Synopses & Reviews
A wickedly smart and rollicking journey through the birth, life, and afterlives of popular culture's most beloved sleuth
Today he is the inspiration for fiction adaptations, blockbuster movies, hit television shows, raucous Twitter banter, and thriving subcultures. More than a century after Sherlock Holmes first capered into our world, what is it about Arthur Conan Doyle’s peculiar creation that continues to fascinate us? Journalist and lifelong Sherlock fan Zach Dundas set out to find the answer.
The result is The Great Detective: a history of an idea, a biography of someone who never lived, a tour of the borderland between reality and fiction, and a joyful romp through the world Conan Doyle bequeathed us.
Through sparkling new readings of the original stories, Dundas unearths the inspirations behind Holmes and his indispensable companion, Dr. John Watson, and reveals how Conan Doyle's tales laid the groundwork for an infinitely remixable myth, kept alive over the decades by writers, actors, and readers. This investigation leads Dundas on travels into the heart of the Holmesian universe. The Great Detective transports us from New York City's Fifth Avenue and the boozy annual gathering of one of the world's oldest and most exclusive Sherlock Holmes fan societies; to a freezing Devon heath out of The Hound of the Baskervilles; to sunny Pasadena, where Dundas chats with the creators of the smash BBC series Sherlock and even finagles a cameo appearance by Benedict Cumberbatch himself. Along the way, Dundas discovers and celebrates the ingredients that have made Holmes go viral — then, now, and as long as the game’s afoot.
"Engrossing....Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion. . . . a strangely tasty book."
and#8212;Theand#160;New York Times "Bordoand#8217;s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read."
and#8212;The Boston Globe "A fascinating and accessible study of Anne Boleyn's history and popular myth."
and#8212;Shelf Awareness "A feast of feminism and historyand#8230;fascinates readers, and informs and entertains along the way."
and#8212;Roanoke Times "Delightfully cheeky, solidly researchedand#8230;[Bordo] uses her good sense and academic training to shrewdly chip away at historical commentary, which has hardened speculation into supposed "facts."
and#8212;The Daily Beast "Engrossingand#8230;blending biography, cultural history and literary analysis with a creative writerand#8217;s knack for narrative and detail."
and#8212;Louisville Leo Weekly "Rivettingand#8230;Bordoand#8217;s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact, and develop into tangled webs of fact and fiction that become known as the truth. "
"Bordoand#8217;s skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters."
and#8212;Bitch Media and#12288; "The perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking."
and#8212;The Anne Boleyn Files "Susan Bordo'sand#12288;Boleynand#12288;did the impossible - it made me excited to read about the Tudors again while reminding me to approach history and historical fiction with curiosity and a questioning mind."
and#8212;Historical Fiction Notebook "The University of Kentucky humanities chair does a superb job of separating fact from fiction in contemporary accounts of Boleynand#8217;s life, before deftly deconstructing the myriad and contradictory portraits of her that have arisen in the centuries since her death. . . . The young queen has been the source of fascination for nearly half a millennium, and her legacy continues; this engaging portrait culminates with an intriguing exploration of Boleynand#8217;s recent reemergence in pop culture." and#8212;Publishers Weekly "A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike"
and#8212;Kirkus Reviews "Susan Bordo astutely re-examines Anneand#8217;s life and death anew and peels away the layers of untruth and myth that have accumulated since. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a refreshing, iconoclastic and moving look at one of historyand#8217;s most intriguing women. It is rare to find a book that rouses one to scholarly glee, feminist indignation and empathetic tears, but this is such a book."
and#8212;Suzannah Lipscomb, author of 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII "If you think you know who Anne Boleyn was, think again. In this rigorously argued yet deliciously readable book, Susan Bordo bursts through the dead weight of cultural stereotypes and historical clichand#233;s to disentangle the fictions that we have created from the fascinating, elusive woman that Henry VIII triedand#8212;unsuccessfullyand#8212;to erase from historical memory. This is a book that has long been needed to set the record straight, and Bordo knocked it out of the park. Brava!"
and#8212;Robin Maxwell, national bestselling author of Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Mademoiselle Boleyn and#8220;By turns sassy and serious, playful and profound, Susan Bordo cuts through the layers of legend, fantasy, and untruth that history and culture have attached to Anne Boleyn, while proving that the facts about that iconic queen are every bit as intriguing as the fictions.and#8221;
and#8212; Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
"In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, we watch Anne Boleyn the woman transform into Anne Boleyn the legendand#8212;a fascinating journey. Susan Bordo covers Anne's historical footprints and her afterlife in art, fiction, poetry, theater and cinema, each change reflecting the concerns of a different era. Meticulous, thoughtful, persuasiveand#8212;and fun."
and#8212;Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I
A Review From Open Letters Monthly:
"'Why is Anne Boleyn so fascinating?' Susan Bordo asks at the beginning of her richly engrossing new book The Creation of Anne Boleyn. 'Maybe we donand#8217;t have to go any further than the obvious. The story of her rise and fall is as elementally satisfying and#8211; and scriptwise, not very different from and#8211; a Lifetime movie: a long-suffering, postmenopausal wife; an unfaithful husband and a clandestine affair with a younger, sexier woman; a moment of glory for the mistress; then lust turned into loathing, plotting, and murder as the cycle comes full circle.' The invocation of the syrupy American cable network Lifetime is both a neat stroke and a warning flag and#8211; readers traumatized by flippant pseudo-history grow hyper-sensitive to such showbiz namedropping, and Bordoand#8217;s credentials as a feminist scholar can, in such circumstances, increase the fear of grating anachronisms (the past was a different country, a wise man once said, hardly needing to add, "They called and#8216;applesand#8217; and#8216;orangesand#8217; there"). Nightmare visions of 'Anne the Party Grrrl' loom, hardly alleviated by Bordoand#8217;s puckish choice of section titles ('In Love (Or Something Like It),' 'A Perfect Storm,' etc.).
But such worries are dispelled early on in The Creation of Anne Boleyn and never return. Bordo spends the first part of her book, 'Queen, Interrupted,' recounting much of what we know about the actual history of Anneand#8217;s rise, reign, and ruin. Itand#8217;s nimbly done, managing the small miracle of not feeling redundant despite the staggering number of times the story has been told before. But itand#8217;s the bookand#8217;s second part, 'Recipes for 'Anne Boleyn',' and its third part, 'An Anne For All Seasons,' that gaily raise this book to the status of something quite memorable; itand#8217;s in these parts that Bordo gets at the real heart of her subject and#8211; not Anne Boleyn, but rather the infinite variety of cultural reconstructions of Anne.
Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her range is impressive, covering a dozen major novels and#8211; from Francis Hackettand#8217;s 1939 novel Queen Anne Boleyn to Margaret Campbell Barnesand#8217; Brief Gaudy Hour (1949), Norah Loftsand#8217; The Concubine (1963), and more modern bestsellers like Phlippa Gregoryand#8217;s The Other Boleyn Girl and Hilary Manteland#8217;s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (partisans may wish sheand#8217;d spared a mention for Suzannah Dunnand#8217;s sly and extremely impressive 2005 novel The Queen of Subtleties) and#8211; and all the major film and stage interpretations of Anneand#8217;s tempestuous relationship with Henry VIII, including the Charles Laughton camp-fest The Private Life of Henry VIII, the BBC mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the great 1969 movie Anne of the Thousand Days, and of course Showtimeand#8217;s vamping, moronic The Tudors. Itand#8217;s a shrewd strategy: now that Bordo has supplied her readers with the history, she can thrill and provoke them by citing the countless ways all these adaptations get the history wrong:
Anne of the Thousand Days, in addition to numerous other alterations of history, has that invented and#8211; yet somehow perfect and#8211; scene in the Tower between Anne and Henry. The Private Life of Henry VIII turns Anne of Cleves into a wisecracking cardsharp who is physically disgusted by Henry rather than (as history tells it) the other way around. A Man for All Seasons neglects to mention that Thomas More, besides being a witty intellectual, also burned quite a few heretics and was apparently not quite the devoted husband he appeared to be. The BBC production of The Six Wives of Henry VIII barely notes that there was a conflict of authority between Henry and the Church, beyond the issue of the divorce; its actually much more the wife-centered, 'feminized' history that [David] Starkey berates than [Showtime's] The Tudors, which spends a lot of time on the more 'masculine' (and for Starkey, historically central) end of things: diplomatic skirmishes, wars, and court politics.
Half the fun of these segments of the book will be arguing with them. For instance, the claim that thereand#8217;s no dramatization of the conflict between king and Church in The Six Wives of Henry VIII is starkly wrong and#8211; indeed, itand#8217;s in the Jane Seymour episode of the series that its star Keith Michell gives one of his most passionate performances, on precisely the subject of Henryand#8217;s struggles with Rome. Likewise the sustained, extremely intelligent attention Bordo lavishes on The Tudors, and especially petite, slope-mouthed Natalie Dormer, whose Anne Boleyn is about as sexually alluring as a distracted basset hound: the reader might fundamentally disagree with the elevation of such an unworthy subject (so to speak), but the discussion itself is too interesting to forego (when Bordo interviews Genevieve Bujold, who shot to fame in Anne of the Thousand Days, the actress simply says 'Anne is mine').
Bordo charts the changes in Anneand#8217;s portrayal over the years, drawing up handy lists of historical errors, sparing nobody, not even Mantel, whose books come in for some sustained nit-picking (although nothing on the order of the full-dress deconstruction Gregory gets)(and yet itand#8217;s all done with such wonderful candor that it wouldnand#8217;t be surprising to learn the novelists themselves enjoyed the critiques). The focus of the book in these parts shimmers all over the fictional landscape, always with an acute eye:
The Tudors has replaced Charles Laughtonand#8217;s blustering, chicken-chomping buffoon with Jonathan Rhys Meyerand#8217;s lean, athletic bad boy. Wolf Hall exposes Thomas More as coldly, viciously pious and turns the ruthless, calculating Cromwell we know from depictions of his role in Anne Boleynand#8217;s death into a true and#8220;man for all seasonsand#8221;: warm, loyal, and opportunistic only because his survival requires it.
The Creation of Anne Boleyn creates in its readers the deep hunger for more of the same; itand#8217;ll be a cold-hearted reader indeed who doesnand#8217;t finish the book wishing Bordo would have expanded it into a big fat study of the history and fiction of all the wives and#8211; or better yet, of Anneand#8217;s own daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. But our author is something of an intellectual dynamo, and unlike poor Anne, sheand#8217;s got plenty of options."
A Los Angeles Times
Summer Reading Selection
“For even the casual fan, the history of this deathless character is fascinating. Dundas does a fine job of tracing the roots of Holmes . . . [and] writes in a jovial, casual way that invites the reader to take part.” — Boston Globe
"Find[s] fresh ground . . . [Dundas's] scholarship is impressive . . . He's an amiable guide, placing more than a century of Sherlockiana into an appealing, modern frame." — Daniel Stashower, Washington Post
“Dundas weaves fascinating parallel histories of Holmes as literary creation, Holmes as broader cultural phenomenon, and the character’s larger-than-life creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle . . . Incisive, well-informed, and slyly witty (like Holmes himself), Dundas’s book provides entertaining and irrefutable evidence that the game is still—and is likely to remain—afoot.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review
“The author of this wonderful book has crammed it with enough research — Holmesean, Watsonian, Doylean — to bulge the seams . . . [But] Dundas’s matey writing style makes the details easy to absorb . . . A delight for Baker Streeters.” — Booklist, starred review
“A lively look at the enduring detective . . . A cheerful romp . . . A bright read for Sherlock’s fans.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Sherlock Holmes means different things to different people: to die-hard readers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original (who cracked his first case in 1887); to older filmgoers, Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing; to children of the 1970s and pretty much no one else, Nicol Williamson and Robert Stephens; and to younger fans, Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. All of them turn up in The Great Detective, in which Zach Dundas traces Sherlock’s evergreen celebrity. Such is Dundas’s enthusiasm that one almost forgets Doyle’s wary role in the legend. The author’s resigned response to an extraordinarily rich $45,000 offer from Collier’s Weekly to resurrect Holmes in 1903: ‘Very well.’” — Vanity Fair
“The game is afoot! Like Sherlock Holmes himself, Dundas’s pursuit of his quarry spans centuries, genres, and continents—and it’s a delightful journey into the mythology and meaning of an icon that everyone knows, many are obsessed by, and nobody has ever quite topped.” — Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century and NPR’s Weekend Edition ”literary detective”
“The Great Detective is a moving study, capturing as I’ve never before seen our interest in the quintessential sleuth and his stalwart biographer. Sherlock Holmes will never fade, and this book proves it.” — Lyndsay Faye, author of Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
“Sherlock Holmes is both immortal and immaterial—and the inspired deductions and ratiocinations of Zach Dundas bring us closer to understanding why we’ve spent over a hundred years trying to claim Doyle’s detective from the fictional world and give him a home in our own. The best and wisest Holmes book that I have ever known.” — Matthew Sweet, author of Inventing the Victorians
A ground-breaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn's life and legacy from a preeminentand#160;cultural thinker puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Annes life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first-century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Annes death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of historys most infamous relationships.
Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and re-imagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto “mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a reconstruction of Boleyns life and an illuminating look at her very active afterlife in the popular imagination. With Bringing up the Bodies, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Showtimes The Tudors, Anne has been having a twenty-first-century moment, but Bordo shows how many generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers have imagined and reimagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-“mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. Drawing on scholarship and razor-sharp analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of historys most fascinating women, teasing out what we actually know about Anne Boleyn and what we think we know about her.
andldquo;Bordoandrsquo;s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read.andrdquo;andmdash;Boston Globe
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a reconstruction of Boleynandrsquo;s life and an illuminating look at her very active afterlife in the popular imagination. With recent novels, movies, and television shows, Anne has been having a twenty-first-century moment, but Bordo shows how many generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers have imagined and reimagined her: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-andldquo;mean girl,andrdquo; feminist icon, and everything in between. Drawing on scholarship and razor-sharp analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of historyandrsquo;s most intriguing women, teasing out what we actually know about Anne Boleyn and what we think we know about her.
andldquo;Riveting . . . Bordoandrsquo;s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact.andrdquo; andmdash;Book Page
andldquo;Engrossing . . . Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion.andrdquo;andmdash;New York Times
For longtime Conan Doyle fans as well as readers just discovering Sherlock Holmes, a wickedly smart and rollicking journey through the birth, life, and afterlives of popular culture’s most beloved sleuth
About the Author
Susan Bordo, Otis A. Singletary Professor in the Humanities at University of Kentucky, is the author of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. Her work has been translated into many languages and frequently reprinted in collections and writing textbooks. A popular public speaker, Susan lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and daughter, and teaches humanities and gender studies at the University of Kentucky.