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Not Available Anywhere

April 10, 2013

When I was about twelve years old or so, I spent a lot of time listening to the radio for entertainment, and one show I particularly liked would occasionally play a recording of Wayne & Schuster’s “Shakespearean Baseball Game.” At the conclusion, the host would always regretfully inform his listeners in his serious radio voice that “We’re sorry, but this recording is not — available — anywhere.” My siblings and I considered it quite a coup when we finally managed to capture a re-airing of the routine on a blank tape we had preloaded into the deck for just that purpose. (I have no idea where that tape is now and don’t have a deck to play it anyway, but Youtube has dispensed with the need for it).

There are several books out there whose titles I can’t read without hearing that announcer’s voice saying “Not … available … anywhere.” I’m not talking about books that are just too expensive: while I’m unable to pay $900 for Mrs. A.T. Thomson’s Anne Boleyn: An Historical Romance (1842) it is at least out there to be bought. These are the books which exist, which are in libraries too far away for me to reach, but which apparently nobody in the English-speaking world wants to sell. Were they too good to let go? Too bad even to inflict on a consignment shop? Some day, I hope I’ll find out. Here are a few of these elusive volumes:

I, Anne Boleyn by Victoria Allen (1978), which I’m sure was in no way intended to capitalize on the popularity of I, Claudius and the firestorm of I, [Blank] titles which followed the TV series. I know nothing of this particular book’s take on the story, but since it came out in the 1970s I’ll make a tentative guess that it features a cover with oversaturated colours, and a plot that emphasizes Anne’s alleged witchery and the supernatural — the “witchcraft” theme began getting much heavier play than usual in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Queen’s Confession by Philip Lindsay (1948). Lots of Lindsay’s books are available secondhand, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is willing to part with this one. The 1940s was the heyday of Anne as a Scarlett O’Hara/Amber St. Clare doppelganger, and I would love to know if this novel follows or flouts that pattern.

The Novels Of Elizabeth, Queen of England: Containing The History Of Queen Ann of Bullen by Madame d’Aulnoy, translated by Spencer Hickman (1680). According to the introduction in my reprint of Vertue Betray’d (1682), the play was based on this book. I desperately want to get a look at the original and see just how similar they are and whether there are minor characters who didn’t make it to the play.

Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy by Henry Montague Grover (1826). As far as I know, this is the first play to be called by this title, although it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I know something about this play thanks to the fact that it was covered in The Edinburgh Review, in one of those long, delightfully malicious early nineteenth century reviews which spends three pages gradually backing into the subject before so much as mentioning the actual book, let alone what the reviewer thought of it (not much, in this case). Featuring a humourous introduction by the god Mercury, the play is written mostly in blank verse which, according to the reviewer “dispenses with metre as unceremoniously as his couplets do with rhyme. Frequently, indeed, he seems to think, with a certain philosophic dramatist of our times, that prose, broken up and pointed like verse, ought to satisfy all reasonable people quite as well as poetry.” The lengthy quotations offered as evidence seem to bear this out. However, when it comes to the plot, it does have some interesting material to offer. Jane Seymour, very unusually, has a large speaking role, and Anne’s last miscarriage is not just obliquely referred to but named as such. A furious Henry says:

‘Fore God, this puling passion ill beseems
I say it ill beseems King Henry’s wife,
The blessing of just Heav’n shines not on thee,
And this miscarriage dims my royal crown.

There’s also a subplot in which Meg Wyatt is seduced and abandoned by Francis Weston, to be saved from infamy by the lowborn but devoted Squire Gadsden, with whom she moves to the country.

Anne Boleyn: An Original Historical Burlesque Extravaganza by Conway Edwardes (1870). Exactly what it says on the tin, according to William Davenport Adams’s A Book of Burlesque: Sketches Of English Stage Travestie And Parodie (1891). He quotes a few pun-haunted extracts; in one, the betrayed Anne rails against Jane Seymour.

She hinted I — in language far from vague —
Like Xantippe, was sent to be a plague;
Openly told that corpulent barbarian
I’m his “grey mare” — and also no grey-mare-ian;
Said I’m a vixen, and in manner rude
Told him he wasn’t wise to be so shrew’d.

King Henry’s reminiscence of his old love for Anne begins with a song:

When I courted Anne Boleyn, with love I was drunk,
Oh I cannot remember the thoughts that I — thunk,
I know I winked at her, and at me she — wunk,
With my itheremyky, kitheremyky,
Katheremyku-etty cum, fol de rol liddle de ray.

People who complain about The Tudors don’t know how good they have it. Adams, author of the compendium, loved puns as much as the actual burlesque authors did, and quotes one from a burlesque on the Field Of Cloth Of Gold as being “among the best ever perpetrated.” This Henry VIII has just arrived in England from Calais and is very seasick. He woefully informs the audience that:

Yesterday all was fair, a glorious Sunday,
But this sick transit spoils the glory o’Monday.

Despite this, I’d still like to read the original.

An Unknown Book Referenced By W.S. Pakenham-Walsh (c. 1926?) My absurdly skilled librarian friend hasn’t been able to track this one down, nor have I been. It’s mentioned all too briefly in A Tudor Story, in a note which Pakenham-Walsh made before a seance on January 4, 1927. He writes, “I was the more anxious for some fresh or outside help because a book had just been published which stated that Mary Boleyn, the sister of Lady Anne, was at the present time reincarnated in the lady who wrote the book. It seemed strange that I should not have heard of such a remarkable fact if it was true, and I knew that if I could speak to the Lady Anne she would know one way or the other.” If you’re wondering, it turned out that, according to Anne, Mary Boleyn was not in fact reincarnated at the present moment. But I would very much like to see the book which says that she was, but there is no author’s name, title, or even necessarily a year to go on — though as he says “just been published” I would assume it was 1925 or 1926. Mary Boleyn made herself scarce in fiction until the 20th century, and although she appears briefly in The Favor Of Kings (1912) she doesn’t really start to acquire definition until Anne Boleyn (1932). The 1920s take on Mary Boleyn’s life should be interesting — assuming that it’s still out there to be read.

  1. stephen lee permalink

    For your interest, I haved obtained a copy of the book Anne Boleyn (A Tragedy) by Henry Montague Grover 1826 handed downed through the Grover family. Regards, S . Lee, f/book, profile: vintage clock. Will post on fb timeline soon.

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