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Literature / The Other Boleyn Girl

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The Other Boleyn Girl is a Historical Fiction novel written by British author Philippa Gregory, very loosely based on the life of 16th-century aristocrat Mary Boleyn. Reviews were mixed; some reviewers said it was a brilliantly claustrophobic look at palace life in Tudor England, while others have consistently pointed out the lack of historical accuracy.note  Even so, it has enjoyed phenomenal success and popularity since its publication in 2002, and launched a new wave of Tudor-centric historical romances.

The Other Boleyn Girl speaks of the little-known sister to Anne Boleyn. Inspired by the life of Mary Boleyn, Gregory depicts the annulment of one of the most significant royal marriages in English history (that of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon) and the great need of a male heir to the throne, though most of the actual history is highly distorted.

Has a sequel, The Boleyn Inheritance.

The book was adapted into two movies: One released in 2003, starring Natascha McElhone as Mary, Jodhi May as Anne and Jared Harris as Henry VII and the other in 2008, starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana.


This book has examples of:

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Of the historical Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary.
  • And Another Thing...: Uncle Howard to Mary at the end of a family meeting.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: The reaction to Queen Katherine's death of the king and almost the whole court.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Anne pretty much personifies this as the story goes on. Yes, she becomes queen, but she doesn't enjoy it for long. The common people despise her, she's under enormous pressure from all sides to produce a male heir - which she continuously fails to do - other noble families constantly seek to supplant her with their own daughters, and once she's slept with Henry he loses interest in her relatively quickly, and eventually grows to resent and then hate her. But, as Mary bluntly tells her: "You chose to be queen. I warned you it wouldn't bring you joy."
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  • Berserk Button: Better not remind Anne of her failed marriage to Henry Percy. She learns to suppress her feelings as the book goes on, though.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Anne and George are dead, but Mary gets to live Happily Ever After with her husband, far away from the court (which is where she was always happier during the course of the story).
  • Bookends: The film starts and ends with three children playing in a meadow.
    • The book does this too, with a different event; it begins and ends with a scene where Mary is attending a public execution, expecting the king to give a pardon out at the last minute. She's wrong both times.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Between George and Anne. Well, maybe. It's left very vague as to what actually happened, though considering their unusual closeness and Anne's desperation for a son in the latter days of her marriage, it's at least possible. Both were accused of incest in real life, but it's dubious that they were really guilty.
  • Betty and Veronica: Mary is Betty, Anne is Veronica. Anne is also the Veronica to Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour's Betty.
  • Decadent Court: The Tudor Court has spies everywhere and is full of people scheming constantly to get the king's favour who will stab you in the back at a moment's notice. Your closest relatives think of you only as a pawn in a chess game, especially if you are a girl.
  • Death Glare: In one scene when Anne becomes jealous of the king flirting with other women, he looks at him "with a glare which would have frightened a lesser man".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Some of the sexual metaphors and phrases spoken by the characters would seem demeaning and shocking if someone said them to people today. For instance, today you probably wouldn't tell your sister not to let her husband get her 'in pup.' Or refer to your sisters being in heat. Or tell someone that you got your wife 'in foal' just months after marriage.
  • The Determinator: Deconstructed and Reconstructed. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Mary tells Catherine that Anne and Henry may be getting along so well because they are both this trope and a lot alike. When Catherine points out that she is determined as well, Mary tells her that she is differentiated from them by being a lot less selfish and willing to put others before the goals she is determined to achieve.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Mary. She ends up living happily with her loving husband and her children on a farm. Her siblings are not so fortunate.
  • English Rose: The novel is even more overt than the film in its portrayal of Mary as idealistic. Anne describes Mary (albeit mockingly) as "sweet and open and English and fair" at one stage, and Henry VIII himself refers to her as "my little English rose".
    • Deconstructed. Although Mary genuinely is more naive and sweet than most other characters (which isn't saying much) she admits to Anne that the English Rose persona is very much a facade she uses to entice the king.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The story's narrator is Mary but the real main character is Anne.
  • Heir Club for Men: One of the main reasons Henry wants a divorce (and one of the main driving forces of the whole plot) is because he's desperate to have a legitimate son to inherit the throne.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Mary. What we know of the real Mary (which is admittedly precious little) doesn't jibe very well with the Mary Sue-like character Gregory has given her.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Anne. Although the real Anne Boleyn was no doubt ambitious, she also did a lot of good in her life, such as supporting many charities, sheltering Protestants fleeing from other countries, promoting artistic endeavours, and showing an unusually keen interest in her daughter's upbringing. Furthermore, most historians now agree that she was almost certainly innocent of the crimes she was accused of, including incest with her brother.
    • Anne also gets a Historical Coward Upgrade. The real Anne faced her execution with boldness, dignity, and faith; Gregory's Anne is a sniveling, hysterical basket case.
    • The author almost seems to have a personal grudge against Jane Parker. The sequel, The Boleyn Inheritance takes this Up to Eleven.
  • Freudian Trio: The three siblings, with Anne as Ego, Mary as Superego, and George as Id.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Anne schemes to become queen, and eventually ousts Catherine and takes her place. All the noble families take note of how relatively easy it is to topple a queen - and begin scheming to get their own daughters to supplant Anne in Henry's affections.
  • Lap Pillow: Mary lets William Stafford sleep with his head in her lap when he's suffering from seasickness. He's faking it.
  • Marry for Love: Eventually, Mary does this, with Sir William Stafford.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Subverted between Mary and William Carey. After the king loses interest in her he starts to seduce her, which almost succeeds when he dies of an illness.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Mary considers doing this to save Anne but her husband talks her out of it by pointing out that if she does, she'll likely share the fate of her siblings.
    • Played straight in the movie. It doesn't work.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The king is often said to behave like a child. He also kills a lot of people, including his wife when she fails to give him a son.
  • Russian Reversal: In one dialogue between Mary and William, she says:
    "You don't leave the king. He leaves you."
  • Stepford Smiler: Everyone in court is this, and it is expressed several times in the novel.
    • The most prominent example is when Mary has to dance with the king just after the birth of her son, when she is still bleeding from the birth, suffering from post-natal depression, and desperately misses her children. She describes her smile as 'gargoyle-like'.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Anne vs. Mary for the right to Henry's hand.
  • Thicker Than Water: Mary's love for her sister always overcomes their rivalry. The only people Anne can trust are her siblings Mary and George.
  • Title Drop: Several times. Both Mary and Anne are referred to as "the other Boleyn girl" at various points, depending on which one the king currently favors.
  • Understatement: Mary describes Anne's reaction of her getting married to William is "not best pleased".
  • Unwanted Spouse: Jane Parker, wife of George Boleyn; and also Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII. And eventually Anne as well.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: In the execution scene at the beginning Mary thinks the king will pardon the man being executed. Her mother calls her a fool for that. She doesn't seem to learn, as she goes through the exact same thoughts at Anne's execution at the end.