Brief Gaudy Hour (Barnes)

Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn
Margaret Campbell Barnes, 1949
382 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781402211751

The enigmatic Anne Boleyn comes to life in this charming, brilliant portrayal by acclaimed British novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes.

The infamous love of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn undertook a rocky journey from innocent courtier to powerful Queen of England. A meticulous researcher, Margaret Campbell Barnes immerses readers in this intrigue and in the lush, glittery world of the Tudor Court.

The beauty and charms of Anne Boleyn bewitched the most powerful man in the world, King Henry VIII, but her resourcefulness and cleverness were not enough to stop the malice of her enemies. Her swift rise to power quickly became her own undoing.

The author brings to light Boleyn's humanity and courage, giving an intimate look at a young woman struggling to find her own way in a world dominated by men and adversaries. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Sussex, England, UK
Death—April 1, 1962
Where—Isle of Wight, UK
Education—small private schools

Margaret Campbell Barnes lived from 1891 to 1962. She was the youngest of ten children born into a happy, loving family in Victorian England. She grew up in the Sussex countryside, and was educated at small private schools in London and Paris.

Margaret was already a published writer when she married Peter, a furniture salesman, in 1917. Over the next twenty years a steady stream of short stories and verse appeared over her name (and several noms de plume) in leading English periodicals of the time, Windsor, London, Quiver, and others. Later, Margaret's agents, Curtis Brown Ltd, encouraged her to try her hand at historical novels. Between 1944 and 1962 Margaret wrote ten historical novels. Many of these were bestsellers, book club selections, and translated into foreign editions.

Between World Wars I and II Margaret and Peter brought up two sons, Michael and John. In August 1944, Michael, a lieutenant in the Royal Armoured Corps, was killed in his tank, in the Allied advance from Caen to Falaise in Normandy. Margaret and Peter grieved terribly the rest of their lives. Glimpses of Michael shine through in each of Margaret's later novels.

In 1945 Margaret bought a small thatched cottage on the Isle of Wight, off England's south coast. It had at one time been a smuggler's cottage. But to Margaret it was a special place in which to recover the spirit and carry on writing. And write she did. All together, over two million copies of Margaret Campbell Barnes's historical novels have been sold worldwide. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
(Older works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

Barnes gives us a sympathetic version of Anne—an alluring beauty who dazzles two European courts, French and English, with her lively wit, keen intelligence and remarkable grace. Imperious and a schemer, to be sure, but not the grasping monster of Philippa Gregory's book. (Read more...)
A LitLovers LitPick (Sept. '10)

The current Tudormania makes Barnes' historical fiction (My Lady of Cleves, etc.) as welcome today as in 1949, when this novel first appeared. Barnes lucidly envisions the well-documented events of Henry VIII's second wife's brilliant short-lived career: her education in manners, dress and dance at the French court; her tutoring in political scheming by powerful relatives who wish to be more powerful still; her determination not to end up a discarded royal mistress like her older sister. She offers credible interpretations of undocumented aspects of the Boleyn legend (such as Anne's sixth finger) and convincingly depicts Anne as she manipulates Henry to divorce Katherine, break with his chief advisor Cardinal Wolsley and abandon the Catholic Church. She's less good on Anne's relationship with poet-ambassador Thomas Wyatt, and on her loss of Henry's affection: in Barnes's old-school retelling of the journey from courtship to queenship to execution, sexual innuendo stops at innuendo. But she vividly depicts Anne's hopes and fears in an age where royal marriages were brokered like a cattle fair, and beheading could befall even a Queen.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Brief Gaudy Hour:

1. Talk about the way in which women in this era, including the two Boleyn daughters, were used as tokens to advance the status and fortunes of families.

2. Aside from her beauty (which was not considered as great as her sister Mary's), what makes Anne Boleyn so appealing to men? What attracts the King?

3. What drives Anne's desire to bring down Cardinal Wolsey? How does she manipulate his downfall?

4. How—and why—does Anne manage to keep the King at bay and out of her bed? What logic does she use upon Henry that makes him agree with her? What do you think might have happened had she agreed to sexual relations before marriage?

5. What are Anne's feelings toward Henry? Does she love him? Why is she so determined to marry him...and attain the title of Queen?

6. Follow-up on Question #5: Perhaps the more significant question is what drives Anne? Is she merely grasping and ambitious, or frightened? In what way is her security/safety bound up with her advancement?

7 What does Anne discover during her visit with Harry Percy six years after they are parted?

8. Talk about Anne's treatment of Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Princess Mary? What possesses Anne to dispense with mourning and celebrate Catherine's death? Why is Henry so angry with her when he interrupts the masque?

9. What affect does the incident of Princess Mary's curtsey on the balcony have on Anne as she and Henry are leaving after visiting to their daughter Elizabeth? Why doesn't Henry pay a visit to Mary?

10. What does Anne finally come to realize about herself...what self-awareness does she gain?

11. Was Anne victim...or a "tragic" figure, who succumbed as a result of an inner flaw?

12. How does this Anne compare with more recent treatments of her in historical fiction, especially in Philippa Gregory's account in The Other Boleyn Girl ... or in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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