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Found, Found, Found!

February 20, 2013

When I first had the idea for this blog, I owned eight novels about Anne Boleyn, none of which were hard to get hold of and all of them, bar Queen Anne Boleyn (1939), entertaining if not always accurate reads. Most of these were staple novels — the sort that sell for years and give many young women their first in-depth story about Anne Boleyn. Norah Lofts, Margaret Campbell Barnes, Robin Maxwell, and yes, Philippa Gregory have all managed, for good or ill, to stamp their own images of Anne on the minds of countless readers, and their books have many enthusiastic recommendations. Obviously I was interested in them, but I was also interested in the books that were forgotten or had slipped through the cracks, because even something as cursory as a search at a used bookstore showed that there were still plenty of Boleyn books in existence which didn’t proclaim themselves as loudly as the staples did. So, with the help of my computer, one credit card, and two library cards, I began looking for more of them.

The simplest way to start, of course, was to go to WorldCat and start searching for “Anne Boleyn”. Either because writers wanted to make their book’s subject unmistakable, liked the cadence of her name, or were being considerate of compulsive readers of the future who wanted one copy of everything, Anne Boleyn’s name serves as the main or only title for a confusingly large number of works about her: in addition to novels entitled simply Anne Boleyn from 1912, 1932, and 1957, there are plays entitled Anne Boleyn from 1956 and 2010. There are, in addition, no fewer than six early poems and plays entitled Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy, and one additional play has a near miss of it by being entitled Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy In Six Acts. As a contrast to tragedy, Anne Boleyn: An Original Historical Burlesque Extravaganza from the 1870s also exists, though I haven’t seen it yet and will probably have to flog myself to get through it. Additionally, there’s an 1842 novel called Anne Boleyn: An Historical Romance, which, alas, I have no prospects of getting my hands on any time soon (if I do, however, I promise to get it entered into Project Gutenberg so that nobody else will have to spend valuable time wondering just how extravagantly Victorian Anne will be).

This trend has not been evident in the last decade — bad enough to have your Anne Boleyn book competing with six or seven others without having them all share the same title as well. Instead, authors — or I should say, publishers — fall back on books whose extravagant titles come with the subheader “A Novel of Anne Boleyn” (To Die For and At The Mercy Of The Queen both do this, and there are others) or shoehorn the word “Boleyn” or “Tudor” somewhere in the title. But there are other books, most of them issued mid-century or later, when Anne Boleyn was merely one of a number of historic romance subjects instead of the juggernaut she is today. After The Other Boleyn Girl was set loose upon the world, several of these books were re-released under different titles, most not so interesting as the originals: The May Queen of 1967 became (for a change) Anne Boleyn, Court Cadenza of 1971 became The Tudor Sisters even though it was about Anne and Mary Boleyn and not Mary Rose and Margaret Tudor. This change irked me especially because all of the chapter titles and themes were musical: Aubade, Pastorale, Rondo etc, and the title change disregarded that entirely. Passion’s Reign of 1983, however, became The Last Boleyn, which was probably all for the good — the original title was too generic to be at all memorable.

WorldCat was by far the best place to look, but naturally there are some gaps: it doesn’t seem to know that The King’s Damsel (2012) or Feather Light, Diamond Bright (1974) had anything to do with Anne Boleyn, and there may be other books with similarly unrevealing titles which I don’t yet know of. There are also lots of Boleyn fan sites with lists of fictional works, all long but none of them complete — how could they be? The Anne Boleyn Files has a good starter list for pre-20th century works which are available online, and The Tudor Trail has a good list of starter and not-so-starter novels (with more listed in the comments) including a few that are published as ebooks or print on demand. You aren’t going to find titles like Pray For Reign in WorldCat.

Amazon also has a number of books which writers release there directly, although judging by some of the samples I’ve seen I think that may be as good a place as any to draw the line. Still, it’s comforting to know it’s there. After all, by the time I manage to get through all the older material I can find (which will not, alas, include the 1842 novel unless I find $900 under the couch cushions), the number of Anne Boleyn novels on Direct Publishing will probably have centupled. Even though Sturgeon’s Law will undoubtedly apply, some of them are bound to be interesting.

From → Essays

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