The Boleyn Wife
Though many books have been written about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, relatively few have surfaced about the elusive figure who knew them both intimately, Jane Boleyn. In The Boleyn Wife, Brandy Purdy has brought Jane to the forefront of the sordid tales, giving her a seldom heard voice to relay the events as only an insider could. Whether or not she is a reliable narrator for those events is something the reader will have to decide.
Painted as an obsessed wife to George Boleyn, Jane is eager to divulge the backstabbing and sexual romps taking place around both Anne and Katherine. Jane clearly longs for her husband’s love and attention, and she sees Anne as a rival for his affections; it is this rivalry that brings Jane to play the scorned wife in that doomed relationship. Indeed, in both the tragic events of Anne and Katherine, Jane’s erratic need to not only belong, but to matter, to those around her showcase the decisions that ultimately cost her her own life as well as the lives of those she loves most.
Purdy has written an interesting novel from the point of view of a lesser publicized figure in the dramas surrounding two of Henry VIII’s wives. I could sympathize with poor Jane and her outcast status, yet I wanted to like her more than I did. A large distraction for me was Jane’s repeated hiding in cabinets to view the sexual escapades of others; I felt that these scenes were unnecessary when there was already so much rich story to tell. Ultimately I was left feeling that many of the stereotypes of the people involved had been reinforced when I was hoping for a new take on the tale.