My mailbox has been full of historical fiction lately, putting me in the pleasant position of having too many books to choose from. One of the first I chose to read was Wendy J. Dunn’s Dear Heart, How Like You This?, a novel about Anne Boleyn told by poet and diplomat Thomas Wyatt.
I’ve been thinking of reading this for quite a while, but something kept scaring me off–perhaps the Amazon reviewer who noted Wyatt’s habit of using “Verily” to start his sentences. Verily, Wyatt does say “Verily” quite a bit, but this isn’t particularly bothersome once one gets into the rhythm of the book.
Dear Heart tells the very familiar story of Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall through the eyes of Wyatt, her devoted childhood companion who loves Anne hopelessly. Wyatt nonetheless takes a fairly clear-eyed, albeit partisan, view of her character and her situation, and he’s sensitive enough to feel compassion for Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary as well. He’s a likable narrator, whose lovesickness doesn’t stop him from making pointed observations from time to time, and for all his poetic sensitivity he has his hard edges–at one point he beats his unfaithful wife, though of course he feels guilty about it. I was disappointed, in fact, that the novel ended shortly after the death of Anne Boleyn, having wanted to spend more time in Wyatt’s company. The scenes between him and his aging father–evidently a very interesting character in his own day–are quite moving.
So what about Anne? In Dunn’s version of events, Anne, determined to take revenge for the forced parting of herself and Henry Percy, sets out to break the king’s heart, only to find herself unable to break away from the king without risking her own life and those of her family. That’s all quite credible, and Anne, recognizing the role that her own folly has played in her fate, courageously accepts it. Unfortunately, in Wyatt’s sympathetic company Anne tends to become lachrymose and hysterical, and too prone to reminiscing about her childhood. Though we see glimpses of the considerable charm and wit that she must have possessed, those qualities are somewhat muted here.
All in all, though, this is one of the most enjoyable novels about Anne Boleyn I’ve read. I was sorry to see it end.