The unexpurgated story of Theodora, performer and prostitute in Roman Constantinople, destined to rise above her hardscrabble life to become the Emperor’s wife. The book is being for HBO.
British novelist Duffy (State of Happiness, 2004) uses modern vocabulary to enliven her historical novel— “bitch,” “slut,” “bloke” and worse pepper the pages as she recounts the lurid life of the bear-keeper’s daughter trained for the stage from age five. A quick mind, a bold spirit, innate talent and a merciless teacher render Theodora a star by age 12 when she also starts work as a whore. At 17, bored but ambitious, she leaves Constantinople with her lover Hecebolus, the new Governor of the Pentapolis in Africa, but that relationship ends when Hecebolus takes another lover. Desperate to return to Constantinople, Theodora pretends to be a penitent Christian for the chance of a voyage home. This role, begun cynically, later turns sincere, and she agrees to work undercover for the church. Back in Constantinople she is introduced to Justinian, the Emperor’s favorite nephew, who likes her so much he changes the law forbidding actresses to marry in order to wed her. Now the stage is set for Theodora’s legitimization, first as wife, next as the Emperor’s consort. A sequel is rumored.
Although heavy on the sex and sensationalism, there’s also intelligence and empathy under the energetic potboiler surface.