Orsolya's Reviews > Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes
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Dec 28, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: library, historical-fiction, queens, tudor-england, mistresses-royalty, henry-viii-s-wives
Read from April 26 to 29, 2014

The story of Anne Boleyn as mistress-turned-queen to Henry VIII is well-known. However, lesser known (quite near nonexistent), is any evidence of her personal stance on the situation and the state of her heart. Margaret Campbell Barnes allures readers with an introspective view of Anne Boleyn in, “Brief Gaudy Hour”.

True to traditional Barnes style, “Brief Gaudy Hour” suffers from a slow start with large lapses in chronological storytelling. There is a sense of detachment in Barnes’s work both in terms of the characters and the plot. However, don’t give up on “Brief Gaudy Hour” just yet; as it noticeably quickens in pace and improves in its plotline around page 80.

“Brief Gaudy Hour” has a narrative voice which won’t satisfy all readers, reminiscent of a theatrical play with an external narrator. Yet, this is softened by a tone strong in historical settings, making the novel vivid and illustrative (albeit, sometimes it is too stiff). Also delightful is Barnes’s ratio of literary language with accurate historical speech. “Brief Gaudy Hour” is more akin to literary historical fiction novels than many contemporary novels (this was published in 1949).

“Brief Gaudy Hour” focuses on an embellished plotline of Anne Boleyn’s relationship and love for Henry Percy. In Barnes’s novel, Anne doesn’t strive for the King’s bed or to necessarily rise on the Court ladder. Nor does she instigate Henry’s divorce from Queen Katherine with Henry VIII already following that path on his own. It is quite refreshing to not have Anne be either too much of an angel or oppositely too much of a whore, as most novels depict her. This is one of the strongest HF novels in terms of depicting Anne as a ‘real person’ with regular growth.

In fact, all of the characters in “Brief Gaudy Hour” are well-rounded and have ample arcs. Another highlight is Barnes not embarking on the “As you know, Bob”- method of explaining historical figures and events which is so common in HF novels; making “Brief Gaudy Hour” great for both novice and expert readers on the topic.

Barnes does takes historical liberties in the novel (with the relationship between Anne and Henry Percy, with Anne’s governess being the one to push her into the King’s bed, and with the existence of a stepmother, etc); and also displays dated errors in the historical timeline of events. Despite these issues, “Brief Gaudy Hour” is tolerable with these negatives and is still far from fluffy.

One of the major annoyances with Barnes - and she does the following in all of her novels- is her obsession with starting sentences with the words, “And” and “But”. Grammarian readers will not be pleased. Barnes is also guilty of overly foreshadowing events which is unpleasant when most readers already know the true outcome of Boleyn’s life but want to be kept in temporary, imaginary suspense.

Barnes successfully weaves creative explanations of well-known events into the plot (such as how Henry’s love letters to Anne arrived at the Vatican) while also including emotionally-charged climaxes (for instance, the reunion between Henry Percy and Anne); strengthening the fictional-end of “Brief Gaudy Hour”. On the other hand, much of the story acts too freely and smoothly; lacking enough complexity to make it “real”.

Approximate three-quarters through, “Brief Gaudy Hour” weakens noticeably becoming even more predictable with heightened foreshadowing and turns Anne into an angelic victim of circumstances. Barnes also straddles more into pure fiction territory and is completely incorrect with many historical facts. The novel is still enjoyable but loses pizzazz in comparison to the path leading to this point. Similarly, the concluding chapters are rushed while the ending scene depicting Anne’s execution isn’t as poignant as other HF Tudor novels. Regardless, it still stirs some emotions.

For staunch history lovers, Barnes disappoints by not including notes explaining her historical liberties or any genealogical charts. There are also some spelling errors sprinkled throughout the text.

Although novels on Anne Boleyn saturate book shelves; “Brief Gaudy Hour” stands out. Although not 100% accurate and not a masterpiece; Barnes illuminates Anne in a new way versus simply as a stereotype. “Brief Gaudy Hour” is recommended for both Tudor and Anne Boleyn fans.
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Reading Progress

04/26/2014 marked as: currently-reading
04/26/2014 page 143
37.0% "Like other books by Barnes, this was started slow but has picked up. Although there are historical liberties, it is a fresh take on Anne Boleyn."
04/28/2014 page 223
58.0% "Enjoying this. This is the second book from this author which I have enjoyed. That is good news."
04/30/2014 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Great review. This is one MCB I haven't read yet.


Orsolya Misfit wrote: "Great review. This is one MCB I haven't read yet."

This is only my second novel from her but the second one I have positively enjoyed so I can conclude that I like her. :)(I hope I didn't jinx myself).


message 3: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Don't do that (jinx yourself).


Orsolya I know. I hope the other books of hers I read won't end up being terrible, now! Haha


message 5: by Misfit (new)

Misfit None that I've read so far have been duds, but none have rocked my world either. Just good, if a bit dry at times.


Orsolya I agree with that. They aren't 'amazing' but much better than many of the overly fluffy HF novels which are published nowadays. I know we all need a little fluff sometimes as fillers but some are downright ridiculous.


message 7: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Orsolya wrote: "I agree with that. They aren't 'amazing' but much better than many of the overly fluffy HF novels which are published nowadays. I know we all need a little fluff sometimes as fillers but some are d..."

There is a lot of fluff these days :/


Orsolya I know. I actually have a fluff read coming up in the queue which I will surely dissect. I know it is because of the mass audience appeal of the topics but I wish there was some middle ground, at least.


Nicole~ I read this a very long time ago and the memory of it has faded, but your assessment that Barnes was completely incorrect with many historical facts rang that bell for me. Still I enjoy your always accurate and lucid reviews, Orsolya:)


Orsolya Thanks Nicole. Barnes indeed takes some liberties with her writing and also has dated 'facts'; but I still feel it is MUCH better than many HF novels on the same topic which are pure fluff and grating with their fake "information". Barnes is still tolerable because her exaggerations aren't over-extended. In my opinion, anyway.


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