The Creation of Anne Boleyn

So, a small break from my hiatus since I’ve actually managed to read one book despite everything (and it’s a great book). Namely, Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn:


I have to say, my first introduction ever to Anne Boleyn was Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl when I was fourteen. I remember being horrified by the fact that Anne Boleyn was beheaded. What I took away with me was of her as a desperate, uncompromising person, ready to go through anything for what she wanted. I also remember Gregory’s afterword, that the claim that she had sex with her brother was only a theory that she had taken the liberty to use in the book (among other things). I also remember being more surprised by how much the historical Mary Boleyn (what we know*) seemed to differ from the book’s version, but more or less accepting the version of Anne.

And in my head, Anne Boleyn’s character joined the gallery of historical figures I knew of. I can’t say I was infatuated as many have been, but she had piqued my interest enough for me to read other novels about her whenever they crossed my path (like Victoria Holt’s The Lady in the Tower a couple of years later). I also remember watching the Hollywood film version of The Other Boleyn Girl (didn’t really stay with me), and the lesser known BBC adaptation (which I liked a lot, especially since one of my favorite actresses, Jodhi May, played Anne. Still  based off Gregory’s version of Anne Boleyn, but she felt very real and relatable to me in that role). Then came The Tudors, and I wasn’t particularly taken in (actually, ‘stuffy’ old-fashioned historical interpretations usually appealed more to me and I was very put off by the ‘modernized’ version of everybody, esp Henry. I suspect I have a middle-aged soul.). I never saw much of the second season (I have to admit that I had a crush on Jeremy Northam as Thomas More and when he died I lost what little interest I had in the series).

Anyway. Now that I’ve read The Creation of Anne Boleyn ten years later, and realized what an utter misrepresentation of Anne’s character Gregory’s version was is kind of a reveleation. (Especially since I remember accepting the light-dark-dichotomy, sisters as enemies-narrative so easily). And that Gregory’s version, in great part, was the version of Chapuys, one of Anne’s greatest political enemies at the time. This is really an amazing book.There’s so much here. The history of ideas, socio-cultural explanations for a number of things, the representations of Anne’s image in history, fiction, popular culture and collective consciousness. Personal anecdotes, discussion of historical events we’re used to think of as great, the ‘trivia’, like how Anne’s hair color in different representations can say a lot about the image of her or what the artist/author of said time want to portray. Everything. There is also a fantastic interview with Natalie Dormer who played Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. I never saw the great second season where she really got to explore the character and portray Anne Boleyn as a complex woman in her own right, but I really felt for everything she expressed in her interview, and how she fought to get to portray Anne as complex and human and not the seductive temptress-stereotype that everyone was expecting (and had already written her off as after the first season). And it was really one the great parts in the book.

And for me, who have had a limited knowledge of Anne before (other than the fiction I’ve read and the popular misconceptions), there were so many more insights here. Like the fact that she also was a daring intellectual, playing an important part in the Reformation. Growing up among other female intellectuals at the French court, when she was lady-in-waiting for Marguerite de Navarre (also called the mother of the Renaissance) in her most formative years. I mean, when theater critics have described a recent play by Howard Brenton where Anne gets highlighted in exactly that role as ‘revisionist’, you get an idea of how influential the mythology around her really is.

I also really enjoyed the part where Bordo writes about the internet communities around Tudor history and the independent research that many fans have done, it was just so wonderful to read about the passion and investigative spirit and interest fuelling all these websites, forums and books.

And, unsurprisingly, now this book has really sparked my interest in Boleyniana. I’ve already set out to read Norah Loft’s The Concubine (1963), Robin Maxwell’s The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives’ biography The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, and Howard Brentan’s play Anne Boleyn(the quotes that Bordo has included in the book are just fantastic). Also, the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days is now on my to watch-list. This is such a wonderful, inspiring, invigorating read. It really shows how our culture to this day struggles amazingly in imagining women as anything else than one-dimensional. But it also shows how there are many nuanced and conflicting reactions and views, where a historical figure can give inspiration and great identification and empowerment for a lot of people.

And I love how it really drives home the point in being critical of your source material. I was really baffled as to how, throughout the years, several historians have been willing to draw conclusions from highly biased accounts and documents, accepting them as objective truth. Then again, Bordo also shows how every historian and author writes from their own time, which is why so many of her explorations and discussions make for such a fascinating read. (I particularly liked the quote from Hilary Mantel, when she says that historical fiction is really contemporary fiction). But regarding this, I did have some minor ‘wait a minute’-moments sometimes. The first is when she in the first part of the book discusses the beauty ideals of the renaissance and how ‘today, evolutionary psychologists would argue that these preferences are hardwired into male brain circuitry, as both fair skin and curvacous bodies signal, youth, health, and a high estrogen load.’ I was a bit surprised, since I know Susan Bordo to be a feminist philosopher and have read her work on the cultural ideology behind the female body image, and didn’t expect her to reference theories like these without some comment on them. This got cleared up though, when she later writes in a note: ‘Actually, the socio-biological arguments fall apart against the historical and geographical spectacle of human diversity’. It’s easy to miss a note or not bother reading it, and I think it would have been a benefit if this was included in the actual text and expanded upon.

And sources, one of the main ones she demonstrates we shouldn’t trust too much is Chapuys’ accounts of events, but when she then references him other times as trustworthy, or simply other records that the reader in some cases is supposed to take at face value  there is not always an explanation why the record in that particular case is trustworthy but not in others. Since she so clearly shows from the beginning how detrimental it can be to trust historical records blindly it would have been interesting with some further explanation and reflection on why the sources she did use were different or why they were trustworthy in some instances but not in others (as with Chapuys).

But as a whole, I found the book to be an immensely enjoyable read. I would say it’s really unmissable if you’re an Anne Boleyn-fan, anti-fan or interested in cultural and historical representations from a feminist point of view.

*After I looked up the Boleyn family a bit more I found Alison Weir’s book on Mary Boleyn which sets out to… set the account straight on ‘one of the most misrepresented women in Tudor history’. So, next reading project, I think!



Well, um, as you can see there’s a hiatus here right now.

The fact is, my life has been taken over by k-dramas so nowadays I spend more time at my tumblr dedicated to the appreciation of said dramas. I ocasionally write about what I read on my other tumblr (although to be frank, right now it’s mostly raving about the glorious melting pot of Victorian literature that is Penny Dreadful).

But of course, as always, I have a ton of great books waiting for me on my bookshelves and I’ll definitely prioritize reading more when summertime comes (summer is when I actually read the most), so this is not to say this blog is completely dead, just in a pause ’til I’m back and writing more about books again.

The Lie Tree

So, I’ve read Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree now, and it is such a beautiful, beautiful story that I hugged the book when I finished it.

The book starts out with Faith Sunderly and her family moving to a remote island after her father Erasmus Sunderly, a renowned natural scientist, has been accused of creating fake fossiles in his research. As the adults hope to leave the impending scandal behind them, Faith is left to puzzle out the reason for their flight on her own, while taking care of her young brother Howard, as they move into their new home. But there are a lot of things Faith is not let in on, and it soon becomes clear that her father has a lot of secrets. When he dies mysteriously, Faith decides to delve deeper into the cirumstances around his death, one of them being a strange plant he has left after him…

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a young adult book that is so deeply feminist, with such a keen eye for sexism in all its forms. How cleverly it shows the change of perspective in a subdued girl who adores her father but slowly starts to question her environment, taking the chance to act against the crushing narratives of patriarchal society.

In short, I loved this book, and Frances Hardinge has now an even more cherished place in my heart.

Reading Update: 190 pages in…

God, I love this novel to bits and pieces already. The atmosphere, the plot, the characterization, the language (I mean, the metaphors!!!), and not to mention the razor-sharp, unapologetic feminism behind it all. Hardinge is my hero.

(Speaking of favorites, I recently finished Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Jandy Nelson’s I’ll give you the Sun and it feels like I’m showering my Goodreads account with 5 star-ratings these days. Code Name Verity crushed my heart. Utterly. It is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. And one of few with such a powerful friendship at its core. It’s war, and rage, and hopelessnes, and love. Simply a must-read,  but be prepared. And I’ll Give you the Sun, oh, my god. My heart. Jandy Nelson’s writing is like, life. It’s beautiful, and painful and your heart beats and you just, you feel every single thing. (Note to self: I have to read her debut). I’ve also acquainted myself with the first volume of The Rat Queens comic and fell completely in love. Gritty fantasy and war heroines who don’t give a damn and just live life as they see fit? YES PLEASE!)

The Brides of Rollrock Island

12009173I finished reading Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island about a week ago.

I’m completely in awe.

Rollrock is a small, isolated island where it has become common practice for men to take “sea-wives” when they are to marry. The whole island is populated by men, and the only female beings are the sea-wives, alluring creatures and obedient housewives at the same time. But this was not always the case, once both women and men, girls and boys lived on the island and seals who turned into women were only considered tales or talked about in hushed whispers.

What Lanagan has done here is amazing. By taking the myth about selkies and painting her own, wonderfully imaginative story around it she has written her own tale of oppression, sexism, structures and change.

It is so wonderful on so many levels, and deeply sad at the same time. I felt tears welling up when one of the many protagonists in the book, Daniel, who has grown up with a selkie mother and a human father notices how his mother occasionally goes into grave moods, curled up in a blanket made out of seaweed and when he asks her what is wrong, her only answer is that she misses the sea and that there’s nothing he can do, and as Daniel watches her he thinks:

She was not comfortable – she was miserable. Like Aggie, like Amy Dressler, like all the mams, all the wives, she was more unhappy than I had ever been; they were unhappy beyond any unhappiness that a boy like me could imagine or fathom. And Dad was miserable too; all the dads were – for who could be happy with his wife in such a state?

There are plenty of moments, sentences and symbolisms that catches the nature of oppression and objectification so painfully well. But what I also love is how the discomfort of the younger generation is portrayed, the feeling that something is wrong, despite being shaped by the life on the island, like the view that all mothers, and therefore all females have straight shining hair, are long, elegant and beautiful and distinctly different from the fathers who are short with read, curly hair, gangly, etc. Or growing up with the expectation that when the time comes to marry, it is wholly natural to seek out Misskaella, the cast-out woman with mysterious powers and pay her a sum so she will turn one of the seals into a bride for you to name and claim. How the boys realize that their mothers are miserable and how they want to know if there is anything that can be done to change things, even at the cost of nothing being altogether better, just something else, something that is not the current state of profound unhappiness for everyone involved.

There is much more to the book, and many other significant parts and great characters I haven’t mentioned because I felt that it became a greater experience to read the book without knowing about all the characters or the overall arc of the story.

Suffice to say, I loved this book and the way it handled its subject matter respectfully, intelligently and poetically, and without shying away from the heavier implications of the story.

I’m also tremendously happy to have discovered an author I can’t wait to read more works of.

Some distractions

And then the time comes when you realize that your great, nostalgic re-reading project was a bit premature. I read the two wonderful first chapters before I realized that with all the school work and other obligations left to do I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in the pleasures of rereading to the extent that I had wished. There are also at least four books (namely, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Shadow Scale, Bone Gap and Saffy’s Angel) that are tugging at my attention on my nightstand, so I’ve decided to put His Dark Materials briefly aside, at least until the summer break starts when I’ll be able to give this grand project the attention and peace of mind it deserves. Meanwhile, I’ve embarked on smaller reading adventures, such as The Brides of Rollrock Island (30 pages in, and oh, the prose, the story!!) and The Blood of Flowers, which is the book I’ll be reading for the next meeting of the book club.

A great re-reading project

hisdarkmaterialsThe first time I read Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy I must have been around 12-years-old. Lyra’s world, especially the concept of daemons, made a great impact on my imagination and there was a special feeling about the whole trilogy that I loved to remember for years to come. I re-read Northern Lights when I was around 16 and still loved it, and in the past couple years I’ve been planning to re-read the whole trilogy again, especially when I bought the gorgeous edition from The Everyman’s Library two years ago for the purpose. It was also then I discovered this wonderful fanforum with discussions all things Pullman and His Dark Materials. Sadly, it isn’t active anymore, but it’s still a joy to read the threads.

With a planned first-time trip to Oxford in the summer coming up, I’ve  once again started to think about re-reading the trilogy. Now that the book has been on my nightstand for a month or so and I recently finished Wake somehow the choice for the next book to read feels so natural. Why not start now? I’ve been meaning to do it for so many years now, and I’m also very curious about how I will experience these old favorites as an adult. To make it more rewarding I’m planning to write down some thoughts that come up during reading on the blog, if there’s something new that has struck me in the text, or just to quote bits I like and share general feels and nostalgia.

Meeting the author of a much-loved book

So, earlier I wrote about the fact that Sarah Waters visited my local library here in Sweden, which I didn’t think would happen in a million years! I thought I would tell you a bit about that occasion.

The 14th of April it was happening, Sarah Waters was coming to Uppsala! I couldn’t believe my luck and was very excited of course. The night before, I wondered which book I should take with me if there would be a booksigning, should it be Tipping the Velvet, or The Little Stranger? Or The Paying Guests? Which one is the easiest to share my feelings about if I get a chance to talk to her? (And what should I wear? Is it very obsessive of me to think about that too? etc)

I eventually chose The Little Stranger. The English Bookshop in town arranged the occasion and the event was hosted at the local library, where an interview would be held and afterwards the audience would have a chance to ask questions.

The evening started with Waters reading the wonderful excerpt from The Paying Guests where Francis talks to Lily Barber for the first time and is confronted with the everyday intimacy she as host and they as lodgers now will share. I felt like a beaming light-bulb during the reading, because I had watched another interview with her on youtube a while ago where she had read the same excerpt for the audience and all I could think was ‘Oh, my God. This is really happening!!!’.

Then came a very interesting and good interview, where the focus of the talk was The Paying Guests (recently translated into Swedish), and where the discussion went onwards to queer womens’ stories and place in history, ‘hidden history’, class, and to be a woman in post-war England during the 20’s. It was illuminating, engaging, everything you could wish for in an authors’ talk!

And afterwards there was a booksigning, and of course I had already imagined what great things I would say, how we would have a short but engaging conversation about the book and have a moment of great understanding, because of course that is what happens when you love a book and meet the author of that loved book, right??

Well, not necessarily. I overheard my two friends speak to her in the relaxed and calm way I hoped I would soon be doing (although afterwards both confessed they were really nervous and didn’t feel they said anything important), and then the turn came to me, and I was a bit overwhelmed, and then immediately longued into what I hoped was a quick but enlightening and intelligent explanation of what I liked about The Little Stranger. When I was finished there was a pause and then she politely reminded me why I had given her the book; ‘Your name, please’, and I thought, of course, and started spelling it out but, as I realized later, somehow, SOMEHOW, I managed to forget how ‘i’ in English is pronounced and just went with the Swedish pronounciation (which is the same as an English ‘e’). So, naturally, she signed the book with a personal greeting to ‘Noeme’. And then it was all over.

(Afterwards I thought, I probably said things she had heard before and sometimes you’re just a person in a line and that’s okay, maybe she just wanted to be done with it, and this is not personal at all, and besides, she’s a beloved author and is probably used to idolization, and isn’t it kind of weird that we idolize people, I mean everybody is only human, and why should anyone heap a ton of expectations on a small moment etc.)

Of course, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t as anticlimactic as that, I mean I managed to tell her what I wanted. But I came to the conclusion that, at least for me, meeting an idol isn’t a good idea. It’s too much like meeting a crush when you’re a teenager and give everyday happenings a ridiculous amount of weight.
I’m really happy with adoring books and adoring authors at a distance, otherwise I’ll just have a ton of expectations that couldn’t possibly be fulfilled when meeting them in real life (and spell my name wrong).

How about you, have you ever met a favorite author, and how did you feel about it?

Books I read in 2014 (Part Three)

51AlgLM4+HL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice. I decided early on, that this would be one of the books to read in the summer (I think it was the cheerful colors of the cover that made me think it would be a perfect ‘summer book’), and also I hadn’t read anything of Eva Rice before, so this seemed a good choice to start with. It’s about ‘the roaring 60’s in London’, but also about growing up in the country, adolescence, sisterhood, loving horses so much that you sneak into the rich neighbour’s stable and ride her horse, about friendship, dreams come true and crushed. There were a lot of things I enjoyed in this book, especially the early parts, when the main character Tara and her older sister Lucy grows up, how they experience their first crush when they barely know what a crush is (Tara), or become utterly and hopelessly infatuated with the beauty of Victorian architecture when up until then beauty has been your one defining trait in the eyes of the world (Lucy).

I don’t know why I eventually, and definitely towards the end of the book, became a bit disenchanted with the whole story, when there was so much I enjoyed and was touched by, and when it all started out so promising. I can’t really put my finger on it other than the fact that I maybe expected something more, or some other kind of conclusion? Maybe it is also the feeling that while the early parts of the books that details the main character’s childhood and early adolescense, everything happens quickly and the years rush by in the later parts. (But I’m not even sure if this was really the case or only my memory of it). So, an enjoyable read that still left me unsatisfied somehow.

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Books I read in 2014 (Part Two)

I didn’t want to leave this post unfinished, so here comes part two (out of three) of a short-ish wrap-up of the English (or available in English) books I managed to read last year:

Fly-by-NightAfter I read Cuckoo Song I was so intrigued with Frances Hardinge that I immediately started to read her most known book, Fly by Night, about twelve-year-old orphan Mosca who is terribly underappreciated after her father has died and her only friend is Saracen, the murderous goose of her home village. Her father taught her to read in a world where being able to read is not expected of you, especially not if you’re a girl. Mosca has a great hunger for words and when Eponymous Clent comes to the village and verbally seduces everyone only to be thrust into prison when the people become disenchanted with him Mosca makes the decision to save him and follow him on his journey to the city of Mandelion, where intrigues and a revolution is on the way.

I LOVED this book. Such wonderful, lovely characters and conversations and and words (‘chirfuggin’) you can’t get enough of. I also loved how the world Hardinge creates here is inspired by the British 18th century in many aspects. I wish I had the book here so I could shower you with quotes but both my copies are on loan to family and friends, alas…

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