November 3, 2011

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy: Blogher Book Club

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In times where political candidates try to outshine the other guy with their claims of purity, it's hard to imagine a world leader not just admitting to a scandalous sexual past but never apologizing for it. This is Theodora of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy.

Theodora eventually becomes Empress of the Roman Empire but her beginnings were not only humble, they were brutal. Theodora is basically sold by her mother to a dancing master after her father is mauled to death by his trained bear when she's just 6 years old. After years of excruciating training, she's then sold to a another company/brothel. She's not even thirteen. From here she sets out to carve her own path in life. She gains fame as a top notch performer, on stage and in the bedroom, before travelling to Africa with a Roman soldier. Things don't go so well and she ends up on the run in Egypt. It is here Theodora undergoes a spiritual change, finally finding herself and God. Although she wished to discard a life of selling her body, she is about to be used by men in a very different way. 

Theodora is a fascinating, often contradictory, character. I know very little about the real Theodora, although it seems that no one knows the truth about her anyway. There is much propaganda written about her and depending on what side the writer is on she's either a saint or a sinner. Stella Duffy portrays her as a fallible human being with a keen instinct for survival. She finds her salvation in the desert but isn't foolish enough to think the world has changed. Men are still men, and pursue their ambitions as ruthlessly as ever.

Stella Duffy did an excellent job of creating a character the reader can root for. She's a rags to riches gal. Part of her appeal for the people of Constantinople is that she is one of them. She knows like no one else what it means to live hand to mouth. I mentioned the word brutal and much of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is brutal. Selling a child into slavery isn't pretty and Theodora endures abuse from just about everyone. Since Theodora starts off the book having sex with nearly anyone, it's no surprise that those 
occasions in the book are treated as almost routine. It's just the way it is. This might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Although I enjoyed Theodora as a strong female character, I found it easy to put down, especially after Theodora returns to Constantinople. The book becomes much more political and slowed down a lot for me. Still, I feel like I want to know more about Theodora now!

Recommended
Did you know?

November 14 is the Eastern Orthodox Church's Saint's Day for Justinian and Theodora.
Throughout November Blogher Book Club will host discussions about Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore. Please join us there for more about this book.

*This is a Blogher sponsored review. Opinions expressed are my own.

Ratings:

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7 comments :

  1. I am always down for the Byzantine empire. For reals, we only got a week of it in school and I would have liked much longer. Is this fiction or non-fiction?

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  2. This sounds like something I could really love. And it's a Virago, which is always a plus!

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  3. I featured this one as one of my Wednesday wishes. I think I might want to read it ! Thanks for your review!

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  4. I am rather curious about this book. I will have to add it to the wish list. :)

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  5. I have wanted to read more about the Empress Theodora, but I'm not sure if this is the proper book for me to do that. I think I'd probably prefer more of the political goings-on that came later to the earlier life story.

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  7. April- Oops, sorry, it's fiction. I should write that in.

    Nymeth & Anarchronist- Hope you like it!

    Aarti- It's a bit Phillipa Gregory at times.

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