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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore: A Novel Paperback – September 27, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Original edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143119877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143119876
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Theodora is a best-of-all-worlds book -- entertaining, gripping, thoughtful and dangerously enlightening. Stella Duffy, a versatile and gifted novelist, is uniquely suited to bringing Theodora to life. She clearly has great affection for her subject, but does not allow that to undercut her keen eye and pitch-perfect ear. An achievement that many writers will envy and few will equal."
(-Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangero)

"Duffy's seductive retelling of the story of the legendary empress Theodora will delight historical fiction fans."
(-Publishers Weekly)

"Duffy's retelling of the true story of a woman (500-548) who rose from lowly beginnings to become Empress of the Byzantine Empire is lively and dramatic."
(-Library Journal)

"There's... intelligence and empathy under the energetic potboiler surface."
(-Kirkus)

"Duffy's passion for her heroine, the charismatic Theodora, is evident on every page. The result is a novel that remains true to its historical sources, whilst managing to reinvent its subject matter with great freshness and verve. A vivid and affectionate portrait of one of the most fascinating personalities of the ancient world."
(-Sarah Waters)

About the Author

Stella Duffy was born in London, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives in London. She is the author of seven literary novels, including The Room of Lost Things and State of Happiness, both of which were Longlisted for the Orange Prize. The Room of Lost Things won the Stonewall Writer of the Year 2008, and she won the Stonewall Writer of the Year 2010 for Theodora. She is also the author of the Saz Martin detective series. She has written over 45 short stories, including several for BBC Radio 4, and won the 2002 CWA Short Story Dagger for Martha Grace. Her ten plays include an adaptation of Medea for Steam Industry, and Prime Resident and Immaculate Conceit for the National Youth Theatre (UK). In addition to her writing work she is an actor and theatre director.

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Customer Reviews

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Theodora was an interesting, captivating read.
dianaers
I think that if that does not bother you and you like a good historical fiction book about ancient times, you will find this book to be well worth the read.
AnneB
It's obvious Mrs. Duffy did a very good job researching the historical facts of the time and intermingled them perfectly with the story.
Marcela - The Bookaholic Cat

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Theodora of the Hippodrome, of the brothel, could never have achieved so much if she had not been practical as well as wild." So writes novelist Stella Duffy of Theodora, the daughter of a bear-keeper in sixth-century Constantinople, who rose to become Empress of Byzantium, alongside one of that empire's strongest rulers, Justinian.

Duffy tells the story of how she achieved this improbable feat, born into a world which offered her little choice beyond taking to the stage of the Hippodrome as an acrobat and comedienne renowned, so history tells it, for lewd performances. Offstage, like all actresses of the period, she earned money as a prostitute -- and the most she could hope for was to find someone who would take her on as a mistress for the short term. Then, after her hopes in that direction collapse, she discovers a new direction for herself, both personally and as a public figure.

The Constantinople that Duffy portrays so vividly in this fascinating novel is a world in which ordinary working men and women are prepared to literally come to blows over the pressing theological issues of the day, particularly the precise nature of Christ's divinity. That territory has proven to be a mindfield for other authors, notably Anne Perry, whose The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel was deeply disappointing. Duffy succeeds triumphantly where Perry failed, painting a portrait in words of a woman whose face has come down to us through time in the form of the famous mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. Her Theodora is a pragmatist; hard-headed, ribald and too outspoken for her own good, her challenge to develop judgment, compassion and heart.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By lit-in-the-last-frontier on September 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
In choosing Theodora of Byzantium for her subject, Stella Duffy picked a definite case of truth trumping fiction. Duffy fills her novel with richly depictive discourse, transporting the reader into a world of political intrigue and religious turmoil, a world where the worth and potential of an individual was most often pre-determined by birth.

Born into poverty in a time (mid sixth century) and place (Byzantium) in which women had very few options, Theodora, daughter of a deceased bear trainer, followed a path considered fortunate for one in her situation. She gained renown on stage as an actress, which sounds innocuous enough to our modern sentiments, but in her day actresses, along with singers and dancers, became prostitutes to their audiences after their onstage work was concluded. Ms. Duffy uses this early portion of the novel to display for us the strength of Theodora's resolve to rise above her current status, the culture and chaos of Constantinople, and the squalor from which our heroine succeeds in rising. To understand why Theodora is such an anomaly, and thus why she is to be so greatly admired, one must understand the situation from whence she came.

Disclosing too much of the plot would, I feel, rob readers of some of the narrative pull with which the amazing sequence of events of Theodora's life endows this novel. Once immersed in her tale, it is a difficult book to put down. The story concludes with Theodora's marriage to the emperor Justinian I and her coronation as empress of Byzantium. Initially I was very annoyed by the ending. In order to fully appreciate the transformative nature of this woman and understand the complete measure of her intelligence you must explore her role as Justinian's consort.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Byzantine Empress Theodora (c500-547CE) had an interesting career as an actor and a prostitute before becoming the wife of the Emperor Justinian. This novel by Stella Duffy, based on extensive research and accompanied by an impressive bibliography, is based on Theodora's life from early childhood until just after her marriage to the Emperor Justinian.
The novel opens with the young child Theodora as part of a group being schooled by Menander about the Roman Empire so that they can converse intelligently as well as entertain with poetry, song, dance and acrobatics. Success, for those on the wrong side of the class divide, relies on patronage. The story of Theodora's early life, set amid the religion and politics of the time, is colourful. The young Theodora is a prickly, opportunistic survivor who learns quickly and her growing notoriety is both an asset and a liability.

Theodora moves from prostitution in Constantinople and leaves behind her family to follow her heart by becoming the mistress of a provincial governor. Then, after being betrayed, she flees and after an intense religious conversion in the desert becomes the emissary of Patriarch Timothy.
fiction
I found it hard to warm to the character of Theodora as depicted in this novel. Theodora often appears cold and cynical and this created a barrier between story and reader. I think in part this is a consequence of the complex setting: historical; geographical; religious and political and partly a consequence of knowing some of the history to follow.
If you are interested in this period of history and in the Empress Theodora, this novel is well worth reading. I hope that there will be a sequel .

`Justinian took a wife; and the manner she was born and bred, and wedded to this man, tore up the Roman Empire by the very roots.' (Procopius)

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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