“But Will He Love Me in the Morning?” A Century of Fictional Sex NOT Between Henry and Anne # 3

In the nineteen-thirties, Anne’s youthful relationship with Henry Percy becomes a prominent theme of novels, as a reminder of what Anne gave up when she married Henry: the possibility of a sweeter, less dangerous love.  Possibly because his bold, poetic nature makes for better romance than the somewhat weak-kneed Percy, Wyatt is given a more realized role in Anne’s life, too.   In Francis Hackett’s 1939 novel, Queen Anne Boleyn, Anne has sex with Wyatt before she ever does with Henry, and the scene is as sexually over-heated—although not as physically explicit–as in a modern romance novel:

What had driven her to Thomas was the warmth for which she starved.  She had refused him, inside her heart, as long as she could…But at last, and in spite of herself, she had bowed to an imperious need for union with this subtle, dangerously tender, human being…Anne had never given scope to the naïve woman inside her, the creature of feeling.  This starveling now emerged with generations and aeons of primitive felicity to capture, and Anne shuddered as the force of her feeling for Thomas took impetus from the hours they had had together, hours borrowed from another plane of existence, borrowed from eternity. In those hours she had come into something of her own buried self—almost as if she had learned to walk or learned to talk.  The proud woman in her, as well as the calculating, gave way to a creature of blinding tenderness, and this sweeping tenderness rolled through her, ran ramparts that advanced as they mounted, one surging on the other, until they broke with the dazzling submission of a wave.  It was a succession of rapture she had not been prepared for.  She was stunned by it, yet ached to return to him through it.  And as the light slowly died from these ecstasies, the fragility of her bond with him invaded her.” (118)

Steamy sex aside, Hackett’s novel was extremely well-researched, its portrait of Anne complex and subtle, and its skepticism about the received wisdom of the historians who recycled Chapuys (and each other) was refreshing and astute.[1] The first Anne novel to become a New York Times best-seller, Queen Anne Boleyn was also the first to benefit from the creation, the same year it was published, of the paperback book format, announced in the New York Times as  “the most important literary coming-out party in the memory of New York’s oldest book lover. Today your 25 cent piece leaps to a par with dollar bills. Now for less than the few cents you spend each week for your morning newspaper, you can own one of the great books for which thousands of people have paid from $2 to $4.” When the paperback of Queen Anne Boleyn came out, that same year, the first page quoted from its many excellent reviews from prestigious papers, but the back cover was clearly designed to sell copies to a broader audience than read The Christian Science Monitor, The New Statesman, or The Saturday Review of Books :  “SHE CONQUERED THE HEART OF A KING—AND LOST HER LIFE FOR HER LOVE” reads the bold print, and below it:

“In all of history there are few stories as enthralling as the astonishing rise and tragic fall of Anne Boleyn.  Born the daughter of a commoner, her proud beauty won the heart of mighty Henry the Eighth—but to sanctify their love, they face a battle that shook the foundations of the Western World. Against the might of the Church, the opposition of the nobility, and the rage of an Emperor, she rose to become Queen of England—and to die on the block at the hands of the man she loved.”

Anne was now a full-fledged heroine of the historical romance, and a major commercial item.

[1] At the end of the book, Hackett included an essay called “History in this Novel” in which he enumerates what he has invented in the novel, where his Anne departs from “the tradition”, why that tradition requires revision, and why he chose to write a novel rather than a history.

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Filed under Anne and Gender, Anne Through the Ages

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