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Le Temps Viendra: A Novel Of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Morris (2013)

October 12, 2013

Anne, a twenty-first century woman who’s obsessed with Anne Boleyn and the Tudor era, takes a weekend off from her high-pressure job and absentee married boyfriend to attend an “Anne Boleyn Connoisseurs Weekend” at Hever Castle. Naturally, things get a bit more exciting than she intended when she passes out and wakes up in Anne Boleyn’s body, circa 1527.

After Modern Anne is hit with a nightmarish headache and leaves the tour group to try and find a bathroom, she collapses in an empty castle room only to be brought round a moment later by a re-enactor calling to her – “Anne, Anne, wake up!” Except that this is no re-enactor, but Mary Boleyn, coming to tell Anne both that it’s her birthday and that the King is coming to visit her so she’d better get properly dressed. After being confused for a few moments, the narrator catches on blessedly quickly after seeing her own reflection in the mirror – or rather, the reflection of a dark-eyed, olive-skinned woman who is decidedly not herself but whose body she seems to be inhabiting. Luckily there’s enough of the original Anne’s personality that the narrator is able to order the correct clothes and speak French, as otherwise the situation would become a tangled mess very quickly.

In a nod to Agnes Strickland, the narrator tells her new sister that she’s going to slip into the rose garden so she can be taken by the king unawares, and soon enough he does so. She’s properly impressed – “This man radiated majesty” – and before she’s had time to catch her breath he’s telling her about his sudden, strong doubts about the legitimacy of his marriage, and concluding with the romantic proposal “I have a mind to take a new wife, for England needs a male heir.” The narrator is tempted to say No, and avert her current body’s ultimate beheading, but the inner Anne forces out a “Yes!” and the narrator begins to wonder just what this whole body-switching experience means. “It would not be the last time I was unable to shake off the thought that perhaps Anne had known her destiny after all, because she and I – the two `Annes’ – were caught up in an endless cycle; our lives and fates being intimately entwined.” The narrator then proceeds to go hunting with the king, and then visiting with Thomas Wyatt at Allington, where he produces “Whoso list to hunt” after hearing that the king has beaten him out, and tells Anne that “Henry will buy your love but at a high price. I love you, Anne! I love you for who you are!” Soon after this, she’s being recalled to court to be nominal maid of honour to a bitchy and snide Catherine of Aragon, who’s unaccountably angry at her (a shocked George Boleyn tells Anne that Catherine has been calling her a whore) just because Catherine’s husband wants to ditch her and marry Anne instead. The narrator finally informs Catherine haughtily that “His Majesty’s bed was cold” for a long time before he met her, and furthermore that she hasn’t slept with anyone and doesn’t intend to until she marries. She doesn’t add “So there!” but it seems like a near thing.

The narrator is there for a little over a year, during which she frets about her present-day relationship with a married man (he won’t leave his “just friends” wife because they have a young daughter), almost has sex with Henry a number of times, and teaches Henry’s court some shocking new dance steps derived from flamenco and ballet.

My ladies and I began our dance of seduction; the like of which had never been seen before at Henry’s court. I realised early on that neither Nan nor Mary possessed the same innate acceptance of their sexuality as Anne, whose mastery of the art was unsurpassed. With some amusement, I often wondered whether Anne’s famed allure resulted from the overtones of the modern day, progressive woman that had come to share her body; did this create her utterly unique essence of womanhood which eclipsed and eluded her contemporaries?

The narrator is finally pulled back into her present life just as she comes down with the sweat about fourteen months after her arrival – only to find that no time has passed in the present day and that she’s being transported to the hospital. As it turns out, her headache was a brain aneurysm, and while it’s repairable, scans show that there’s a deeper, inoperable one in her brain which hasn’t burst yet but is likely to do so one day. To add to her problems, all is not well in her present-day relationship, especially since she’s time to draw the comparison between stolen half hours with her modern beau and Henry VIII’s showers of gifts and attention. Daniel, the married boyfriend, is sympathetic and takes her story seriously, but his time for dates is predictably limited, and the relationship becomes fraught. The narrator, still longing for the Tudor era (and Henry) makes it clear that she’s not willing to settle for being a hole-and-corner girlfriend any longer, and Daniel finally texts her that he’s left his wife – just in time for the narrator to be pulled back into the Tudor era and the end of Volume 1.

SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, without a doubt. The modern-day Anne’s most salient characteristic is that she “was most often described by my paramours as `not stunningly beautiful but wildly sexy.'” There’s some obligatory political talk and a token conspiracy between Anne and the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to bring Wolsey down, but it’s very sketchy. Religious matters consist of a few conversations between Elizabeth Boleyn and Anne, and Anne and Edward Foxe, in which they assure each other that reform is very necessary, but the real recurring theme is that Henry and Anne can’t keep their hands off each other.

WHEN BORN? May 31, 1501. The narrator enters into Anne Boleyn’s head on May 31, 1527 – her twenty-sixth birthday, and the day on which the king proposes to her. Mary is older and George is younger, by how much exactly isn’t stated.

THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy is mentioned a few times, chiefly when Norfolk and Suffolk are enlisting Anne to help them bring down Cardinal Wolsey. “It is also common knowledge that it was Wolsey who intervened in your betrothal to Lord Henry Percy. I understand that this caused you much grievance,” Suffolk tells her, but although modern Anne sometimes gets flashback-memories from the real Anne, she doesn’t get any on this subject – all she knows about Percy is what we know. He doesn’t appear in person (which would be hard to manage, since he was several hundred miles away at the time). It’s also clear that Thomas Wyatt has an enormous crush on Anne, but modern Anne decides that it’s “clearly one-sided.”

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Anne Gainsford and Margaret Wyatt are the two most prominent (not to mention devoted) ladies. Although in this iteration of the story, Margaret Wyatt is married to John Rogers and has several children, she is later introduced at court as “Lady Lee”, which is quite confusing. Joan Champernowne (related to Kat Ashley) and Mary Norris (wife of Sir Henry) are also members of Anne’s circle and wait on her after Henry gives her her own household. I will say it was nice to see that Norris’s wife actually existed here.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Two serving maids at Hever named Bess and Alice. Bess later dies of the sweat.

THE PROPHECY: Anne makes some minor ones, derived of course from the fact that the narrator inhabiting her body knows what will happen later – she predicts both that Anne Gainsford will live to be very old and that George Boleyn will survive the sweating sickness.

IT’S A GIRL! N/A

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? No – although interestingly, Anne is still credited with having introduced the elaborate turned-back sleeves to court, this time because they flatter her long, tapering fingers. While the narrator is dressing at one point, she says that “it was not the first time I had noticed the absence of any deformity on either of Anne’s little fingers.”

FAMILY AFFAIRS Thomas Boleyn shows pretty early on that he’s the usual article, full of “calculating and shrewd ambition” – not so shrewd, however, as to realize that trumpeting news of Anne’s understanding with Henry all over the place would be a bad idea and hamper the annulment process. (Anne has to tell him not to tell anyone about it). Later on he shows a bit more restraint, though. Elizabeth Boleyn is a loving mother whom the modern Anne adores unconditionally; she’s also very religious (her worries about Anne and Henry are assuaged somewhat when the narrator assures her that she’s sure it’s God’s will that they marry, since they can help bring about reform). Elizabeth is the one who first brings Tyndale’s Biblical translations to Anne’s attention. There’s a nice moment at the beginning of the epidemic of sweating sickness, when Thomas and Elizabeth are so affectionate together that the narrator sees that whatever brought them together at first, they love each other now (hey, it must have happened sometimes).

Mary Boleyn is – up to this point, anyway – a typical Mary Boleyn; sweet and ready to be taken advantage of by any stray monarch who may happen by, and married off to “younger son” William Carey after some embarrassing episodes with François I and Henry VIII. “I knew that her desire to love and be loved had been cruelly exploited by the powerful men in her life.” Elizabeth Boleyn is less than pleased with her, however. (Annoyingly, William Carey is mentioned and appears in one or two scenes, but we never see him and Mary together – I’m not sure he actually speaks). It’s hinted that later on, the narrator will discover that Mary’s 1534 banishment was justified, so I’m hoping that her character will break free from cliché in the next book.

George Boleyn is, well, typical George – charming, debonair, closer to Anne than to Mary, and unhappily married to the “indifferent and insufferable” Jane, who doesn’t get any lines.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? The book doesn’t get that far but since the book is dedicated to Anne’s memory and she’s described as undoubtedly innocent in the modern-day sections, I’m betting on no.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE The author has done lots and lots of research on Tudor buildings and costume, and it shows – this is one of the few books I’ve read in which I was actually interested in the descriptions of clothing. It helped that the narrator is as unused to the clothes as I would be, so she’s able to describe them – and the elaborate process of putting them on – a little more thoroughly than would be plausible for a sixteenth-century character. I was amused by the revelation that many of Anne’s “fashion innovations” were the result of the narrator’s unknowingly making a mistake in pinning or arranging her own clothes. Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t as nearly as engaging – there’s far too much use of “As you know” exposition from minor characters, and embarrassing attempts at being passionate from the major ones. Early on, the still-lovestruck Thomas Wyatt tries to tell Anne how much he still loves her and ends up coming out with this:

Most men are frightened of you, you did know that, Anne? And those who aren’t, want to possess you, for you are like a priceless, flawless diamond; radiant and utterly beguiling. Henry is such a man, I see it in his eyes. He has to have you. You will set our country in a roar, my lady! For to try and hold you is to try and keep a wave upon the shore.

Overdone, but it looks like Shakespeare compared to the passage where Henry VIII (after seeing Anne dance) says “Forsooth, I have never met another woman like you; the sexiest creature to walk this earth.”

ERRATA I’d read reviews complaining about the proofreading – I didn’t think it was that bad, but there was a dearth of commas that became very noticeable after a while. As previously mentioned, Margaret Wyatt, who in this book is married to John Rogers, mysteriously becomes “Lady Lee” when she joins Anne at court, although that name was derived from her marriage (or some Margaret Wyatt or other’s) marriage to Sir Anthony Lee. George Wyatt is described as Anne Gainsford’s grandson, when he was actually Thomas Wyatt’s grandson (he did apparently consult with Anne Gainsford when he wrote his biography of Anne). Mary Boleyn is referred to as having been married off in disgrace to a younger son who was no great catch – while Carey was a younger son, he was a perfectly good match for her; an up-and-comer at court with a good income and sufficiently noticeable for the king to attend his wedding. The affair with Henry, whatever it consisted of, doesn’t seem to have begun until after their marriage.

The narrator, on first seeing Tower Green, describes it as the place “where common traitors are beheaded.” Actually, only the most uncommon (and highest-ranking) traitors were turned off on Tower Green; seven in total. The riffraff tended to be killed at Tyburn and Smithfield. There’s also an ambiguous passage in which Anne is ill and relaxing indoors in her black satin nightgown, a gift from the king – if it’s the black satin nightgown, he gave it to her several years early. (In fairness, it could be a different one – especially since it’s hard to imagine lounging on the sofa in all that buckram). There’s also some confusion about the Rochford title – Thomas Boleyn is sometimes called Sir Thomas, although he became Viscount Rochford in 1525, but later on Jane Boleyn is referred to as “the soon to be Lady Rochford” (so the reader would know who she is?) and still later Anne’s parents are described correctly as Lord and Lady Rochford. There’s some confusion as well with Mary Boleyn – when the story opens, she’s been married to Sir William Carey for seven years, but the maids call her Mistress Mary. This may be realistic behavior in her childhood home or it may not, but she still had been Lady Carey for a while by then.

WORTH A READ? I love time travel, but have severely mixed feelings about this. The author has clearly done her homework on a number of levels; I liked the notes to the chapters very much, lots of information on jewelry and architecture which I hadn’t known before, and enjoyed a lot of the incidental information in which old and new London are compared and furniture, clothes and so forth are described, but the book has a both medium-level problem, which is the comparatively flat and cliched portrayals of the sixteenth century characters, and a huge problem, which is the narrator. She’s a moderately annoying blank, and remains one. All that we know about her is her first name, the fact that her family is dead, she has a terrible romantic history and she likes Anne Boleyn. That’s it. Her “high-pressure job” is never described, any other interests or talents (besides the brief appearance of her dancing) are never expanded on. She comes across as shallow and short-sighted, and, worst of all, dull. It’s hard to imagine this unremarkable woman somehow being the secret ingredient which made Anne Boleyn stand out so much in court – that what made Anne remarkable was not the years of education she underwent, the courts she lived in, the languages she perfected or the theology she studied, but the fact that she was comfortable with being sexy. It’s meant to be a tribute to her, no doubt, but comes across as more condescending than anything – did the sixteenth century really set the bar that low, and would the people who lived then have really been such easy nuts for people like us to crack? I doubt it. We know a great deal that they didn’t, but most of their world is lost to us as well, and what remains is by no means easy to understand. (This makes it all the more frustrating that when the narrator has access to Thomas Boleyn’s library and reads books there, including the Roman de la Rose, she tells us only that “I had no trouble … delighting in the romance of the story and unpicking its many hidden allegorical meanings.” What were they? How did the story shape her/Anne’s thoughts? She doesn’t tell us). That the narrator doesn’t experience these greater differences — as opposed to the nicely-detailed smaller differences of fashion and furniture — is a real problem with the story’s construction.

For example, the narrator doesn’t have any problems understanding the thrice-daily Masses at court because although she’s no longer observant, she was brought up Catholic, and “as the service had changed little over the centuries, the Mass, prayers and incantations were profoundly familiar to me.” Was she really raised in the Sarum rite, or even going to Latin Masses? While the essential contents of Sarum rite and Novus Ordo Mass may be the same, being able to follow the latter doesn’t mean you’ll be anything but deeply confused by the former. They are very, very different. Additionally, when the narrator is adjusting to life as Anne, she says, apparently without humour, that “I had a university education in my modern life, and so by Tudor standards, I was more than well equipped intellectually to be the rival of any man.” She never says what her specialty was, but unless she was a genius-level Classics major, her degree would have had so little to do with a Tudor-era university education (or even a non-university education) as to be virtually useless. Yes, it would mean that she could read and write (abilities which are conferred on her anyway by the “Anne” part of her consciousness, hence her ability to write in French when she didn’t know it before) but what popular intellectual topics of 1527 would she be able to talk about at a really educated level?

There are a few hints of interesting twists to come – the narrator saying in the “Last night in the Tower” prologue that she’d sinned greatly in her modern life, and her agreement with Mary Boleyn’s later banishment from the family – and they’re enough to make me hope the next volume will be better (although let’s face it, I’d read it anyway). As for the first volume, while it’s good at painting pictures of places, it ultimately fails with the people.

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3 Comments
  1. I have just read a similar scenario in Michele Kallio’s Betrayal. Lydia, the 21st century heroine, discovers a diary belonging to her 16th century ancestress, Elizabeth. She just dives in and reads the whole thing easily, from top to bottom. Wouldn’t you just find Tudor handwriting a little on the challenging side?

    • sonetka permalink

      Now if only it was 17th century ancestress! I could believe in a 21st century woman making through a late 17th century diary without having to work excessively hard at it. The shift in handwriting in those hundred years was astonishing.

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  1. ~ Q & A: Dr. Sarah Morris ~ | booksandmore81

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