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

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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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 What The Dead Know

"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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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 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,583,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was looking for some good HF about Theodora, Empress of Constantinople and wife to Emperor Justinian, and will need to keep looking. I had some scanty background about Theodora, namely the fact of her rise from performing in pornographic acrobatic acts to becoming the Augusta of the realm and thought the story of her life should be a pretty intriguing read. Author Duffy flatly disclaims any historical "legitimacy" here and terms her book strictly a novel. From what I have read elsewhere, she actually does stick pretty closely to the known facts of Theodora's life. But the novel itself is quite a humdrum retelling of that life, fictionalized or otherwise. When the reader feels little connection with the main character, it's a pretty sure bet the author has not achieved a satisfying portrayal. For such a racy biographical starting point, and the liner notes promising "exotic sex," nothing of the kind is offered here. What is given is a surprisingly uninteresting saga of T's rise from the streets to the palace. A big problem for me is the author's style which includes many anachronistic phrases such as "she didn't want to screw it up" which simply removes me from the Byzantine world of the 500s. More disappointing, the one "real life" episode about her life that I know of are the Nika riots where Justinian wanted to flee but Theodora talked him out of it, insisting they stick around and tough it out. That episode happens after this book ends, which seems like a pretty large omission as, but for Theodora, Justinian's reign, which lasted until after Theodora's death, would have ended right there and then. I read lots of HF and this one simply doesn't measure up.
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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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There are sections of the novel that are unduly prolonged. The author does make clear that the book is fiction, not history, however, it has many of the characteristics of a boring biography. I thought that overall, the novel was quite "flat", lacking the vivacity and color that would have brought it to life. In terms of sensuality it also does not deliver. I would have given a rating of two stars, except for the fact that the author had a difficult task. She had few facts to work with as a framework. Disappointing nonetheless.
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Format: Paperback
I didn't know anything about Theodora before so I went in with a clean slate. This book is more like a biography with a little bit of story telling mixed it. I felt like I walked away with a great deal of knowledge about her. The author did a huge deal of research for this story. There was a lot of attention to detail and one can appreciate how much work the author put into writing this whether you like the book or not.

The story starts off with Theodora at a young age preforming on stage with her mother and two sisters. The story follows her as she ages and her life changes. You get to see how hard times were back then and how much people change when they are forced into this business.
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By Miss Bonnie on February 5, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore tells the story of Theodora, before and after she became one of the most powerful women in the Byzantine Empire's history. The novel touches briefly on her adolescent years and how it began by the age of 5 when her mother offered up her and two other sisters as supporters to the Blue faction.

Theodora was a strong thinking and willful woman in a time when this was far from acceptable. Theodora's status was well known as an 'actress' when during these times being an 'actress' meant you were unable to marry and you were also unable to own property. During her relationship with Hecebolus she was his mistress, but nothing more. She did everything a typical wife would be expected to do, she just lacked title. This is when Theodora began her search for a priest or bishop who would be able to take her case to a higher court in order to have her sins absolved and to have the laws changed for her to be able to marry. She ends up being betrayed by her lady's maid and friend, Chrysomallo, when she becomes Hecebolus's lover and ends up with child. Theodora is forced to leave and learn to survive on her own using the only tool she knows; her body. The story continues with Theodora being introduced to Justinian and the path being paved to her becoming the future Empress.

This book is not a biography or a memoir, it is a historical fiction novel, and because of this I think I was expecting a little bit more from this. The author clearly did her research on the life of Theodora, but considering the fact that she was able to take artistic license with the subject, in the end it didn't seem like she reached the potential the story could have had. In the end the story read like a biography and just told Theodora's story rather than showing the life of Theodora and what made her the powerful woman she was known to be. I really didn't care for Theodora all that much in this story; the character and overall story was definitely lacking.
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