in what Anne Boleyn means to contemporary culture but she grounds that meaning in an understanding of who Anne was. Or, perhaps better put, might have been. Given the paucity of contemporaneous first-hand accounts it is impossible to know what Anne thought or what drove her actions or what was actually said or even whether she was blonde or brunette. This incomplete picture has left room for writers and artists of all types to create Anne as they see her or need her to be to suit their narrative or world view. Bordo explores these shifting images of Anne - the shadows of the real woman, alternately larger and smaller than the long dead queen - to understand what informed and drove these depictions.

For anyone immersed in Tudoriana, this book may feel quirky in its focus: an entire chapter the 1969 movie Anne of a Thousand Days yet nothing on Evelyn Anthony's or Lozania Prole's vastly different conceptions of Anne. The same is true of Boleyn biographies where Joanna Denny's unique take is unexplored. Bordo does not pretend that this is a definitive study of every depiction of Anne Boleyn. You may find your favorites left out but you will find detailed consideration given to The Other Boleyn Girl (book, miniseries and movie) and The Tudors, among others.

I enjoyed this book overall. I found Bordo's historical analysis less compelling (but still interesting) than her cultural analysis. When Bordo brings the two together, such when she reminds readers that we must read Henry's letters to Anne's through the lens of Courtly Love instead of Showtime, this book becomes essential reading. If you know Anne Boleyn only from recent movies and miniseries, this book is a good place to start to learn more about this fascinating woman.

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