Especially lately, but to some degree all my life, when I read a book, my brain is constantly humming in the background with reflections of my own life and lessons to be applied or taken away. I feel like reading The Other Boleyn Girl gave me an interesting insight into ways my personality has changed over the years.
First, a little about the book: SPOILER ALERT! If you know NOTHING about history and don't know who Anne Boleyn was, or her fate, this might ruin the surprise. More important than that, this will give away a lot about the character development throughout the book. You've been warned.
I wasn't really thrilled with this book in the beginning, but it came highly recommended by a friend with similar tastes to mine, so I stuck with it. It is told from the perspective of Mary Cary (nee' Boleyn), Anne Boleyn's younger sister. When the book opens, Mary is 12 years old, and I found her character rather naive and vapid. I also found the rivalry between the two sisters downright obnoxious. I'm glad I persisted, though, because Philippa Gregory is a very talented author and as the character aged, her increasing maturity was excellently reflected in the storytelling.
I think there are many overall themes and takeaways one could get from this story. There is a conflicted relationship between sisters who are at once rivals and teammates and confidants being used as pawns in a greater game. There are themes pride, jealousy, greed, and lust for power. My feminist mind was aflutter through the whole book with the sad situation women found themselves in and also with the strength of women joining together behind the scenes and exploiting what little powers they did have to their maximum potential.
The historical themes were masterful. Before I read the book, I found out that Philipa Gregory is well known for doing excellent historical research on her subjects before undertaking a project. That really enriched my experience reading the book - especially after watching the horrifyingly inaccurate Tudors. I felt like a came away from the book with a little better grasp of the realities of Tudor England.
Ultimately, though, throughout the whole book, what my mind kept coming back to was the personalities of the two main characters. I saw them almost as alternatives of my own personality. There was the ambitious striver (Anne Boleyn) and the mother figure (Mary Carey).
This is a simplification, but the general categories work. First, I'll touch on Anne because the thoughts evoked by her character were a little simpler than those evoked by Mary.
The Anne Boleyn character in this book (and in all likelyhood in real life) was a person who knew what she wanted from a very young age. She was primed for it, raised for it: power and prestige. Of course, it was the tempered power of a woman, a power earned by high marriage and not necessarily anything else. But it was the most power she could ever hope to acheive and she was groomed to see the corresponding prestige as "the goal" in the same way that some women and girls today see other things as "the goal" - getting married and having children, having a particular career, having "it all," or marrying a successful man, depending on the upbringing and environment.
Anne latched onto this goal and carried forward with it with determination boardering on the manical. At points in the book, she has driven herself to complete exhaustion keeping up the persona she has chosen to wear. She sacrificed happiness, love, friendship, even - it could be argued - her own humanity, all in unrelenting pursuit of "the goal."
I have been similar to this in my life, though not quite to the extreme. I have pushed toward certain goals (always career goals, as far as I can tell; I've never seen marriage as much of a goal to pursue so much as something that should happen on it's own) with a passion that other people don't posess. I've pushed through circumstances that would have easily averted others. I have even put on the blinders and went straight ahead, ignoring other goings on in life in pursuit of my goal. And in many cases, I've succeeded.
But, I have also changed and become a lot less goal oriented - or maybe my goals have just changed, become more amorphous. Changes that never occured for Anne, that, in some ways couldn't change once she reached a certain point. Forward was all she had left.
I have also been known to toy with the emotions of men. But that was never for prestige. It was for my own childish amusement and I have since given that up, though I did take a little bit of titillating nostalgic joy in reading some of Anne's exploits in that arena.
And because I have changed, I felt more akin to the Mary Carey character. Mary starts out with the same "goal" orientation as Anne. And she acheives her goal, though more through a series of random events then through sheer determination. For a while, she is pretty devoted to the goal. Then she has children. This brings about a change in her. The experience of loving her children, and subsequently missing them, leads her to a drastic rethinking of her priorities. The goal is still there, but she no longer sees it as her goal. She sees that it is a goal that was chosen for her, and eventually, it is no longer her goal at all. Mary wants nothing more than to live peacefully in the country with her children.
Well, I can sure as heck relate to that! Rarely a week goes by that I don't spend at least a little time fantasizing about running off to a subsistance from out in the woods and playing with my kids all day long.
Of course, I also know I would never last in that life. There is also a little law office attached to our subsistance farm. The career goal is still there, but it is more focused on helping people than on any sort of prestige. Obviously.
Like Mary, my children have completely changed my outlook on my life, my career, society, and myself. I want different things than I ever thought I would when I first set out toward my goals many years ago. In a month or two, I will be the MOJO - a powerful, high profile, prestigious position. A position that, 4 years ago, I really wanted to attain. Today, I'm not looking forward to filling it. I appreciate that it is still a good thing for me, that it will still allow me to help people (one of my new goals), but it is mostly a great stepping stone toward the life I now know I really want to live - complete with the farm in the country/woods.
I am neither Mary Carey nor Anne Boleyn. As usual, I want the best of both worlds. But reading this book was a really interesting self insight into the changes I have made as well as fodder for some very interesting thoughts about what might have happened if I had remained more an Anne, pressing forward relentlessly to my goal of power. I honestly think I may have ended up rather high in politics. I don't think I really have any desire to do something like that anymore.
When you read, do you find yourself being lead into self examination? What books gave you unusual insights into yourself?