Tag Archives: 20th century literature

“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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“But Will He Respect Me in the Morning?” A Century of Fictional Sex Between Henry and Anne #2

My second excerpt is from a 1936 novel by Paul Rival, entitled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” It originally was published in French, and apparently was the basis for the 1971 six-part BBC television series of the same name–although I see no resemblances in style or content.  The novel is very intense and dramatic, full of existential French touches, and also clearly shows the influence of Freudian psychology.  Freudians at the time believed that a woman could only find true pleasure in sexuality by giving up her “masculine” impulses and surrendering herself completely, as Anne does in this passage.

That night, in the castle of Calais, she opened her arms to Henry.  She humbled herself and allowed him to possess her.  The gentle wash of the waves was audible through the windows, the tapestres waved in the night breeze, and a dying log fire flowed upon the hearth.

They remained more than a week at Calais.  Francis had gone and the chill air of November emphasized the silence.  They had lived so long in a dream that reality surprised and alarmed them.  Anne was at length a woman; Henry had delivered her from her own unbalanced fancies and revealed her to herself, finding her interior rhythm, giving her serene happiness, the pleasure of ceasing to think, of allowing her mind and her nerves to be lulled to sleep, of being no more than a physical vessel, utterly fulfilled and submissive.  For her there were now order, peace and repose.  The sky was tranquil and colourless, the sea more grey than the sky with faint ripples and reflections and a few drifting sails.  The nights unfolded themselves, long and blissful.




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“But Will He Respect Me in the Morning?” A Century of Fictional Sex Between Henry and Anne

From Susan:  I thought it might be fun, now that I’ve reached the 20th century in my chapter, to show you some of the changes, over the century, in depicting Henry and Anne’s first night together. Here’s my first selection, from one of the very first writers to actually acknowledge (although with much symbolism and a big “dot dot dot”) that Henry and Anne had sex before marriage.  This scene may seem very squeamish today.  But it was pretty bold for its time. Many Victorian plays and histories, rather than admit that Henry and Anne had premarital sex, claimed that Elizabeth was born prematurely!! This is from one of the first post-Victorian fictionalizations of Anne’s life, published in 1912 by American novelist Mary Hastings Bradley. 

From Mary Hastings Bradley, The Favor of Kings, 1912

“As she sat there alone in the room, her chin in her hand, her dark eyes heavy with anxieties, the thought that had slipped some time ago, shamefaced and sly, into the back of her mind edged more and more into the open…What if she played her last card—her precious card—herself!..

…`I dare not, ‘ she whispered to herself, and then in a strangled voice, `I dare!’

She grew aware at last that her clasped hands were clutching each other so tightly that the rings were cutting into the flesh.  She drew off the ring from the sharpest cut.  It was one of Henry’s earliest gifts to her, a plain gold band with,`Thy virtue is thy honor,’ graved within it…Her virtue—God alone knew how she had hugged that comfort to her smarting pride against the secret sneers she divined about her.  And now…

The ring slipped from her fingers and rolled out across the floor.  A bit of rush blocked it and it toppled and dropped through an open knot hole.  The augury seemed to her complete.  She laughed—and then something, like a hand upon her throat, seemed to strangle the laughter at its source and she quivered back among the cushions, her hands hiding her face like some poor shamed thing.

That year the Christmas revels were gayer than ever and King Henry was scarce an instant to be parted from his marchioness.

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