Ebookwormy1's Reviews > The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
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Mar 23, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: 2-caution, fiction, history, world-europe
Read in June, 2009

After reading the entire book, I’m somewhat surprised at it’s popularity. While a couple of writing techniques were used very successfully, in general, I found it to be just okay, and a bit dragging in the middle. It's an acceptable effort, but I have to believe there is better stuff out there.

* I liked the inclusion of a bibliography at the end of the book for those (like me) who want to further explore the history.

* Gregory weaves the title into her character development to illustrate the tension/ rivalry between Mary and Anne. She also paints each of their strengths (Anne ‘s wit and intelligence vs. Mary’s beauty and amiability) and faults (Anne’s selfish, insatiable ambition vs. Mary’s unintelligent compliance). The concept of one being referenced as “the other Boleyn Girl” when her sister is on the rise was effective. Though history certainly favors Anne, the reader is lead to ponder who is “the other Boleyn girl”? as the story develops. Ultimately, the answer is both women are “the other Boleyn girl” at some point and this illustrates how each is the antithesis of the other. George’s nicknames for them (Mary = Marianne, Anna = Annamaria were brilliant in contributing to this effect.

* The use of Mary’s lack of intelligence to enable other wise characters to explain to Mary some of the intrigues of the court that a reader unfamiliar with the time/ implications of actions might miss, although burdensome at times, was generally well done.

* Character development holds this book together. We see how Mary develops from a young pawn manipulated by others, into a grown woman who successfully protects herself and her children (with the help of her second husband) from destruction. Henry also changes, from a charming, young, ambitious king to a gluttonous, insatiable tyrant.

* I appreciated the author’s illustration of how the actions of the Boleyns to overthrow Queen Katherine, designed to secure their place in the kingdom, caused unintended consequences that led to their destruction. Early in the work, we see Henry’s flaws, but the security and promise of his reign diminish them. However, the events regarding his forced dissolution of marriage to Queen Katherine and his break with the Catholic church create an environment in which he consolidates greater power and is enabled to remove successive queens with whom he is not satisfied (such as Anne herself). Checks and balances provided by Cardinal Wolsey and Uncle Howard, for instance, are overrun in the wake of Henry’s unchecked power. While those that exercised influence in Henry’s early reign were certainly guilty of selfish and immoral conduct, the presence of distributed power held in place an established system of governance that gave order to court proceedings and stability to the kingdom. When these safeguards are eliminated, we see the court, the church in England, Anne and Henry himself careening wildly out of control.

* The romance between Mary and William Stafford was well done, and served to illustrate how her fidelity to him was strong enough to save her life (and her children) by pulling her from the court.

* The perception and standing of women in court and society were effectively illustrated as well as the pressure upon the King himself to produce an heir.

You would think with these positives, I would be raving about the book. But there were some strong negatives that significantly reduced my enjoyment of the read.

* Anne is the character in this work that does not seem to change, or when she does, it is too late. I found Gregory’s grating, annoying, insufferable portrait weak in comparison to the other characters. The middle part of the book, detailing her 6 year attempt to gain and hold King Henry was tedious and warranted some good reduction through editing.

* Gregory’s canonization of Mary reminded me of Anya Seton’s “Katherine”. Both authors seem a bit too fascinated with their characters and change historical facts to heighten their perception of these women to the reader. Understandably, it is hard to entice the reader to rooting for a mistress, but I found the alterations to the historical record by Gregory to put Mary in a more favorable light unsatisfactory.

* It is unknown who was the older Boleyn girl. While historians are currently leaning toward Mary, Gregory has chosen to place Anne as the older and Mary the younger. This heightens Mary’s sense of innocence and vulnerability when she becomes the king’s mistress around age 12-13. It also expunges Mary of her exploits in the French court, which are conveniently transferred to Anne to heighten her worldly, sensual, sophistication. The interesting thing is that the characters Gregory has drawn seem to me to support the theory she has rejected -- that Anne is the younger (comfortable with and seeking attention, unconcerned with needs of older) and Mary the older (responsible, compliant, concerned for needs of younger).

* Gregory encourages us to separate the qualities and skills of excellent courtiers from their moral implications. Thus George is incredibly likable to all, even though they know he would exploit them for his own/ family advantage. The moral implications of his sexual liaisons, deceptions and betrayals are minimized. Gregory’s point seems to be that everyone in the court was painted with the same, tarnished brush, making the question of morality unimportant. The one exception is a powerful scene between Queen Katherine (the moral backbone of Gregory’s rendition) and Mary (exemplifying the exception in regard to her own kin – but not those outside her family) in which Queen Katherine infers the heartfelt affinity for love, loyalty and honor is meaningless when coupled with a lifestyle of corruption.

* The primary reason I would not want to read this book again, and would hesitate to recommend it to others is the bodice ripper stylizing of the entire court from the time of Anne’s ascension onward. While this approach makes logical sense, given King Henry’s lack of personal restraint combined with Boleyn exploitation, this story line encompasses over half the book and seems exaggerated beyond reason. In introducing her bibliography, the author states: “I am indebted to Retha M. Wanicke, whose book “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” has been a most helpful source for this story. I have followed Warnicke’s original and provocative thesis that the homosexual ring around Anne, including her brother George, and her last miscarriage created a climate in which the king could accuse her of witchcraft and perverse sexual practices.” Gregory’s choice of this approach undermines her work for several reasons:

--Beware the “original and provocative” historical thesis that comes out over 400 years after the events. Apart from a discovery of actual historical reference (a letter, book, lost statue/ picture, etc), such an attempt is highly suspect.

--Taking the approach indicated gives credence to the charges against Anne by portraying them as grounded in actual truth. The author cannot have it both ways. She has clearly portrayed the trumped up nature of the charges against Queen Katherine, and their impact upon Henry’s character and governance, yet she takes pains to affirm the foundational basis of charges against Anne, even as the historical record is pretty clear that Henry trumped up charges to dispose of his wives (I mean come on, there were 6 of them!)

--The author astutely points out (through Mary’s perspective which we have known to be weak on worldly wisdom) the allegations and manner of questioning witnesses by the committee investigating Henry’s marriage to Anne reveals a lot about people’s inclination to assume the most carnal and perverted actions of others. In today’s modern criminology, we could call this contaminating a witness (via the method or content of interrogation). The particularly ironic thing about this is that GREGORY HERSELF (by her own admission above) has bought into and chosen to portray the most depraved theory that rampant incest, homosexuality and witchcraft were central to Anne’s fall.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Ebookwormy1 I have since found out that Karen Harper published "The Last Boleyn" in 1983 (Gregory's was published in 2001), which also tells the story from Mary's perspective - a captivating fresh idea at the time. I need to read Harper's version...

message 2: by Rajimanoj (new) - added it

Rajimanoj My review would have been along the same lines. If you could bear the drag in the middle and not confuse it with history, it's a good read..

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