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The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

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A groundbreaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn's life and legacy puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.

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, Susan 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 reimagined 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.

343 pages, Hardcover

First published April 9, 2013

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About the author

Susan Bordo

20 books211 followers
Susan Bordo is known for the clarity, accessibility, and contemporary relevance of her writing. Her first book, The Flight to Objectivity, has become a classic of feminist philosophy. In 1993, increasingly aware of our culture's preoccupation with weight and body image, she published Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private (1999). Both books were highly praised by reviewers, with Unbearable Weight named a 1993 Notable Book by the New York Times and The Male Body featured in Mademoiselle, Elle, Vanity Fair, NPR, and MSNBC. Both books have been translated into many languages, and individual chapters, many of which are considered paradigms of lucid writing, are frequently re-printed in collections and writing textbooks. The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen, was published to critical acclaim by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April, 2013. The Destruction of Hillary Clinton followed in 2017. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband, daughter, three dogs, a cat, and a cockatiel.

Bordo received her Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1982. She recently retired from her position as Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Kentucky.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 442 reviews
Profile Image for Dan.
785 reviews78 followers
February 8, 2023
It’s important to note that this is not a straight biography. Rather, it is an examination and reclamation of Anne Boleyn’s legacy.

Bordo’s take is a unique one, as it really isn’t a true take at all. Instead, it forces us to look outward and inward to check our premises as to why we feel how we do about Anne Boleyn. How likely is it, really, that she was a disfigured, incestuous witch? Not very. Her love and devotion to Henry are consistent and well-documented.

It's fascinating to see how Anne Boleyn’s portrayal has changed over time, and Bordo explores this fluidly. Anne probably is more similar to The Tudors’ depiction than many detractors may care to accept or acknowledge.

This is an enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone who may be curious (and have an open mind) about learning more about who Anne Boleyn actually was in an unbiased format.
Profile Image for Orsolya.
609 reviews287 followers
June 16, 2013
Love her or hate her, Anne Boleyn is here to stay – even centuries after her execution. How much do we actually know about her is another story entirely: one which Susan Bordo attempts to capture in “The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen”.

Bordo’s “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is not a typical history piece and certainly not a biography. It instead combines elements of a cultural study, history, social history, psychology, and academic argument into one work. Although the first section of “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” recaps common myths surrounding Anne, Henry VIII, and Anne & Henry as a couple; it is not detailed enough for readers new to the topic, who as a result, would be at a loss with the events, authors mentioned, rumors exposed, etc. Therefore, it is best suited for readers with knowledge on the Tudor reign.

“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” instantly suffers from some problems. Most noticeable is Bordo’s constant argument that individuals incorrectly judge Anne’s behaviors based on the morals of modern day rules. Yet, she then compares those same behaviors with modern similes in order to better acquaint the reader with their importance. This is hypocritical. Furthermore, although Bordo attempts to discredit other authors and theories, she doesn’t fully back up her own statements and is equally guilty of the biases and behaviors of those she is accusing (bluntly: Bordo lacks some academic value and is a bit too haughty in her views). Another issue is with repetition, where Bordo tends to drift off and then repeat recent ideas.

On the plus side, it is refreshing that Bordo is US-based so the view of Anne is from a unique/different angle from that of a staunch British author. This also gives “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” a fresh and modern feel. The book is inviting for those who subscribe to the school of thought that Henry was too strong of a personality to be ‘whipped’ by any female and thus Anne wasn’t some bewitching sexpot but merely the subject of Henry’s first lustful, obsessive, infatuation; as this appears to be the main thesis of Bordo’s work.

Although “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is understandably a cultural study; the constant references to such modern Tudor-pieces as “The Tudors” television series is overused and weakens some of the text. However, Bordo doesn’t claim to lead a purely academic debate and does successfully raise many compelling and suggestive arguments revolving around well-known theories, which whether for or against, provoke deep thinking with the reader. This also encourages slower reading to “take it all in” versus just rushing through the book.

The second section of “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” outlines and discusses the various incarnates of Anne throughout history in a multitude of outlets. This is not only quite in-depth but also interesting. However, Bordo is guilty of composition/arguments likened to that of a college paper, at times. First of all, it is clear that she isn’t a historian and “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” feels like a gender ideology university assignment where Bordo merely picked Anne as a focal point. Second, there are times when Bordo presents a quote but crops it or fine-tunes it to prove her point (much like a journalist).

The third section continues on the route of various portrayals of Anne (mostly with pop culture references and other present day-takes); and is also interesting but heavily feels gossipy, provoking of a fight, and like a bashing of authors (from both Bordo and other authors). Although I am not a strong proponent of Philippa Gregory and so I agreed with Bordo’s opinions on her (she supports Robin Maxwell whom I dislike as much as PG); the insults were too much and this portion of the book felt childish, pointless, and lacking merit. In fact, Bordo comes off as arrogant and calls herself an “Anne Boleyn Scholar” while she, herself, is new to the topic and is less versed than I am! Take that, Bordo!

Luckily, this turns around when Bordo discusses why the portrayals of Anne occur in relation to ideologies, cultures, and feminism. Sadly, this is only expressed on a few pages and begs for extension. This spins into why people love Anne today based on these deeper psychologies and thus ends “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” on a strong note. Also pleasing are the amount of primary and secondary sources by Bordo, plus her offered notes.

“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” is not a terrible book. It has a strong premise with a unique angle which clearly exemplifies Bordo’s ardor on the topic. However, it begs for more meat, some clarity, and editing making it obvious that this is Bordo’s first foray into the topic. Although “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” didn’t blow me away and I expected a bit more, I do recommend it for fellow Tudorphiles or those interested in Anne Boleyn.

I would like to note that the author rudely addressed me as I asked an another author if Susan mentioning the author in her book effected her review. Susan jumped on me for questioning the said author's review and also implied that I lied that she called herself an "Anne Boleyn scholar" (if I had the book, I would quote the page). Her tone and way of addressing me puts a sour taste in my mouth and thus I will never recommend her work.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,956 reviews485 followers
July 21, 2017
Aww those darn Tudors and their hold on all of us historical fiction fans especially King Harry and his six wives. This non fiction book has been on my TBR for a long time and maybe it just should have stayed there. I feel a bit sick in my stomach. The author totally lost points with me for arrogantly bashing the works of Philippa Gregory(who she just couldn't stop attacking), Allison Weir, David Starkey, Hilary Mantel etc. I think if you really don't like a work, say why you don't like it, make your educated argument, and then move on.I wanted to hear about Anne Boleyn not Susan Bordo!
Profile Image for Christine.
6,611 reviews478 followers
March 9, 2014
I should note that I am a fan of both Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon. It seems as if many of Henry VIII’s wives had many characteristics in common. There are exceptions – I’m not entirely sure how intelligent Katherine Howard was, but there seems to be more in common with the women, even ones as so opposed as Anne and Katherine of Aragorn.

I should also note that I am GR friends with a reader who had exchange with the author of this book. The exchange occurred prior to our GR friendship.

This book is really a 2.5 for me. It isn’t quite a three while being a little more than a two. If I was less knowledgeable about the era or if the book was focused more on a thread (see below), the rating would be higher.

In many ways, it seems as if Bordo wrote this book so she could gush over Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn in Showtime’s The Tudors.

She’s right, of course. Dormer’s portrayal of Boleyn was absolutely beautiful and spot on. Anne was sympathetic, but not a saint. She was perfection in the role. I found the section of the book dealing with the series to be the must interesting, if the most fan crazy, part. I think it would have been more interesting if there had been more discussion about physical looks of characters and gender, especially in regards to Meyers refusal to don a fat suit. If this book had simply been a cultural critique of The Tudors series or just a look at Anne Boleyn in modern literature, it would have been a far better book. As it is, in some way it feels as if Bordo felt she didn’t have enough just about the Tudors and so had to pad the book.
While Bordo does at one point refer to herself as an Anne Boleyn scholar, the weakest part of the book is, in fact, the first part, the straight forward history part. All of the supposedly “debunked myths” have already been debunked, and in some cases, by authors that Bordo takes to task for their treatment of Boleyn. Additionally, while Bordo, correctly in many cases, points out the jumping to conclusions or putting too much trust in unreliable sources that some authors do, she than does it herself. It seems that we should distrust Chaupys (and Bordo is quite right on this point) but only until Bordo tells us that we can trust him. It’s true that sometimes untrustworthy sources speak the truth, but a more detailed reasoning for why we should believe him in whatever case, would be far better than a few sentences that basically amount to because I said so. Furthermore, in her comparison of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Bordo discusses Katherine’s development, where she got her views and model of wifehood from. Strangely, at this time or any other in this section, Bordo neglects to mention that Queen Isabella was Katherine’s mother. Perhaps this woman also influenced Katherine as well as those wifely obedience manuals. Of course, that wouldn’t necessary fit the thesis, but it’s like the elephant in the room farting. Additionally, there are reports of Katherine dancing.

And I’m sorry, but Jane Grey lost the throne due to a coup d’état? Isn’t that really how she held for it such a short time?

Once Bordo moves away from the history and looks at the cultural analysis, the book is on surer ground, though there are still problems. It’s true that there is a double standard in the changes made by the Tudors and by Mantel. It’s a good point. But as someone who watched the Tudors, the combining of Mary and Margaret didn’t really get me annoyed, it was the murder subplot that did. I was willing to give the bitch in heat portrayal a pass considering the later marriages of the two women, but why is that screwing of character okay, but not the change in Marguerite of Navarre? Can’t a viewer be upset at the blatant nudity of women in the series? Of the fact that the women are there for heaving breasts. While Dormer suggests this (and she was an employee), Bordo seems to, in part at least, give Hirst a pass for this. And, furthermore, it is just as hard, if hard is the right word, to keep characters straight in the television series as in Mantel’s novel. Blink and you miss the name of Brandon’s second wife. To presume that the readers of Mantel are too stupid to know where history is played with is insulting. Furthermore, if the naked Anne Boleyn is a dream of Henry’s (and it is), how is that simply having the character as a sexual being? It’s true that it does sexualize her, but it should be acknowledged that it is a dream sequence. And yes, I know that several chapters earlier Bordo did, but considering her repetition habit, why didn’t she repeat here?

I would also like to point out that Anne of Cleves did gamble, including by playing cards.

Bordo is correct in her criticisms of Gregory, especially in regards to how Gregory portrays her knowledge of history. However, Gregory writes fiction, and if in her fiction, Gregory wants an evil Anne Boleyn, why can’t she use one? It is the authors that demonize Boleyn to any degree that Bordo seems to be gunning for, and those who portray an unrealistic saintly or feminist Boleyn get passed over quickly or strongly endorsed. Joanna Denny’s biography of Boleyn is listed as a source and is really nothing more than a saint’s life, why doesn’t Bordo mention this? Why is Mantel incorrect or wrong in how she portrays Anne, after all the book is though Cromwell’s eyes and not Susan Bordo’s. It seems that if you are an author, you must look at Boleyn the same way as Bordo or else you are wrong. Isn’t this what she accuses others of doing? Isn’t this simply an over-correction? And the whole bit about the bike crash and then realizing what Anne must have felt before her head got chopped off, I can’t ever start with that. Why was that there?

Bordo’s reading of Weir is a bit too facile. It’s is very difficult to read Weir’s account of Anne in the Tower and not come away with the idea that Weir does admire or like Boleyn in some way. Bordo seems to suggest that Weir hates Boleyn. And Starkey, well Starkey dislikes Katherine of Aragon far more than he does A of B.

So in terms of the television series, this is good. In terms of the real Anne Boleyn, not so much.

Crossposted at Booklikes.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,853 reviews360 followers
October 4, 2022
Issues I have with this book:

1. The author states constantly that she interviewed various people for this book. Sooo where is the actual research to back up all of her interpretations of Anne's characteristics and events that she consistently attempts to debunk?
2. Last time I checked this author lives in modern times and no one has asked her what her opinions of the show The Tudors. Or her "near death experience" of being run over by a BIKE RIDER. Yes that is so almost the same thing as having her head separated from her body.
Wow I’ve spent probably about 30 minutes listening to the author totally trash Phillipa Gregory and her books as total fabrication, that they are completely fiction nothing historical. This coming from an author who has also poo-pooed everything historians have researched and reported with what she “thinks” is the truth, which is not one thing discussed ever. This author is the female Ian Mortimer. I didn’t think this would be possible.
Oh good lord this author just admitted that she created a Facebook page about Anne so she could get opinions about her as well as find WOMEN TO INTERVIEW FOR THIS BOOK. Is that what historians do now? Social media? I’m pulling the plug peoples!
Profile Image for Claire Ridgway.
Author 21 books265 followers
May 15, 2013
I have been following Susan Bordo's journey into Anne Boleyn's story, and how her image has been reconstructed time and time again through the ages, since early 2011 so I was looking forward to the release of her book, particularly because she interviewed me as part of her research.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a very different Anne Boleyn book. It is exactly how it's described in its blurb, "part biography, part cultural history". The first half focuses on Anne Boleyn's life, and subsequent downfall, but then the second part, "Recipes of Anne Boleyn", looks at representations of Anne in literature and Part III, "An Anne for All Season", examines the Anne of the big screen and TV, the "Viral Anne" of websites and blogs, and how Anne is seen by today's young women. The latter section was of great interest to me, being someone who blogs about Anne on a regular basis and who is always 'hearing' other people's views of Anne. Anne is one of those "marmite" historical characters: people seem to love her or hate her, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground. I found Part II fascinating because Bordo examined literature that I haven't yet looked closely at in my research, including Victorian history books and Mary Hastings Bradley's 1912 novel about Anne. These books are now on my "to read" list.

Bordo doesn't pull any punches when it comes to examining how today's authors and historians have portrayed Anne Boleyn. She is highly critical of Philippa Gregory, who she believes deceives readers by claiming to be "a trained historian" and whose Anne is "a ruthless human predator". She is also critical of G W Bernard whose book she describes as "a sensationalistic, poorly argued extension of an equally flimsy scholarly article from 1991". David Starkey, she believes, presents Anne as a "bloodthirsty" woman who "hunts down all enemies and rejoices at their deaths" and Alison Weir "is not above using dramatic but unfounded stereotype". Strong words, but then Bordo feels strongly about her subject and how authors and historians treat Anne. Bordo prefers the "more balanced assessments" of the likes of Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb and David Loades, as do I. I too have a problem with the Anne of "The Other Boleyn Girl", so I can see where Bordo is coming from when it comes to Philippa Gregory. I love historical fiction, but the author's notes section of the novel make it clear that Philippa Gregory feels that her book is based on fact and that that was what Anne was really like. It has led to confusion and to people regarding her book as more than just a novel. Regarding Bernard, I agree that his book was based on the academic arguments he and Eric Ives had in journals in the 1990s, and I think that Ives won the arguments with his more convincing evidence, but the book was still an interesting read and Bernard is someone I respect as an academic historian. We all have our opinions though and passions always run high when Anne is involved!

Susan Bordo's book was a refreshing read. I read about Anne on a daily basis, I write about Anne on a daily basis, but this was different to any other book I've read on her. It was fascinating to read how Anne's image has changed over time, how different eras viewed her, and to hear it from someone who is not a historian but an academic in the field of philosophy and cultural studies. Bordo looks at Anne and her image with fresh, and different, eyes. The book is also meticulously researched and I enjoyed reading the views of actresses like Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer, who both played Anne, and everyday women who are interested in her. Some historians have been critical of the online history world, arguing that Tudor history sites are just glorified fan clubs, so it was nice to see websites and blogs being give credit for the work they do in promoting history, educating people and bringing like-minded people together on fora where historical debates can take place. OK, so I'm biased!

Historian Suzannah Lipscomb said of the book, "Susan Bordo astutely re-examines Anne's life and death anew and peels away the layers of untruth and myth that have accumulated since. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a refreshing, iconoclastic and moving look at one of history's most intriguing women. It is rare to find a book that rouses one to scholarly glee, feminist indignation and empathetic tears, but this is such a book." I agree wholeheartedly. The first half brings Anne and her story to life and the second half gets you thinking.

All in all, the perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking.
Profile Image for Becky.
335 reviews
April 27, 2013
I already know I'm a little sensitive, but reading this I'm getting a little defensive of one of my favorite authors, Alison Weir. I understand the purpose of Bordo's book - determining how Anne Boleyn got such a bad reputation; so, when she picks on Weir, I'm a little like, where the heck did you come from, because I've never heard of you writing several books about Tudor England?! Bordo also takes aim at David Starkey, whose books I haven't read, but have enjoyed the mini-series he's done on Henry's wives and Elizabeth. I can only speak to Weir's books, as I've read several (including the ones that speak to Anne). Maybe Weir makes conjecture because of all the research she has done and is well versed in that area of history. Bordo should check her history as well, because in chapter 4, she mentions Anne and Henry going to Calais to meet the French King Francis in 1532 and the French queen consort, Claude, snubbing Anne and that Anne didn't seem to mind. Well, she probably wouldn't have minded because Claude died 8 years earlier in 1524. It was Francis's new wife, Eleanor, whom he married in 1530, that snubbed Anne - two women who had never met each other.
Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
April 12, 2013
Really just flat-out enjoyable -- very intelligent, witty, well-written, thoughtful, all the things you'd expect from Susan Bordo. A lovely surprise is an interview with Natalie Dormer, who comes off as wonderfully strong, intelligent, well-read and very sympathetic to Anne (when she heard she got the role, she ran home and dyed her hair dark without permission -- freaking out the brass -- she nearly lost the role!). This book was a lot like The Bronte Myth, except much less disappointing. I love books by women intellectuals who investigate cultural myths of controversial women, and this is a top example of the genre.
Profile Image for Meaghan.
1,096 reviews25 followers
January 6, 2015
I read just about every Anne Boleyn book I can get my hands on, but I admit it gets pretty repetitive -- all these examinations of one woman's life. But this isn't "just another Anne Boleyn biography." In addition to the "biography" part (which provides some insights and perspectives I hadn't seen before), the author studies the various ways Anne Boleyn has been portrayed in popular culture, from the earliest novels about her to the modern soap opera The Tudors. (I confessed I never got past Episode 1, which depicted like five sex acts in the first fifteen minutes. Maybe I'll give it another go.)

Also notable is Bordo's undisguised, unapologetic hostility towards certain people, both historians like David Starkey and fiction writers like Philippa Gregory, who she thinks over-dramatize Anne's life and make all kinds of assumptions and get it all wrong. I confess I really enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, but I read it when I knew a great deal about Anne's life, and I knew the book wasn't historically accurate and didn't expect it to be.

This book is an important lesson to students of history: both about how little we really know about characters of the past, and about how much "history" is a reflection of our times rather than it is of whatever happened back then.
Profile Image for Susan.
Author 23 books957 followers
May 2, 2013
Interesting book, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I thought from some of the excerpts that this would be an extended anti-Philippa-Gregory rant, but Bordo was more restrained and balanced than I expected. I thought the discussion about how Anne Boleyn has been portrayed in fiction over the years was particularly interesting. On the other hand, I thought the author was far too dismissive of G. W. Bernard, whose work (whether or not one agrees with it) hardly deserves to be lumped in with Carolly Erickson's "historical entertainment" The Favored Queen. I would have liked to have seen a more extended discussion of recent books on Anne Boleyn, such as Joanna Denny's biography--especially if it meant sacrificing the author's afterword, which I found more than a bit self-indulgent. On the whole, though, this was a thought-provoking book.
December 16, 2017
I honestly do not even know if I have the energy to write a review of this ridiculous 'scholarly' work. There are so many problems, such unprofessionalism, and even inaccurate historical facts, I don't know where to begin.

So, here we go:

Anyone who has read my reviews in the past know how I feel about Anne Boleyn. I do not see her as a victim or a heroine. I see her as an intelligent woman in love with a married man, who was able to advance her position socially into the very highest ranks in becoming Henry's queen. I see a woman who gambled on the fact that she would be able to provide Henry what Catherine could not, a son, but in the end she too would be cast aside when she could not follow through on her lofty promises. She played the game well for three years, but in the end lost, just as so many others did during Henry's tyrannical reign. I do not believe any of the nonsense about witchcraft, extra fingers, or the clearly trumped-up charges of adultery which can easily be dismissed given the timing and facts we know of Anne's whereabouts and pregnancies.

That being said, me making my feelings about Anne in historical context perfectly clear, I should also point out that I am well-versed in Tudor history and have read numerous books about the queens of England. I have read books dedicated to Anne alone, and can recognize a good biography when I see one, even when I do not hold the subject in high regard - Eric Ives being numero uno. It was a great read, despite my dislike of Anne. Since I am able to recognize a good Anne-related text, let me say this is certainly NOT one of them and to not waste the time or money. There are so many issues, as I briefly touched on above, it is almost overwhelming. I was updating every five minutes as I read about something new that was absurd or ridiculous or factually incorrect.

Now, I was reluctant to read this when I was still only in the introduction. You see, I greatly admire Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was put off right away when the author stated that Anne's execution was shocking even to those who believed her guilty of the accused crimes of adultery and treason, and states that Eleanor of Aquitaine was simply banished for the same crimes. I about said 'bye Felicia' right here. Eleanor was not banished. She was held captive by her husband (Henry II) due to her helping incite her sons into rebellion - more than once. So yes, treason. But no on the banishment and adultery (insofar as we know in regards to this marriage. As far as her marriage to Louis, that is another story). Basically, there is no comparison between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Anne Boleyn, and for the author to even use them in the same sentence was nearly enough for me to call it quits there. But I persevered (get it?), and deeply regret it. On we go to the more solid Anne-related reasons this book is terrible...

First, one of the factual inaccuracies that has been bothering me occurs early on. Here the author says that when Henry and Anne met Francis in Calais, Henry could not force Francis' wife Claude to come meet Anne (page 71). That is true, but not for the reasons the author states. See, Claude died in 1524. This visit was in 1532. By then Francis has remarried, and been so to Eleanor of Castile/Austria (depending who you ask on the 'of' part) since 1530. As someone who claims herself (on page 213) to be an 'Anne scholar', surely she should not have made such an error - especially because it was considered kind of a big deal that Eleanor refused to meet Anne at all. How did no one catch this? Not just the author, but anyone in editing or someone who proofread? I mean, seriously.

Secondly, the book just reeks left and right of unprofessionalism. While I am no fan of Starkey myself, largely due to his horribly misogynistic treatment of the queens and his insulting those of us in the Midwest and the implication The Tudors was dumbed down so we could understand it, this became a free-for-all on him and really any author who had ever said anything negative about Anne or used Chapuys as a reference - something the author then does herself! How can she say at one point that he is not unbiased (DUH! He hated Anne!) and we can't trust him, but then she goes on to take his written word on various other matters. She then goes on to insult not only Starkey, but those who have read him (and I am assuming those who take everything he writes as factual). The author writes, "...a not-very-historically-informed reader - that would be most of Starkey's audience, as he is not interested in courting the academics but rather the general audience" (page 17). Sorry lady, but I am a very informed reader who reads about these topics for pleasure, not academically. By page 231, the author has devoted a considerable sum of pages targeting Phillippa Gregory in particular for 'The Other Boleyn Girl'. Now, I have not read this, nor do I plan to, mostly because I do not read historical fiction, but come on. Attacking left and right those who present Anne in a less than flattering light? It's called historical fiction for a reason - though I agree that those who write in this genre should do a better job making sure their audience knows what is fact and what is fiction.

Fun Fact #1: Know what else is totally unprofessional? Pretending to be a scholar while calling Henry a 'pussy-whipped hubby.' Yet she did, right there on page 13. Keep it classy, Bordo.

The author's treatment of Catherine and Mary is highly suspect for someone who claims she is not writing a just biography of Anne, but a 'cultural history.' In a cultural history (especially the parts about, you know, how Anne has been portrayed), I would expect facts only, not the constant injecting of opinion on the marriage and Catherine that we are constantly subjected to. The author has the nerve to try to paint Catherine as the problem, not Henry, when she herself in other sections is proclaiming that Henry is the problem in regards only to relating to Anne. Excuse me, but I am pretty sure Henry is the root cause all the way around - and Anne was certainly not innocent. But, back to Catherine and Mary. We have them labeled 'self-righteous' on page 13. Then by page 17, Catherine has already been called 'proud' and 'stubborn' many times - right, because how silly of the old hag to want to preserve her marriage and protect Mary. (I hope it is clear here that I am being facetious here when referring to Catherine in this way; of all the Queens, I admire her the most, despite what this author might have you believe of her). As if more examples are needed (but they are, to show how absurd this portrayal of Catherine is), on page 73 the author writes, "Catherine remained stubbornly glued to her 'rights'" and "Mary behaved either like an obsessively dutiful daughter or a spoiled brat (depending on your point of view) in refusing to acknowledge Anne as queen." So, let me get this straight, Mary was a spoiled brat for supporting her mother? For wanting the inheritance that was rightfully hers? It is obvious which camp the author falls into. The author is seriously so enthralled by Anne, that she seems to believe Anne was genuine in offering Mary friendship and life at court in return for acknowledging her as queen. While I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that she was plotting to kill Mary (or Catherine, for that matter), but I can believe she wanted Mary close in order to keep an eye on her. Here is the last example I will use, from page 174, "Catherine, after all, had fought him tooth and nail for six years, stubbornly refusing all attempts to provide her with a dignified exit, seemingly unconcerned that she was tearing England apart with her resistance." Look lady, I have put up with a lot of nonsense in this book, but that takes the cake. It was HENRY who tore England apart, not Catherine or even Anne. It seemed to be that when the author was discussing Anne, Henry was to blame for everything, but when discussing Anne and Henry together, everything was Catherine's fault. That does not fly and should not, regardless of your opinion on any of the players involved. It's like the author (remember, a self-proclaimed Anne scholar) suddenly knows nothing about Henry whenever Catherine is discussed; like she does not recognize suddenly that he gradually became a tyrant (though I am of the belief it was always there, kind of lying in wait, even in his early years) who did as he pleased. No one should be surprised that he ordered Anne's death to make himself look all the more the wronged husband who had loved his wife and she had been unfaithful - of course this would have been a major crime, the succession of the throne was at stake.

Fun Fact #2: The author is also a doctor, apparently (I know nothing of her beyond this book, so perhaps she actually is. I don't know). By this point in the text she has diagnosed Henry as either having a borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. In a previous chapter she asserted that if he lived today he would have been diagnosed with ADD. Interesting that in this same chapter she calls into question the theory of Henry possibly having McLeod Syndrome, stating that, "bioarchaeology, like evolutionary psychology, is heavy on theory and light on proof." Pot, meet kettle.

In the end, there is nothing groundbreaking about this book. I was truly hoping for a cultural history and a study of Anne through the ages, with her various portrayals (I did enjoy reading the excerpts of how Victorian-age children learned of Anne) but too often it became a diatribe against another author. It is already pretty widely accepted that Anne was innocent of the charges against her and Henry was looking for a quick way to get rid of the wife he had once loved, but had since grown tired of. Even those of us who side firmly with Catherine can recognize the superstitions of the age, all that about witchcraft and deformed fetuses, moles and extra fingers. All of it was piled on to further demonize Anne through the centuries. No one is disputing that - or should be, at this point. Anne's strengths were also her flaws - ambitious, scheming, even ruthless at times, I believe.

While I could go on, this review has taken more than enough of my time. The book eventually just becomes an homage to Natalie Dormer, who gave a great performance as Anne in The Tudors. I was glad to be done, as I am glad to now be done with this review as well.
Profile Image for Kara.
Author 22 books73 followers
January 30, 2013

“What do you mean different versions? She isn’t Catwoman!”

This was my boyfriend’s bemused reaction to hearing what I was reading about. Laughing, I went on to explain that, actually, yes, there can be just as many versions of a factual person as there can be of a fictional person, and Bordo does an amazing job here showing those versions.

What do we know, what do we think we know and why do we think that?

Excellent examination of the evidence – and lack of – surrounding the captivating Anne Boleyn.
Profile Image for Marie Z Johansen.
529 reviews30 followers
April 6, 2013
For me, this was a book like no other! I have not found myself underlining, making margin notes and dog earring a book for many years - but this book just ignited me so much that I had to make notes, notes and more notes! I did not merely really like this book, I loved it! No, I have none of those conspiratorial affiliations or associations - this book is just unique and very different. I'm a history buff, especially a British history buff, and I love the cultural aspects of history. This book could have been more tailored to my interests!

Susan Bordo is a philosopher, cultural & feminist historian, and humanities scholar from the University of Kentucky. She has presented us with a finely detailed, acutely researched and edifying history about the 'becoming' of the famous English Queen, Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo details precisely how the myth of Anne Boleyn has been created, defined and re-defined over the centuries.

This is not just a history book, nor is it to be considered necessarily biographical in nature. It is rather a book that details how the cultural history of Anne Boleyn over the centuries has morphed into the myth behind the Queen and about how those myths have shaped our understanding, and our version about the 'reality' of this fascinating woman, who, many feel, was a modern age woman confined by the 'feminine strictures' of her 16th century world. Anne Boleyn; was she a saint or a sinner? Was she really the instigator of reformed religion in Britain? Was she, in fact, malformed? Did she truly have the adulterous relationships that led her to the scaffold or was this simply a conspiracy that allowed Henry to bed a more fecund woman who could, he hoped, provide him with a true heir to his throne? How have the myriad characterizations of Anne in books, plays and movies, shaped our common perception of her as a female and Queen? What do we really know about the woman who was Anne Boleyn.

Drawing from myriad and prime sources such as the writings of Eustace Chapuys ,and Thomas Wyatt, Ms. Bordo sets the stage for the beginnings of the mythology that would develop. Topics covered in this book include how a variety of plays and movies, and the actors and actresses in them, have formed a part of our cultural understanding of Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo goes into detail about how each actress who has portrayed Anne Boleyn, and each writer who has written about her, have added their own 'personality' stamps to our conceptualizations about this legendary Queen. She has interviewed many of the living actress' and writers up to, and including, Natalie Dormer who played the Queen in the acclaimed TV series, "The Tudors" and writers such as Hilary Mantel. "Additionally, Ms. Bordo has spoken to the directors of plays and films about Anne Boleyn as well. She has researched all of the biographies and extant writings about this, most famous, Queen, and she delineates how these very diverse depictions have shaped our modern understanding and cultural opinions about this maligned, but thoroughly modern, Queen and woman by looking at her in relation to the realities and social norms of her own time.

I especially like an included quote from the famous author, Hilary Mantel, ( author of "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing Up The Bodies" fame) which states "...we always write from our own time...". How true is that? Each generation puts it's own stamp on the 'reality' of history and historical figures. Ms. Bordo attempts to sift through the various 'versions' of Anne Boleyn that have been devised by many authors, film makers, actors, and 'news' sources over the ages to try to distill what the reality of Anne Boleyn was.

I even enjoyed the Chapter headings of the book! They are all so descriptive! Here are a few:
Part One : Queen Interrupted
Henry: How Could He Do It?
Part Two : Recipes for Anne Boleyn
Annes After Lives from She-Tragedy to Historical Romance
The notes and sources pages are monumental! The pages are filled with rich fodder for future reading. The sources include books, periodicals, and websites. Another favorite inclusion is a "fact checker" which posits the facts versus the fiction in some well read books such as "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory.

When I read historical fiction I remember, first and foremost that I am reading historical fiction - not history. One of my favorite things to do is read a good historical novel along with a non-fiction book concerning the same time period. I enjoy understanding to what extent the author has used the facts and how they have woven their fiction around the facts.! I think doing this had provided me with a wealth of solid historical background that I would certainly not have enjoyed had I merely read the fictional work. I love factual history, which in many cases, can be even more fascinating than fiction!

Have a look at "The Creation Of Anne Boleyn's" Face Book page and the author's blog/website.

This book was a delight to read, and I know, without any doubt, that it will be of interest to a wide array of people; those who love history, those who love British history, cultural historian fans, those who question how the media can "make or break" popularity. It's winner of a read!

This is the advertising verbiage for the book:

"...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...."
Profile Image for Simon.
Author 5 books138 followers
June 25, 2013
A breezy book with some interesting, and some less interesting, parts. I most enjoyed the first section in which Bordo tackles several aspects of Boleyn's life and assesses the state of historical evidence, and the ways in which that evidence has been treated by historians. When the book moves to representations of Boleyn in literature and popular culture, it seems to lose focus a bit. It was fascinating to hear about some of the earlier representations of Boleyn in plays and novels but I feel the book would have benefited from a fuller account of these and more context. Bordo mentions, for example, how beloved Anne was by the Romantics; it would have been interesting to hear about their attitudes to other, comparable historical figures, to learn about the connections with the revival of interest in medieval history at that time and the development of "gothic" sensibility, and so on. Perhaps it was felt that this would have made the book too scholarly, but I, for one, would have welcomed it.

When Bordo comes to more modern treatments of Boleyn, there is too much inconsequential discussion of the views of the creator of The Tudors, internet love and hate for Philippa Gregory, etc. This was not very interesting in its own right, and didn't shed too much light on Anne Boleyn or on our cultural values.

The pages devoted to Gregory, in particular, were oddly ad feminam (she calls herself a trained historian, but her degree is in 18th century literature; she boasts of having read twenty sources, but for a real historian, that's a drop in the bucket). Assuming, as I am happy to do, that everything Bordo says here is true, it does seem as if Gregory is somewhat posturing and in bad faith. But that's the stuff of a bit of internet invective, if that, and not suitable for a book like this.

Bordo also turns Gregory's words against her. Gregory says something to the effect of how despicable is the convincing lie; Bordo suggests that Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl is itself full of convincing lies about Anne Boleyn (and Mary, for that matter). But the whole issue of how, and whether, it is even possible to lie in a novel is, although obliquely raised, never adequately tackled. In some sense, that question is, or ought to be, at the heart of Bordo's book. But despite the airing of the common-sense view that novelists ought to try and steer between being straitjacketed by the historical facts, on the one hand, and being totally insensitive to them, on the other, I don't feel we get enough on this central issue.
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews474 followers
August 10, 2014

I’ve been anticipating this book and following Susan’s webpage for some time as she worked on it and posted tantalising snippets from its pages, and I must say, this is the book I’d been hoping someone would write about Anne Boleyn. Lucid, sensible, and cogently presented, The Creation of Anne Boleyn explains to the general reader why you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about Anne, and, for the Anne enthusiasts, explores in some depth Anne in all her later interpretations over the centuries, from stage plays to film to historical fiction novels.

Admittedly, certain sections didn’t interest me as much as others. I was far more fascinated by the modern re-imaginings of Anne than the sections on the early plays about her, for example, but that’s just personal interests coming to bear. I was pretty astonished when Bordo writes that at talks when she asks people what do they know about Anne the top responses were still the gossipy falsities concocted by the likes of hostile writers such as Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sanders (who, in any case, wrote decades after Anne’s death and never met her) – the old six fingers, witchcraft, incest, adultery chestnuts. I couldn’t quite believe that with all the research that has been done in the past few decades to disprove and dispel much of this nonsense that the baseless myths still cling on with a tight grip in the public consciousness. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, since having trained as a historian I frequently run up against a mire of myths when it comes to educating the general public (people have variously asserted to me that the obelisks must have been transported by magic, that aliens were responsible for building the pyramids, and that I couldn’t possibly be a REAL Egyptologist because I’m a woman and only men can be in the Masons and only the Masons know the real truth about ancient Egypt).

This is why books like The Creation of Anne Boleyn are important. Some academics sniff at “popular histories”, written for the accessibility of the general reader in mind, but I think their importance cannot be overstated. The Creation of Anne Boleyn cuts through the fog of rumour and scandal to present the facts and get people to think about why they maybe should question the reliability of sources from the past. Bordo approaches Anne from the perspective of an expert in gender studies, not a traditional historian, and explores not only historical Anne but her connection to later people, and how she is reinterpreted and used by later groups with their own worldview and sometimes agenda.

I think Bordo’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to revealing the real Anne. She doesn’t go into as much depth as Eric Ives, who wrote what is arguably the definitive biography of Anne, because her interest is as much in later interpretation of Anne as Anne herself, but she provides a balanced and objective view of Anne that actually matches the idea I’ve always had of Anne Boleyn: intelligent with a sharp mind, thoughtful, open-minded, stylish, sometimes hot-tempered, and charismatic. A woman who probably did not set out to seduce King Henry VIII and become queen, but whose charm and wit were at the forefront of changing attitudes about women’s roles and thus fresh to the king, catching his eye, refusing him in an effort to put him off since Anne was smart enough to know what happened to royal mistresses (not least her discarded sister, Mary), and then slowly realising over time that firstly Henry was not going to give up and secondly that in fact they had a lot in common in terms of wit, intelligence, and interest in the new thought of the Renaissance. Together, they built a relationship that was a new model to the kinds of relationships Medieval royal couples had which were based on the lord and master and the obedient supportive helpmeet wife: Anne and Henry forged a partnership of equals, a true marriage of minds, something which Bordo herself observes.

There is one historical blooper that was spotted, and which Bordo is correcting for the paperback release of the book. The hardback version has Anne snubbed by Queen Claude of France when Anne and Henry meet King François – an unusual snub since Anne once served Claude as a lady in waiting and the two were apparently on amiable terms. In fact, Queen Claude had died by this point and François had remarried, to Eleanor of Austria.

However, blooper aside, I highly recommend this book to absolutely everyone.

9 out of 10
Profile Image for Audrey Terry.
251 reviews37 followers
February 25, 2014
I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately most of it reads like a HBO guide. The first 2 sections were informative, and mostly entertaining, and then the last 1/3rd was mind numbing. I gave up and stopped trying to wade through paragraphs full of directors credentials and praise for costume design... It just feels like Bordo lost her focus, and her main point with this book.

I feel that this book had really good intentions, but Bordo got lost in herself while writing it. For one, she presents this as a more objective look at Boleyn's life and then swings a hard left toward all out praise of her. Additionally, she criticizes other authors for their bias portrayals of Boleyn while putting a huge feminist spin on everything.... kinda hypocritical. I get it, she's a total fan girl, but that shouldn't have been the tone if she was trying to stick to facts.

By criticize, I mean she repeatedly all out bashes some other contemporary authors. She's got a serious issue with people that write historical fiction as well, fiction. Inherently authors are going to make up characters, change their personalities, ramp up the sex scenes and the drama... that's fiction! Especially considering how little is actually known about Boleyn, you'd think she could cut these guys a little slack for improvising. Whatever.

I'm going to rant a little about all her personal stories in the early sections too. These bugged the crap out of me. Not because they were there, but because she honestly compared almost getting hit by a bus to Anne waiting to be beheaded. What?! Hell not that's not the same thing! You were almost killed by surprise, it's not like she oh you know, waited in a freaking tower for 2 days before dying. Whatever Bordo. Channel your inner Anne however you want. Most of these little intrusions were of the same caliber. Oh, and I get it, you really love Natalie Dormer....but did you need to gush over her perfect face?

In conclusion, I wasn't really feeling this book. But, It was an easy read and it did bring up a lot of information not normally found in Boleyn histories. So i'll give it that.
Profile Image for Leslie.
66 reviews11 followers
July 6, 2020
(3.5 Stars)

Man, I wish the musical Six had been around when this was being written- I would have loved to read the author’s thoughts on that modernization of Anne.

It would have been 4 stars, but when it got into modern representations of women (Real Housewives ect.) and what would today be called ‘lean in’ or white feminism I thought it sort of fell flat. I would have included a discussion of capital/ism and how it interacts with what is ultimately a very privileged conception of feminism.

It would have been 3 stars, but this was published in 2013 and written earlier, so I should probably cut the author a little slack. Plus, I loved the discussion of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. Although I was a little bothered by the author’s insinuation that non-historians wouldn’t be able to follow Wolf Hall- its called google, Susan. Not that complicated.
Profile Image for Lisa.
58 reviews20 followers
August 2, 2013
After reading the definitive "Anne Boleyn Bible," also known as Eric Ives' masterpiece The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, I did not expect to come across another work that made such monumental strides toward interpreting--deconstructing--describing--Anne until I buckled down and read Bordo's sociological study of the many manifestations of our beloved Anne. I came across her website last May coincidentally and was initially dismayed at the thought of yet another "study" of Anne that would draw impossible conclusions such as her supposed adulterous affairs, and cast her into another negative light a la Gregory (and dozens of others). I couldn't have been more wrong. Bordo is an interesting mix of Internet Anne fan and educated, intellectual force; her background and education, along with her love of Anne, makes this book a tribute to a strong, intellectual woman many of us have come to adore.

I first became acquainted with Anne Boleyn when I was eleven years old (I am now 21) through a book penned for pre-teens called Doomed Queen Anne. Imagine my delight when in the first few chapters, the book that first introduced me to Anne was mentioned by Bordo! That was the first time reading the book that I felt like part of this huge fan club devoted to Anne, and that Bordo was almost winking at me from the page. I loved the fact that Bordo found and highlighted (albeit briefly) the book that first introduced me to Anne, a book that sparked interest which is now a ten-year-long obsession.

The first section of the book deals largely with Anne's contemporaries and Chapuys' venomous portrayal of Anne that somehow seeped into every other portrayal of her for the past five hundred years. This was the part of the book I wanted to skip; having read Weir, Ives, et cetera, I was more than familiar with the conflict of fact and fiction, interpretation and politicization of Anne's image, and I was glad when the book morphed into a sociological history of Anne. This is where Bordo sparkles. Seriously, I found myself cheering at times, tearing up at others.

In ninth grade, I discovered Jean Plaidy, and my first book was Plaidy's The Lady in the Tower, which made me fall in love with Anne all over again. Bordo also mentions Plaidy's work, which again made me squeal with pleasure. I especially loved Bordo's attack of Philippa Gregory and her portrayal of Anne in the-book-that-must-not-be-named--although I couldn't get past the first three pages, so I wouldn't truly know. I also found, when I read Weir's Lady in the Tower last January that Weir's attitude toward Anne was condescending at best, vicious at worst; I wholeheartedly agreed with Bordo's assessment that Weir has a skewed image of Anne that is based on insupportable evidence.

I also found the parts about Genevieve Bujold, Natalie Dormer, and Howard Brenton's Anne (I forget her name) to be incredibly enlightening. Poignant were Bujold's hesitant words that "Anne is mine" and Dormer crying after acting the execution scene (iconic) that "Anne is with me." And lastly, when I read about Howard Brenton's Anne and her beautiful, emotional, yet somehow also light-hearted last words to the audience at the Globe: "We must all die, so die greatly, for a better world, for love," I thought at last that the real Anne was somehow still able to be captured despite centuries of many abusing her. Bordo has managed, not to resurrect the real Anne, which is clearly impossible, but to reincarnate her spirit among all of us who have devoted ourselves to learning about her, admiring her, adoring her.
Profile Image for Leanda Lisle.
Author 5 books302 followers
January 13, 2014
Anne Boleyn is ‘an enigma writers want to solve’, how Henry VIII’s second wife ‘came to be, to reign, to perish’; ‘I have my own theories’ Susan Bordo forewarns us ‘and I won’t hide them’. The result is a survey of Anne Bolyen’s life and after life that is alternately maddening, moving, disconcerting and exhilarating.

Bordo is an American feminist academic, as open about her feelings as she is about her theories. Although biographers often fall in love with their subjects it’s rare to have a writer admit to their crush. But Bordo not only does so, she adds that she has always been attracted to stories about women whose lives, like Anne’s, end tragically. She links this to the help she offers troubled female students, and how helping them helps her leave behind ‘the sad, fearful child’ she once was.

Writing this book began for Bordo as ‘a rescue fantasy’, to find the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn and bring her back, free of the mythology that had built up around her. These ‘myths’ are, essentially, the more unflattering interpretations of Anne Boleyn’s character and looks. Those guilty of creating them are dealt with severely, be they long dead, like the contemporary Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, and the Elizabethan Catholic Nicholas Sander (who described Anne as having a witches sixth finger and a large ‘wen’ under her chin), or living historians and novelists.

Bordo is particularly rude about the novelist Philippa Gregory and the historian George Bernard who’s ‘Annes’ are guilty of incest and adultery, as charged in 1536. When Gregory observes that ‘a convincing lie ..is a wicked thing because it replaces the truth’, Bordo retorts that Gregory’s own work could be accused of this. Professor Bernard gets off relatively lightly, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attraction being dismissed merely as, ‘a sensationalistic, poorly argued extension of an equally flimsy scholarly article’.

Anne’s rival in love, Katherine of Aragon is not so much damned, as dismissed. She is unchallenging, pious and dull. At times this view seems influenced by a confessional bias. We are expected to see Anne’s reformist piety as a positive, while Katherine’s traditional Catholicism is unappealing. But there is no reason to believe Henry (who attended several masses a day) would have found Katherine’s piety a turn off in the years before it became a political inconvenience. And far from being unchallenging, as Anne complained, Katherine always beat Henry in arguments. She was, furthermore, the only woman of whom he expressed fear. Henry once said he believed Katherine capable of making war against him, as fiercely as her mother, Isabel of Castille had against the Moors in Spain.

Bordo warns that students and fans of the era often break into Anne and Katherine camps, so perhaps I’m just in the latter. Elsewhere I admire Bordo’s analysis: in particular her descriptions of a court of ‘frenemies’ where Henry is the master of contriving affection while planning destruction. Henry’s mask slipped once, on the weekend before Anne’s arrest, when he was spotted arguing angrily with her. Anne’s execution, which took place just over a fortnight later, is covered at length, with Bordo using her own near death experience with a London bus for its insights into how Anne might have felt as the sword swung.

A writer’s personal experiences are bound to feed into their understanding of the behaviour or thought processes of others. That Bordo actually tells us about hers is disconcerting, but honest and it is not inappropriate. This isn’t a conventional biography. Bordo goes on to look at Anne’s depiction over the centuries in history, fiction, and film: how she is seen, how she is judged, how audiences and readers react to the different Annes and feel about them.

We meet Anne the Reformation saint, Anne the ambitious whore, and occasionally Anne as some kind of person. One favourite is the heroine of the 1969 film Anne of a Thousand Days. There is an entirely unhistorical scene in the Tower in which Anne makes Henry shrivel with her acid tongue before going willingly to her death as the price she must pay to ensure her daughter Elizabeth remains a rightful heir. It has audiences cheering their heroine in the aisles.

Arguably it was actually Katherine who had fought tooth and nail for her daughter, Mary’s rights, and who had been the more successful at making Henry shrivel. So why do so many women hero-worship Anne? Bordo surveys websites dedicated to Tudor history in general and Anne Boleyn in particular, as she looks for answers. Some work as ‘Tudor think tanks’, where users engage in debate and research. Here, Bordo observes, visitors pick and mix what they have learned about Anne from biographies and other sources, to create their own ‘Anne’.

In popular culture Katherine is first met only at the time of the divorce, old and ugly, cast in the role of an embittered victim. Anne, by contrast, is a jolie laide: something achievable for many of those not blessed with conventional beauty. Whether good or bad she is ‘bold’, ‘assertive’ ‘an agent’. And when it all goes wrong, she dies with ‘immense courage and grace’. It seems Anne Boleyn offers many women a fantasy of female empowerment, with the consolation of a kind of blessing when the struggle ends and death comes swiftly with the strike of a sword.

Bordo knows that the incompleteness of the historical record means the real Anne Boleyn is ever elusive and cannot be ‘saved’. But Bordo the writer encapsulates some of the qualities that even Anne’s enemies have allowed her: she is passionate, quarrelsome, intelligent. Bordo’s Creation of Anne Boleyn is at times plain wrong, (Anne Boleyn never reigned). There are passages that infuriate, but others are beautiful and others again are pin-point sharp. I loved it, wens and all.

An edited version of this review appeared in the January 2014 Literary Review
Profile Image for Julia (Shakespeare and Such).
637 reviews195 followers
August 13, 2020
5/5 stars, full review to come! I think Bordo said it best here: “Anne the real woman may have been silenced by Henry, but her restless spirit refuses to remain quiet, as she uses our shifting fancies, fantasies, and anxieties to write and rewrite her story over the centuries.” Even if you find yourself feeling lukewarm about Anne but you have interest in the Tudors as a whole, this is a must-read.

Organization : 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Enjoyment of subject/ideas: 5/5
Profile Image for Laura.
230 reviews13 followers
May 11, 2014
Wow, I am surprised by how much I didn't like this. I love Tudor history and Anne Boleyn, so this should have been right up my alley. And while, like the author, I do sympathize with Anne Boleyn and though the premise of this book was interesting, the writing was terrible and so unprofessional.

The book is divided into three sections, the first being a short biography of Anne. The tone here is bipolar. On one page the author tries to sound like a scholar and researcher, on the next she's talking about Henry VIII's "best buddies" and how stories of King Arthur like, totally gave her unrealistic expectations of men, you guys. The author also goes off on odd tangents, like how she completely understands what Anne must have been feeling on the scaffold because she herself was almost hit by a bus. She doesn't want to demonize Anne, which I certainly agree with, but to compensate, she drags Henry through the mud, alternately diagnosing him with ADD, sociopathy, and borderline personality disorder. The last diagnosis comes shortly after she insults another set of researchers for diagnosing Henry with McLeod syndrome without any proof.

And that is my main complaint with this book - the author's completely over the top and unprofessional attitude toward anyone who disagrees with her ideas about Anne. In the biography section, she continually rags on previous biographies by David Starkey and Allison Weir. She certainly doesn't have to agree with them, but there had to have been a more constructive way to phrase her opposition. She comes off like a petulant child.

The second section of the book is the strongest, and is more like what I hoped this book would be. In it, the author traces how Anne was portrayed after her death. It's not revelatory perhaps (Catholic Queen Mary vilified Anne - shocking!), but it is interesting. She discusses the depiction of Anne in older novels, 19th century textbooks, and silent movies and how the culture and current events of their times influenced the representation of Anne. If I had stopped reading after this section, I would probably have given this book 3 stars.

But I did read the last section, a section that discusses more recent adaptations of Anne's story, namely Anne of a Thousand Days, The Tudors, and The Other Boleyn Girl. The author is effusive in praising Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer's portrayals of Anne. And while I also think they were both very good, she goes beyond mere praise and it really becomes something like fangirling. She can't say enough about how beautiful Natalie Dormer is and how strong and intelligent and how she has inspired people worldwide. Again, I like Natalie Dormer too, but it's just oddly excessive.

And then on the other hand, she hates Natalie Portman and Phillipa Gregory. To the point where Natalie Portman is called an ignoramus, lazy, and lacking in intellectual curiosity. I'm not a Natalie Portman fan, but that doesn't seem fair to an actress with a Harvard education who dedicates much of her time to social activism. It's not just mere dislike, but personal attacks like these that are so ridiculously over the top as to be laughable. And then the author starts in on Phillipa Gregory. I'm not a fan of Phillipa Gregory as I find her novels, while easy, absorbing reads, very historically inaccurate. But I started to take Phillipa Gregory's side as I was reading this! It was just more harsh, personal attacks.

And throughout this section, to prove her points, the author quotes people on her own FACEBOOK PAGE and the Daily Mail. So the next time you need to bolster an argument, go searching for random people's opinions on the internet and in tabloids. That will definitely build a well-constructed, convincing argument.

This is nowhere near a scholarly, unbiased look at Anne Boleyn, as I had hoped, but rather a Tumblr-esque rant about what the author likes and dislikes.
Profile Image for Karen Witzler.
477 reviews157 followers
March 14, 2014
This is a great introduction to the Anne-story for all of those Annie-come-latelies who've been turned on by Natalie Dormer and the television production of "The Tudors". Bordo gives both an overview of and her own opinions on contemporary accounts, historians, movie directors, novelists, artists, and most interestingly, actresses who have played a role in shaping the cultural perceptions of Anne Boleyn. Bordo, herself, seems obsessed with Natalie Dormer's portrayal. I, myself, loved her segment on Genevieve Bujold .

I have been an Anneophile since about 1968 when , as an eight year old, I stumbled upon a copy of The Concubine --- I had read about concubines in the Bible and thought it was a dirty book that had somehow come into the house. I, like so many others, fell and fell hard. This one story opened up the world of history for me. Pourquoi? Why does it capture the imagination of so many? Why have writers great and small tried their hands with the tale, woven it into larger works, used it as an old stand-by to woo historically ignorant crowds? Bordo walks all around it and never gets to this central question of how one becomes an archetype, a mythologized being -- but it is still a fun book.

Good section on the books that Anne would have known.
Profile Image for Lesley.
535 reviews26 followers
April 26, 2016
I wanted to like this more than I did. Bordo is splendid in her critique of the "received" history of Anne Boleyn, pointing out the pernicious tendency of even objective historians to color the tale with their own prejudices. It was fascinating to trace the historical evolution of Anne's image, from scheming sex crazed heretic, to soulful Reformation martyr, to Victorian victim, to power feminist. Bordo's interviews with two of the most influential Anne interpreters: Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer, illuminate the interplay of sexism, commerce, and wish fulfillment in each generation's re-imagining of Anne's character.

So far, so good. However, when Bordo attempts to psychoanalyze the 400 years dead Henry, (did a childhood dominated by strong female figures, but with unrealistic expectations of autocratic masculinity result in borderline personality disorder? Discuss..) she wanders into shakier territory. When she attempts to conflate her own, very 20th century sexual misfires and 60s radical follies with the enormity of Tudor sexual politics, we descend into glurge of Oprah-esque proportions. Ultimately, Bordo is guilty of the same misprision as the writers she critiques, namely reinterpreting a complex,multidimensional tragedy in light of her own limited experience.
Profile Image for Rio (Lynne).
325 reviews4 followers
November 18, 2013
I am a Anne a Boleyn fan. I agree there are lots of fabricated, untrue books and movies out there about her and yes, I don't like it either. I enjoyed Claire Ridgeway's The Anne Boleyn Collection: The Real Truth about the Tudors because she debunked the myths without sounding haughty about it. This book had an undertone I didn't like. There is a way to disagree with another author without sounding childlike. Am I glad pro Anne books are out there, yes. Is there a market for this kind of book, yes, but it's not for me.
481 reviews
May 7, 2013
When Anne of A Thousand Days was screened in London recently, audiences cheered Anne's defiant speech when she said that her daughter would be a great Queen. No one who saw Genevieve Bujold make this speech could ever forget it, because she is so fiery, independent and proud.

The Anne of this film became a feminist icon for many young girls and women who saw this film. Before this, Anne had often been represented as a nasty, scheming, ambitious woman who was venomous to Queen Catherine and her daughter Mary. As Susan Bordo points out, this version came straight from Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, and he had every reason to dislike 'the concubine', as he called her. Many historians even today also rely on Chapuys, without verifying his statements. David Starkey, for example, writes about Anne in a rather critical way. Yet there is little evidence to support many of Chapuys's writings about Anne.

Susan Bordo summarises Anne's story, and she then looks at the many different versions of Anne over the years. Unfortunately, as she points out, Anne has again become the nasty 'other woman' in the eyes of many people. This is largely due to Phillipa Gregory. I was pleased that she takes a harsh attitude to Phillipa Gregory's version of Anne in The Other Boleyn Girl, and she lists the historical inaccuracies in the film.
Phillipa Gregory has even accused Anne of murder with no evidence at all!

Bordo enlivens the book by telling readers personal anecdotes, and her interviews with people who have played Anne, such as Genevieve Bujold and Natalie Dormer. I especially enjoyed her interview with Genevieve Bujold. I liked Bujold's answer to the question about which actress she would recommend to play Anne, but I won't tell you what it is. You will have to read the book!

I did take issue with Bordo's argument about Queen Catherine. She thinks that Queen Catherine should have accepted King Henry's suggestion that she should enter a convent. However, Catherine of Aragon didn't want her daughter to be made illegitimate, and she was, arguably, right. She was also a strong woman who insisted on her rights, and I think that Bordo's argument here is inconsistent with her admiration of Anne's strength of character.

This is a hugely enjoyable book for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn. I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Linda.
1,317 reviews42 followers
March 26, 2013
Who was Anne Boleyn? I can never think of her without thinking of Scarlet O'Hara as well, because that's how I picture Anne, as strong willed, determined, feisty, and unafraid. Anne was real, though, and she's come through history as a scarlet woman, an unscrupulous home wrecker who probably deserved to be executed. Susan Bordo has tackled the question of who/what this woman truly was and why Henry VIII, once so besotted with her, came to feel compelled to wipe her off the face of the earth.

The first half of The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a historical study of contemporary documents, most of which, alas, were written by the queen's detractors (especially Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador.) But Anne had her admirers as well, and Ms. Bordo does an admirable job teasing out and presenting their opinions as well. Of particular merit is the space the author devotes to chronicling Anne's valuable religious work and her genuine social concerns; there is some evidence, for example, that Thomas Cromwell, who played a major role in her downfall, agreed with Anne's religious tenets but differed with her about what should be done when the religious houses were "reformed".

The second part of the book examines Anne's role in popular culture over the centuries. Ms. Bordo provides brief reviews of her treatment in literature, up to the present day. Surprisingly, she devotes even more time to Anne's portrayal in the movies and television, with entire chapters describing the production of the recent Showtime series, "The Tudors". Not being much interested in pop culture and celebrity, reading this section seemed to me like perusing an issue of People magazine at the hairdresser. Hence the four star rating. But hey, that's just me.

Overall, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is strong enough to counter the image of Anne Boleyn as a thoroughly immoral concubine or witch. Perhaps she is not England's greatest queen, but she made an important contribution to the country's religious development, and was, after all, the mother of England's greatest queen!
Profile Image for Karin Slaughter.
Author 172 books63.3k followers
April 19, 2014
Fascinating. It gave me such a clear understanding about how powerless women through history have been, and how when they are perceived by others to have even the tiniest bit of control, they are vilified and often destroyed for it.

As a side note, I feel like I use the word "fascinating" a lot. I will try to do better.
Profile Image for Girl with her Head in a Book.
612 reviews182 followers
November 15, 2016
For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/2...

You know that feeling when it’s as if the book finds you, rather than the other way around? Maybe you don’t – but this was definitely what The Creation of Anne Boleyn felt like to me. I am always interested in how perceptions of historical figures can shift over time and this year, how changing social and cultural expectations can lead to the same person being perceived in a different way, decades and even centuries after their death. To my delight, this year I have found other people who were interested enough to write books on the subject, with the Brontes going under the microscope in The Brontë Myth, Jane Austen in Jane’s Fame and now Anne Boleyn gets a turn with well-known feminist historian Susan Bordo. What is it about Anne Boleyn that makes her quite so notorious? And how much of the myth is actually based on fact?

anne_boleynAs Bordo herself acknowledges, Anne Boleyn’s life story has all the elements of a melodrama. She rose, she reigned and then she was ruined – she ripped down Good Queen Katherine and ruled in her stead and the people rejoiced in her fall. She had six fingers, she practiced witchcraft, she slept with an untold number of men, she plotted to poison Mary and her mother. Or did she? Was she the religious reformer, a woman ahead of her time, intellectual, refusing to bow to a man, proto-feminist and free thinker? While Katherine of Aragon was pious and motherly, Anne Boleyn was sexy, tempting Henry with her womanly wiles – she was the Angelina Jolie to Katherine’s Jennifer Aniston and the world has not forgiven Anne for it, five centuries on.

With the first section, Bordo analyses the evidence, looking at contemporary accounts of the real woman and tries to decide how far it can be trusted – and her general conclusion is that it cannot. The most detailed accounts always come from Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, who hated Anne – how far can we really believe a word he says? He was actively plotting against Anne and went out of his way to stir up feeling against her, but as Bordo charts how far his stories have persisted, you realise quite how effective he has been at besmirching Anne’s reputation. It’s strange, Bordo notes that when she first started her research for this project and ventured criticism of Chapuys, the online backlash was considerable. I myself felt oddly injured when I first read her denouncements – why do I feel a sense of attachment to a Spanish man who died several centuries ago? As Bordo points out, his chronicles are the most interesting sources and he had a knack for adding colour – he was a storyteller and it is through his eyes that most Tudor fans are drawn in. I have quite liked Chapuys since I was around eight or nine, so it’s a strange thing to have it pointed out that I have no guarantee that he was actually telling the truth.

Even the physical descriptions of Anne are contradictory – Bordo points out that none of the skeletons excavated from the Tower of London chapel were found to have six fingers and there are no original sources for the claim that Anne always wore high-necked gowns to hide the blemish under her neck. Indeed, she appear to have suffered a similar posthumous fate to that of Richard III; where he grew a hump and developed a dead arm, she sprouted extra fingers, lost her religious convictions, grew strange demonic marks and general mannish features. Another thing that was strange was how the contemporary descriptions of Anne as ‘swarthy’ have been forgotten along the way, as has the fact that Katherine of Aragon had auburn hair. Most portrayals of Anne have her skin lily-white, such as in the case of Natalie Dormer in The Tudors, while Katherine tends to have her Spanish features accentuated through darker skin and hair, even though the opposite seems to have been true in real life, thanks to Katherine’s Lancastrian ancestry.

Bordo walks us through the descriptions in some of the most well-known m0dern biographies to feature Anne and then tries to find source material to back them up – there tends to be very little. Again, this really got me thinking – I studied Arthurian legends at university (the joys of the literature degree) and I remember being amazed by the audacity of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had shamelessly fabricated much of his historical account of England’s history. Medieval lore had it that through prayer, the pen could be guided to the truth, and so he hoped. But really, are our modern historians really any better when they sit down and seem to try and dream their way into an understanding of their subject? Bordo compares passages written by Alison Weir to those by Philippa Gregory and though I hate to admit it, there is very little difference in tone. It is not just Weir though who comes in for Bordo’s disapproval, Starkey too gets a scolding for implying that Anne’s enemy Chapuys would have no reason to speak against her, but Bordo saves a special derision for the Victorian historians who were too prim to admit the well-documented fact that Anne Boleyn conceived Elizabeth before her marriage, meaning that they tended to either fudge Elizabeth’s date of birth or the date of the marriage, or even to imply that Elizabeth must have been simply very premature.

This is clearly a work of huge passion for its author – Bordo clearly recognises that Anne has come to represent something far greater within our culture than simply being Henry VIII’s wife. She tries to understand the original woman – goes over the relatively reliable accounts of Anne’s final days in the tower, where Bordo analyses her to have been in simple shock at how her fortunes had turned (and not unreasonably so), but then also contemplates the bigger question – how could Henry do that to a woman he had once loved? Bordo compares Anne’s trial to that of OJ Simpson in terms of sensationalism, contrasts Henry’s actions to those of the Glen Ridge rapists (high school football players who assaulted a mentally handicapped young girl), although more modern examples might be those of the Steubenville rape case. Henry was the king, he had nobody to gainsay him and he just did it – there was nobody to tell him not to. I have always found it hard to like Henry after Anne’s execution – surely one could not walk away from such a savage deed unchanged?

Bordo tries so hard to make Anne relatable, to look past the mythologising to who the woman might have been, but as she admits herself, she can only write from her own time. The modern Anne Boleyn is a feminist icon – Bordo recounts the discussions which she had with her Kentucky-based students on the topic and here we start to see the cracks in Bordo’s methodology. Students and teacher agree that if Anne were around today she would dress ‘provocatively but not slutty’, that she would wear business suits in the day but then designer gear at night. Bordo imagines that Anne would flirt and then mystify the men by going home alone but I was not quite sure how far she recognised that this creature was as much a product of her own imagination as so many of those she poured derision upon. Similarly, when Bordo interviews several of the actresses who played Anne Boleyn onscreen, one can see her fall victim to the charms of Natalie Dormer, boasting of how they sat in a bar ‘like a pair of long-term girlfriends’, discussing their mutual admiration of Anne. I am sure that Natalie Dormer is a lovely person, but that does make her portrayal of Anne to be in any way noteworthy. I saw far more of Showtime’s The Tudors series because Cousin the Elder was a fan (she liked Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) but I was never able to get through more than a few minutes without wanting to crawl into a fetal position and put my fingers in my ears. All the same, it’s hard to blame Bordo for enjoying an in-depth conversation about a subject that both women obviously found fascinating.

The part of the book which perhaps delighted me most of all though was when Bordo took the opportunity to underline her clear disdain for Philippa Gregory. As a long-term loather, I particularly enjoyed the part where Bordo went through the major plot points of The Other Boleyn Girl and highlighted their historical inaccuracy with helpful categories such as ‘concocted fictions’ and ‘no evidence or contrary evidence’. Like me, Bordo is clearly incensed not by Gregory’s frequent divergence from the truth in search of a better story – many authors of historical fiction do this – but rather from Gregory’s on-going insistence that she does not do so and that she is in fact a historian. It’s the arrogance that really insults the intelligence, and the hypocrisy given how often Gregory decries the ‘wickedness’ of putting false accounts on the record. Bordo is particularly affronted however by the central narrative of The Other Boleyn Girl which places Mary Boleyn as the ‘good sister’ who is basically a virgin (even though in real life she’d already had a fling with Francis I) while Anne Boleyn is the homewrecker, punished for her monstrous ambition with death while Mary knows her place and likes pottering about the home and so she gets the happy ending. It’s all a bit medieval in terms of moralising.

Bordo sifts through the other well-known portrayals of Anne and finds almost all of them wanting – even Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall keeps up withh the Anne-as-bitch image. It is truly fascinating to see this, as Bordo describes it, as the revenge of Eustace Chapuys, as from far beyond the grave, the tales he told overshadow any truth that can be found about a flesh and blood woman. Even respectable scholars continue to declare that Anne did indeed commit adultery based on a ‘hunch’ or a ‘feeling’, or else they describe Anne’s pursuit and destruction of Wolsey, an event more fairly laid at Henry’s door. Anne is the pantomime witch – it suited Chapuys’ to blame Henry’s misdemeanors on ‘the Lady’ and so we continue to do so. How could a normal woman keep a man on a string for six whole years? Surely there was something strange about her. Even Henry said that she was not of the usual ‘clay.’

It stretched my credulity more than somewhat for Bordo to ponder whether being brought up by his mother in the company of his sisters had given Henry some sort of proto-feminist leanings that allowed him to appreciate Anne’s independence, but there was clearly something odd here. Yet, Henry’s grandfather Edward IV set aside political ambition in choosing to marry Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed woman older than himself, and Henry was often said to resemble him. Commentators at the time were surprised that if Henry was so determined to set aside his wife, that he did not at least try to wed Elizabeth Blount, who was single at the time and who had already given birth to his son. Blount was reckoned more beautiful than Boleyn and more charming, but still Henry preferred Anne. Five hundred years later, we are still debating why.

I do not feel that The Creation of Anne Boleyn managed to uncover the real woman but it did pose some fascinating questions. More than anything, I just want to meet up with Bordo for coffee and explain my own hatred of Philippa Gregory’s achievements – I would love another opinion over whether Gregory’s long-term slander of the Tudor dynasty represents some kind of psychological issue – but also, I feel that Bordo has opened up a whole new dimension to Tudor mania – I would love to read a similar book charting the cultural afterlife of Elizabeth I. It would be wrong to pick this up looking for an academic work – it has sourcing and footnotes but this is a deeply personal work about how our responses to Anne Boleyn have been molded down the centuries. From the wicked wife to the Protestant martyr to the feminist pioneer – Anne Boleyn has lived a thousand lives, quite the miracle given that her own was so short. Henry had all her portraits destroyed, the letter ‘A’s in Hampton Court which signified her were chiselled out and replaced with ‘J’s. Is it perhaps the ultimate victory that no matter what he did, Henry was never able to escape her?
Profile Image for Rachna.
329 reviews71 followers
July 9, 2022
This book is mega readable and well-researched, and I love the foundational thesis of it being that - since so much true & actual historical record of Anne Boleyn was destroyed after her execution - our knowledge of Anne is based on compounding theory and fiction and the interpretations that come with it. So the first third or so of it is about facts, the second about conventional interpretations (historians' readings), and the last about the more fictional modern interpretations (e.g. Natalie Dormer in The Tudors, Hilary Mantel). The bulk of this cataloging makes sense and has a really natural flow and follow-through. And I love Bordo's clear frustrations with some historians (e.g. David Starkey) and with 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (lmfao, the disgust is well fucking deserved!), because it's established very early on that this story-telling wholly shapes the way Boleyn is known as a historical figure. It makes the book really approachable, too - even during the history-focused parts, it mostly manages to avoid being distancing or overly-academic, just smart.

But I did still find parts of this unwieldy, especially the middle section, where Bordo starts assessing and reassessing and evaluating every interpretation even as she's recapping them, and then just quotes other historians' writing in bulk. There it becomes muddled, and lost as she balances fact with her own feeling - either too much historical texts and letters or whatever, or too much of Bordo's annoyances or deep affections. It's also where you can see what a mammoth task this is, because of HOW much there is to wade through and discuss. There are core texts that are referred to, which are great, then there's sudden one-sentence mentions of other books or stories that mean nothing to me. For the purposes of the book, idk how else Bordo really could've done what she wanted to do, so I feel bad for complaining. But I think that's why parts of it ended up such a slog for me.

Otherwise, excellent and modern entry-point to a massive history & iconic figure. Let's get a revised edition with a "Six" (the musical) chapter please.
Profile Image for Shanequa.
118 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2021
I think the concept of this book is fantastic. I loved exploring the different interpretations of Anne and how they contributed to her image throughout history. The execution of this book though wasn't to my liking. There was a hint of arrogance throughout the book that didn't sit well with me and really dampened my enjoyment of the book. Obviously Anne is a very complex figure and everyone has their opinions, but I feel there is a way to express your disagreements without being condescending about it and Bordo failed in this regard for me.
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