A Self-Centered Book Review: Robin Maxwell’s The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn

A Self-Centered Book Review of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.

Cover – The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn

 

I well remember when this book came out in May 1998. I was 35 and my husband and I had just moved from New York to Los Angeles to transform our lives. I had given up my partnership at a law firm and planned to stay home with our then-two children, aged four and three, until they were in school full time.  I intended to use that time to finish the book I had been working on for ten years, the story of Anne Boleyn.

I had structured it as a diary that Anne, just before her execution, gives to Lady Bryan to hold for Elizabeth until she becomes queen. Anne’s story becomes a counterpoint to what goes on in Elizabeth’s life as she slowly reads the diary. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I even had a title I loved – or rather two that I was trying to choose to between: The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Anna Regina Anglia.  I had finished the first draft and was deep into the editing process, when one day I found myself with a factual question I needed to check out. I switched over to the internet, searched for whatever it was…and found a reference to a book that had just been published.

Can you guess?

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, by Robin Maxwell.  A secret diary kept by Anne Boleyn up until the date of her execution and given to Lady Sommerville to hold for Elizabeth until she becomes queen. The cover even featured the portrait of Anne framed by the words Anna Bolina Anglia Regina. To make things worse, Robin Maxwell was a first-time author who had moved from New Jersey to California to transform her life.  The book I had planned, the life I had planned… someone else’s now. The experience sent me into a tailspin from which I didn’t recover for weeks. Until I resolved to continue with my book but change its focus: I would use Jane Seymour, not Elizabeth, to punctuate Anne’s story.

Once that decision was made, I ordered Maxwell’s book and devoured it within hours of its arrival. She did a very different job than I would have.  Her prose was more purple, and she played too loose with facts, both small (she had Anne’s dog Purquoy die in 1536 not 1534) and large (she had Elizabeth sleep with Dudley). But she included the kinds of details (a carved jewelry box in which Elizabeth kept small treasures) that transported me, and made for a fine read. I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

(FYI, in the fifteen years since this episode, I realized that I needed to tell Jane’s story, not a shadow of Anne’s. My book, Jane the Quene, is all Jane (though Thomas Cromwell is a second point-of-view character to round things out a bit!) and it is a much better book than my old attempt had been. Things work out in life if you’re open to them.)

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