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How to be a queen

David Carpenter: She-Wolves

15 December 2011
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth 
by Helen Castor.
Faber, 474 pp., £9.99, July 2011, 978 0 571 23706 7
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... Helen Castor describes She-Wolves as ‘an attempt to write the kind of book I loved to read before history became my profession as well as my pleasure. It is about people, and about power. It is a work of storytelling, of biographical narrative rather than theory or cross-cultural comparison.’ At the heart of the book are accounts of the careers of four women who ‘ruled England before Elizabeth ...

Family Fortunes

Helen Cooper: The upwardly mobile Pastons

4 August 2005
Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the 15th Century 
by Helen Castor.
Faber, 347 pp., £8.99, June 2005, 0 571 21671 4
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... So violent and motley was life that it bore the mixed smell of blood and of roses.’ Helen Castor quotes Johan Huizinga’s description of the waning of the Middle Ages at the very end of her book, with something approaching a denial of its relevance to her own account of the same period. ‘Blood and roses’ suggests violence and sex – or at least violence and sentimentality ...

Did she go willingly?

Marina Warner: Helen of Troy

7 October 2010
Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood 
by Laurie Maguire.
Wiley-Blackwell, 280 pp., £55, April 2009, 978 1 4051 2634 2
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... with a political agenda. Homer could assume that his audience knew the outline of the myth of Helen of Troy, and that in consequence he didn’t need to lay it all out. But perhaps there never was a consistent and complete version of any myth, one that you could walk all the way around and find that everything matched and agreed from every angle. In the ...

No One Left to Kill

Thomas Jones: Achilles

24 May 2001
Achilles 
by Elizabeth Cook.
Methuen, 116 pp., £12.99, March 2001, 0 413 75740 4
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... arrow that pierces his heel. After the funeral, the fall of Troy – which Cook tells mostly from Helen’s point of view. When Yeats wrote, in ‘Leda and the Swan’, ‘A shudder in the loins engenders there/The broken wall, the burning roof and tower/ And Agamemnon dead,’ he was thinking as much of Clytemnestra as of ...

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