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Brief Gaudy Hour

Brief Gaudy Hour

By Margaret Campbell Barnes

About the Author
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.


Reading Group Guide

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. 

1.  Anne Boleyn has come to be depicted as history’s favorite vixen. How is she portrayed in Brief Gaudy Hour? How does Margaret Campbell Barnes help us to see her in that way? At what moments in the book did you identify with Anne?

2.  Anyone who has taken any world history course knows the story and fate of Anne Boleyn. And yet, Margaret Campbell Barnes still manages to create and maintain a level of suspense and surprise throughout Brief Gaudy Hour. How does the author use irony and foreshadowing in combination with the readers’ presumed foreknowledge to give the story this propulsion? What were some moments in the story that had you on the edge of your seat?

3.  Early in chapter 1, Anne stands naked before a mirror and examines herself. What purpose does this scene serve? How does it help the reader connect to Anne?

4.  What would you say is the turning point in the relationship between Anne and Harry Percy? Anne takes out her anger mostly on Cardinal Wolsey, but who do you see as being most at fault in the end of their relationship? Why? What did you think of Harry’s betrayal of Anne? Did he have any other choices?

5.  In chapter 15, Anne says to Jocunda, “Would I could make the King suffer and humiliate the Cardinal as he humiliated my love that day!” How does Anne get her revenge on the Cardinal? Is his final punishment fair in relationship to his offences against Anne? Does she get her wish for the King?

6.  Anne works very hard to keep King Henry at bay for more than half the book. What were her motives in doing so? How does this serve to increase her power over him? In what ways does it lead to her eventual downfall?

7.  In chapter 28, Anne tells Cranmer, “I did not kill Wolsey!” Is she in some way responsible for his death? What does her sense of guilt over the issue say about her character? Why do others accuse her?

8.  In chapter 32, Anne says of Queen Katherine, “That woman is my death or I am hers.” What role does Anne play in Katherine’s death? What role does Katherine, or the history of Katherine, play in Anne’s death?

9.  Also in chapter 32, Anne makes an unknowingly prophetic speech about her unborn child, whom she calls “he”, and a war with Spain. We now have the clarity of hindsight to understand the irony of Henry and Anne’s anxieties over Henry’s female, and his lack of male, children. Why was it such an important issue to Henry? How does our knowledge of the outcome of the situation give Anne’s speech significance?

10. What is the turning point in the “brief gaudy hour” of Anne and King Henry’s relationship?

11.  When Henry is injured in the tournament in chapter 37, Anne fears losing him, “for what is Anne Boleyn without Henry Tudor?” Might we also ask, what is Henry Tudor without Anne Boleyn? What would England be without Anne Boleyn?

12.  Based on the character of King Henry VIII which Margaret Campbell Barnes has portrayed here, do you think Henry believes any or all of the charges brought against her? What does his absence from the trials and Anne’s last days say about him?

13.  Margaret Campbell Barnes is careful never to pass judgment on any of her characters.  But it is scarcely easy for us as readers to remain impartial in the light of such events, especially bearing in mind their verity. Based on the evidence Ms. Barnes presents, what verdicts did you as a reader reach in regards to characters such as Anne Boleyn, King Henry, Harry Percy, Cardinal Wolsey, etc.? What led you to reach these verdicts?

14.  Margaret Campbell Barnes’s writing career first took off in the years following World War II. She published 10 books of historical fiction between 1944 and 1962. She was a volunteer in the ambulance service during the war and lost her eldest son in the battles in Normandy. All of this – the climate of the times, her own personal loss – came to bear very strongly on her writing. How might these things have influenced her writing of this particular story? Are there moments in Brief Gaudy Hour where this is apparent?

Reading Group Guide  written by Elizabeth R. Blaufox, great-granddaughter of Margaret Campbell Barnes

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