The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
published 2001 spring 1522
I curtsied again and hurried into the hall just ahead of the servers. The queen looked at me a little sharply, as if she might reprimand me, but then she glanced sideways and caught sight of her husband’s face. His expression was fixed, his gaze locked onto me, as I made my way up the hall and took my place among the ladies in waiting. It was an odd expression, intent, as if for a moment he could see nothing and hear nothing, as if the whole of the great hall had melted away for him and all he could see was me in my blue gown with my blue hood and my fair hair smoothed away off my face, and a smile trembling on my lips as I felt his desire. The queen took in the heat of his look, pressed her lips together, smiled her thin smile, and looked away.
observations: So which of the sisters is the Other Boleyn Girl? This historical novel is written from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, who was mistress to King Henry VIII for a time before another woman caught his eye. The other woman was her sister Anne, launching herself onto a path that would lead to the throne, great success, and eventually a black hole of disaster and the executioner’s block.
Mary is the perfect narrator for this story, the book has been deservedly mega-successful, and it changed the whole landscape of historical-novels–based-on-real-people - much as Anne Boleyn changed the whole future of the English throne and church. Mary is a charming and admirable heroine, but she is realistic, she is sexy, she is aware of her own charms and beauty, she has virtues and vices like any other person. One truly refreshing difference between this and other historical novels is the lack of twinkly-eyed loyal retainers, ancient nurses and feisty maids, all agog to do their mistress’ bidding – Anne and Mary trust no-one but their brother, and the servants are given the short shrift they no doubt had at the time. After reading this book, historical novels by lesser writers feel particularly unsatisfying – you have to turn to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies for an even better read.
Anne Boleyn will get her turn in tomorrow's entry.
Links up with: More queens – Elisabeth of Romania, Amalie of Greece, and the Queen of Spades. Hilary Mantel’s fabulous books on the era are linked to above.
The picture is of Mary Boleyn and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.