BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Summary: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent
girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the
king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing
role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she
is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots as the king's interest begins
to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival:
her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and
her king, and take her fate into her own hands.
Notes: Readers ask where fact ends and fiction
begins in Gregory's novels. She states
that her stories are always driven by history and research. She does
not invent events to change the story. She feels that Tudor history
is fabulous enough on its own not to
warrant any interference. She is limited by "point-of-view"
in crafting her stories. In
The Other Boleyn Girl she tells the story from the first person
of Mary Boleyn in the present tense. This does not give her the luxury
of historians who can ponder an event from several different perspectives.
Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen, by Joanna
Denny, presents a sympathetic picture of Anne. Gregory believes that
the sexism of both the Tudor and the Victorian eras resulted in a "set-up"
portrayal of the Queen, a highly accomplished woman who could hold her
own with men. Even at the time of the accusations that led to her death,
the charges were seen as trumped-up and absurd. John Spelman, one of
Anne's judges, said,"... all the evidence was bawdy and lechery."
It was all sensationalism. And, as we know today, much of the conflict
was a mask for the conflict between the Catholic Church and evangelical
Protestants, of which Anne was a member.
In order to understand how tales of such lasciviousness could even be
put forth, it is necessary to understand that the worldview of the Tudor's
was primitive (hopefully!) compared to our thinking today. Fear of witches
was rampant in the Tudor era, causing
much paranoia and legislation against them. Many men claimed to have
been bewitched by their wives and thus "forced" into marriage
or other "destructive" acts. Some men
blamed erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation on witchcraft.
Both were viewed as sins against God because they did not lead to the
birth of sons, which was the main
purpose of marriage. Universally witches were decried for their use
of aphrodisiacs and excessive lust.
Witches were believed to give birth to deformed children. Midwives and
attendants were sworn to report anything unusual at the birth of either
infants or fetuses. Anne's last miscarriage was the perfect foil for
the absurd accusations that followed and led to her beheading. French
people were especially thought to be perverted, "the women enticefull"
leading men into sin with their witchy ways.
Anne had picked up French fashion and attitudes from her time in the
Malines Court in the Flemish province of Antwerp. Anne's early education
was in this enlightened court, a "humanist center, the capital
of arts and letters in the north." She lived among poets, painters,
sculptors, architects and literary scholars, and a fine library of books
and illuminated manuscripts. She was considered to be a very bright
child, more than just a "decorative asset." She learned French
and penned verses about the fickleness of human nature.
1. Mary is the narrator of this story. Why do you think the
author chose her to tell it? Is she a trustworthy narrator, given her
relationship to so many of the characters? How does Mary change from
beginning to end of the book?
2. What does Mary's mother say to Mary at the end of the first chapter
and how does it foreshadow what is to come? Anne's words, early in the
novel, set up the plot -- do you remember what she said?
3. There is plenty of scheming and jockeying for favor in court. Mary
says that she had "a talent for loving [the king]. Is this a young
girl's fantasy? Why does she call herself and George "a pair of
pleasant snakes"? What is your first impression of Henry?
4. Early on, Mary professes her love and admiration of Queen Catherine
and feels she cannot betray her. This turns out to be untrue. How does
she betray her? She once says she "had no choice" (bringing
the queen' s letter to her uncle) -why did she feel this way, and was
it a reasonable assumption on her part that there was no other option?
5. How does the writer create sexual tension in scenes between Mary
and the King? Why might this be important to this story?
6. Anne says, "I am happy for the family. I hardly ever think about
you." Is she telling the truth? Later, she tells Mary, "We'll
always be nothing to our family." Does she really believe this,
given her obsession to gain more power with the throne?
7. Mary has said, earlier in the story, "I feel like a parcel..
." and later that she's no longer a "pawn" but "at
the very least, a castle, a player in the game."
8. Anne says to Mary that "you can't desire [the king] like an
ordinary man and forget the crown on his head." Is this true of
Mary? What does this statement say about Anne?
9. What are your impressions of the sisters?
10. Philippa Gregory has taken some liberties with history but in truth
she stays quite true to it. What are your general impressions of historical
fiction, and how does this novel compare with other historical novels
you've read? How did it change your impressions of life in Henry VIII's
court? How did it change your impression of Anne Boleyn?
11. Anne says, when she fmally becomes betrothed to Henry, that "Nothing
will ever be the same for any woman in this country again." What
does she mean by this? Do you think this divorce issue could ever backfire
on her? Does Mary realize the consequences of Henry's break with the
Pope and his divorce from his wife, i.e., as a precedent?
12. Mary's brother George cannot believe that she could "really
want to be a nobody." Why is this so unbelievable in Henry's court!
in Mary's family?
13. In Henry's court, homosexuality is a crime-- but George flaunts
his preference: why? What about George's relationship with his sister
Anne? With his wife? What do you believe about it? What is inferred
14. Henry sentences Anne to death, and Mary pleads against her death
saying, "We did nothing more than that was ordered. We only ever
did as we were commanded. Is she to die for being an obedient daughter?"
What do you think of those arguments? Did Henry have another choice,
other than to send her to her death?
with Philippa Gregory about her book, The Other Queen.
Family Tree of the Tudors and the Stuarts
- click on "Kings & Queens of England (to 1603)
Questions and related information provided
by Marilyn Day and Susannah Risley
This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York
State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley
Library System and participating member libraries.