Saturday, June 1, 2013

Biography Review: Mistress Anne by Carolly Erickson

As Maureen Quilligan wrote in the New York Times Book Review of The First Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn "was a real victim of the sexual scandals her brilliant daughter escaped, and a subject Ms. Erickson's sensitivity to sexual and political nuance should well serve." Indeed, Carolly Erickson could have chosen no more fascinating and appropriate a subject. Alluring and profoundly enigmatic, Anne Boleyn has eluded the grasp of historians for centuries. 

Through her extraordinarily vivid re-creation of this most tragic chapter in all Tudor History, Carrolly Erickson gives us unprecedented insight into the singuarlity of Anne Boleyn's life, the dark and overwhelming forces that shaped her errant destiny, and the rare, tumultuous times in which she lived.

Before there was the famous and beloved "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" biography (Eric Ives), there was this one, and it's often overlooked today because Ives' history is recognized as the Anne Boleyn 'bible'. Yet I found "Mistress Anne" enjoyable and informative, written in beautiful historical hindsight and witty, clever speculation -- but that's not to say it was lacking in glaring historical errors.

Given its publication date in 1984, it wasn't Erickson's fault that Anne's highly important education/life in the Netherlands during 1513, was not included. It was several years after the book was published that it was decided among scholars that Anne Boleyn was a student under Archduchess Margaret and not her sister Mary. Thankfully, Anne's time in France is described in a good amount of deal. But Erickson's greatest error was her description of Anne as having six fingers. This legend is common only among the ignorant as nearly every historian has proved it to be little more than propaganda spread by someone who was born decades after Anne died. None of Anne's contemporaries, who would be so quick to malign her, ever made comments about a sixth finger; funny, isn't it, how the rumor only came into existence more than fifty years after she was dead? That Erickson did not realize this is a bit sketchy to me.

"Mistress Anne" might be a quicker read than "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" and thus more convenient, but its lack of current and updated information paired with Carolly Erickson's indiscretions in terms of speculative errors make it a disagreeable biography for a first-time Anne Boleyn researcher.

No comments:

Post a Comment