Mary Renault

Mary Renault is the author of many historical novels, of which the latest is The Praise Singer. She lives in Cape Town.

Alexander the Greatest

Mary Renault, 4 June 1981

Ever since his death in mid-career, Alexander has been projecting from his undiscovered tomb the powerful presence he exercised in life. To those around him, his magnetism was not mysterious: it was a natural phenomenon with which they lived. Once his contemporaries were dead, it became a legend: something transcending his recorded acts, and a receptacle for every kind of fantasy. He was adopted and adapted by every civilisation he contacted in his lifetime, and by later ones of whose existence he never dreamed: he was taken up by medieval romances as a parfit gentil knight, by Renaissance painters as a grandiose operatic soprano, by William Woodthorpe Tarn as an English gentleman. More recently, he has offered a banquet to fashionable reductionists, who know by instinct that anyone widely admired and honoured must be rotten at the core, and has been presented as a kind of catch-all fascist by committed thinkers who can believe without trouble that Jesus Christ was a freedom-fighting guerrilla. Some of these trials have recalled irresistibly ‘Rex v. Knave of Hearts’ in Alice: ‘Sentence first, verdict afterwards.’ We have here, however, two jurors who have considered their verdict.

Living for ever

Mary Renault, 18 September 1980

‘But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnising Nativities and Deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature.’ Thus the good Sir Thomas Browne, meditating on urns, and on mankind’s dealings with the last mystery.

New Mortality

John Harvey, 5 November 1981

One of the genuinely eerie moments in the recent huge and hollow film about a huge and hollow hotel, The Shining, comes in the late shot where we get a glimpse inside one of the rooms that should...

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