Sunday, October 07, 2007

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

This is a story of sibling rivalry and ambition, told through the lens of Mary Boleyn, the sister of the historical Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, and the first to be beheaded.

The story portrays Mary Boleyn as the heroine of the story, whom at the age of fourteen was the King's mistress. Unlike the historical Mary Boleyn, the fictional one is portrayed as the pawn of her family's ambition, to be bedded and wedded as the family needs and as the men design.

When Mary's sister Anne shows up in court, she demonstrates her ambition, first by seducing Henry Percy, getting exiled from court for her troubles, and then upon her return, upending her sister's claim on the King by displaying a shrewd manipulation of Henry VIII. The book portrays Mary Boleyn's maternal instincts as opposed to Anne Boleyn's intelligence, temper, and ability to manipulate others. It is quite obvious what values Phillipa Gregory (the author) holds dear.

The novel succeeds in manipulating us to feel that the downfall of Queen Anne was deserved and that the place of a woman is in the home and in bringing up children, not in working on her ambitions. Being a period piece, obviously I cannot fault Gregory for bringing in all the homophobia, the feeling of scandal when the King divorces his former Queen, etc., but I suspect those of us who live in the modern age will read it and be thankful that we were born quite a bit later.
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