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And Wild For To Hold by Nancy Kress (1991)

July 27, 2013

I learned of this novella from The Little Professor blog, and read it in a spirit of extravagant gratitude. The only thing I disliked about it was the fact that the author never expanded it into a novel, as she did with Beggars In Spain, because I wanted to see several hundred more pages about this Anne, at a minimum.

In the mid-22nd century, scientists at the Time Research Institute (conveniently tax-exempt, but still expensively located outside of time, so as to be able to monitor different time streams) are collaborating with the Church of the Holy Hostage to prevent past wars and atrocities, and using the Rahvoli equations (nope, we don’t find out how they work) they can identify human beings who are flash points – whose existence ended up precipitating different disasters. As one researcher explains to a student, these human flash points are often women.

“Men fought wars, when there were wars. Men controlled the gold and the weapons and the tariffs and sea rights and religions that have caused wars, and the men controlled the bodies of other men who did the actual fighting. But men are men. They acted at the fulcrum of history, but often what tipped their actions one way or another was what they loved. A woman. A child. She became the passive, powerless weight he chose to lift, and the balance tipped. She, not he, is the branching place, where the decision tree splits and war begins.”

Needless to say, Anne Boleyn has been identified as a flash point – in this case, her disappearance, before the Act of Supremacy but after Elizabeth’s birth, will almost certainly prevent the horror of the English Civil War a century later. So, if Anne is abducted from late 1533 and given time-appropriate accommodations at the Time Research Institute for the rest of her natural life, everything will turn out much more pleasantly for the inhabitants of one time stream, at least. It’s worked out more or less well in three other cases so far, so why not try for Anne? After much conferring with Her Holiness the Pope and talk about permits, Anne is pulled into a box of light – “a demon” – in the late autumn of 1533.

Surprisingly (to the researchers Mary Lambert and Michael Culhane at least) she’s not especially grateful to be there, and is even less so after being told of what would have happened had she stayed. She’s been robbed of her own life, as badly as it ended.

“Tell me this, Master Culhane. You have changed history as it would have been, you tell me. Will my daughter Elizabeth still become the greatest ruler England has ever seen – in my `time stream’? … You have robbed me of my remaining three years as surely as Henry would have robbed me of my old age. And you have mayhap robbed my daughter as well, as Henry sought to do with his Seymour-get prince. So what is the difference between you, Master Culhane, that you are a saint and Henry a villain? He held me in the Tower until my soul could be commended to God; you hold me in this castle you say I can never leave where time does not exist, and mayhap God neither. Who has done me the worse injury? Henry gave me a crown. You – all you and my Lord Brill have given me is a living death, and then given my daughter’s crown a danger and uncertainty that without you she would not have known! Who has done Elizabeth and me the worse turn? And in the name of preventing war! You have made war on me! Get out, get out!”

Lambert and Culhane are disconcerted – nothing in their lives has prepared them for the concept of death as anything but the ultimate evil, but here’s an Anne who, in true sixteenth-century fashion, believes in both an afterlife and in her family’s advancement above all else. And while they dither about how she seems like “a wild thing” and notice uneasily how certain phrases she uses are familiar to them – from other contexts, spoken later in her other life – neither of them truly realizes what they’re dealing with. Meanwhile Anne, who’s nothing if not Perseverance personified, begins exploring the Time Research Institute. There are cameras and sensors everywhere, of course, but nonetheless she manages to strike up an acquaintance with Tsarevich Alexis, to hear news of the other two time hostages (Hitler and Helen of Troy, the latter very unstable as a result of her abduction), to suss out the fact that Culhane has a badly-concealed crush on her, and very importantly to learn every single inch of the entire Institute. Before the researchers can quite comprehend it, Anne has used her meetings with Her Holiness and others in the project to decipher how the new political system works and to begin fighting back against her captors using the weapons of their own time. Yes, there is a trial. And this time Anne, although echoing many of the gestures and words she used in her 1536 trial, is the plaintiff and not the defendant. The researchers are the defendants, and Anne is their accuser, and her goal is their destruction – not of their lives, but of their Institute. As for whether she succeeds, well, this story is in several collections and I think you’ll enjoy the surprises better when you read them first-hand.

SEX OR POLITICS? Politics, most definitely – albeit the politics of the 22nd century, and centering around the Church of the Holy Hostage and the Time Research Institute.

WHEN BORN? Not stated.

THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy is briefly mentioned (she remembers how she refused to cry, even when forced to separate from him) but due to the nature of the story we don’t learn much about it. Culhane gets a crush on her, but it’s entirely one-sided and Anne uses that crush to harsh effect later on.

THE QUEEN’S BEES: In the sixteenth century, “whey-faced” Jane Seymour is much disliked by Anne (why is Jane always whey-faced, I wonder?), and in the twenty-second century, Lambert – called by Anne Lady Mary Lambert – is her waiting-woman. Anne is taken aback when Lambert informs her that she shouldn’t call her that: “so perverse was this place that the woman sounded insulted to be called a lady.”

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Mark Smeaton is briefly referenced as “an upstart commoner” and in the 22nd century, Anne has a maid she dislikes – she can’t even do her hair.

THE PROPHECY: Anne’s “Rahvoli probability” is calculated at .798, meaning that her disappearance from history has a strong likelihood of saving many future lives. It’s a prophecy of a sort.

IT’S A GIRL! Henry takes it well, outwardly at least: “She seems a lusty wench. I pray God will send her a brother in the same good shape.” However, Anne knows better than to believe that – “Her power was slipping away like the Thames at ebb tide, and she was just as helpless to stop it as to stop the tide itself. The only thing that could have preserved her power was a son.” Anne also contracts white-leg after the birth, which makes me think that the author had been reading Norah Lofts.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Yes, leading to murmurings that she’s a witch long before she becomes Henry’s second wife to be.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: We don’t see much of them, for obvious reasons. Anne thinks that others at court see her as “upstart Tom Boleyn’s daughter,” and on being told by the researchers that George would have died with her, accused of incest, she’s naturally horrified to think of “her beloved brother, so talented at music, so high-spirited and witty” coming to such an end.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No, not in either century.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: It’s all wonderfully done, but perhaps my favourite passage occurred during the trial – in which Anne is this time the plaintiff, accusing the researchers of having treated her cruelly by (among other things) informing her of what would have happened to her had she not been abducted:

My good Lord – do you not understand? It is because you took me here that these things did not happen. Left to my own time, I would have been responsible for them all. For my brother’s death, for the other four brave men, for my daughter’s bastardization, for the torment in my own music … I have escaped them only because of you. To tell me in such detail, not the mere provision of facts that I myself requested but agonizing detail of mind and heart – is to tell me that I alone, in my own character, am evil, giving pain to those I love most. And that in this time stream you have brought me to, Idid these things, felt them, feel them still. You have made me guilty of them. My Lord Premier, have you ever been a hostage yourself? Do you know, or can you imagine, the torment that comes from imagining the grief of those who love you? And to know that you have caused this grief, not merely loss but death, blood, the pain of disinheritance – that you have caused it, and are now being told of the anguish you cause? Told over and over? In words, in song even – can you imagine what that feels like to one such as I, who cannot return at will and comfort those hurt by my actions.

It’s no less powerful even when we discover that Anne knew full well that the lord she was addressing actually had been a hostage for a while in earlier life, so she was able to do the politically astute thing and tailor her argument to her audience.

ERRATA: Very few, considering the nature of the story, but there were a couple of slips. Anne remembers being created the Marquess of Rochford – actually, it was Pembroke. And the English Civil War of a century later (which Anne’s abduction will help prevent) is said to have been complicated by the fact that King Charles was Catholic. Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria was certainly Catholic but Charles himself never was. (His son Charles II converted just before he died, but that hardly counts). And in the anti-errata category, there’s a great moment when Anne, frustrated at being called “Anne Boleyn” (instead of “Your Grace”) and then “Lady Anne,” wonders whether anybody here knows how to get titles right.

WORTH A READ? Yes! I can’t recommend this enough. Of course, it has the unfair advantage of not having a foregone conclusion for an ending; a tack which most Anne books can’t take. But unlike other attempts at an other-century Anne (Anne of Hollywood, for example) it fully lives up to its potential. This Anne is at heart a mid-century Anne; not beautiful, but determined, intelligent, a brilliant politician, and honest by her own lights – most of the time. She’s genuinely devout, but in fighting against the researchers she has no qualms when telling lies about them in order to bring them to trial. And why shouldn’t she, really? They kidnapped her, and regardless of their intentions in doing so, she feels that anything is justified which will give her back her own life. Another touch I especially liked was how much of her concern was for Elizabeth – not in a sentimental but in a practical way. From an upstart Tom Boleyn to a reigning queen in just a few generations – she’s not going to give up that sort of family ascent without a fight, even if it does cost her her own life. Get thee to an anthology and read this.

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4 Comments
  1. Tungsten permalink

    This sounds fantastic! I definitely have to go find it. I love the potential of time travel, but it always seems to be a heroine pulled back into the past or a hero brought forward into the present–something like this is rare in my experience. Thanks so much for the rec!

    • sonetka permalink

      I’ve been working on and off on a story about someone from the present being kidnapped into the future, but it hasn’t quite gelled. Reading this was, if nothing else, a demonstration that it can be done and done well (if you’re Nancy Kress, at least — alas, I’m not even in the same talent galaxy with her).

      • Tungsten permalink

        I wouldn’t worry–few of us are. 🙂 But I know for certain you can still write a darn good story, so I’d say keep on with it. Time travel is one of those concepts that’s just full of possibility.

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