The Purple Shroud

The Purple Shroud

A Novel of Empress Theodora

Written by:

  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101603734
  • 416 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy’s chronicle of this amazing woman’s early years, delighted readers with its exquisite blend of historical detail and vivid storytelling. Now, The Purple Shroud chronicles Theodora at the height of her power, bringing the ancient world alive in another unforgettable, epic saga.

Theodora and Justinian have been crowned Emperor and Empress, but ruling an empire is no easy task. The two factions of Christianity are still battling for dogmatic supremacy, the Empire’s borders are not secure, and Theodora worries about the ambitions of Justinian’s two best generals. But the most pressing concern is close to home: Constantinople’s two factions, the Blues and the Greens, are beginning to unite in their unhappiness with rising taxes. When that unhappiness spills over into all-out violence, thousands are killed (including someone very close to Theodora) and many of the City’s landmarks are destroyed, including Theodora’s beloved Hagia Sophia. In the aftermath of the riots, Theodora guides Justinian in gaining back the love and trust of the people, her unerring instinct for what the people want proving invaluable. Justinian promises to rebuild the Hagia Sophia to be even more spectacular than before. Theodora comes to realize that being the Augusta is simply another role she must play, though the stakes are much higher and there is no offstage. It’s a role she was born to play.


“Even better than the first book, Duffy’s portrayal of a former actress’s extraordinary rise to power is riveting.” – Library Journal

Praise for Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore:

"Theodora is a best-of-all-worlds bookentertaining, 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
"In Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy’s brilliantly organized imagination has re-imagined one of the most resourceful, smart, and emotionally complex woman in history, creating a woman remarkably relevant to the 21st century: a rags-to-riches story of survival and achievement—a feminist reality tale we can all relate to. Read this book. It is a gift from Stella Duffy we should not refuse." —LAMBDA Literary Review"Lively and dramatic. Duffy explores themes of sexuality, theater, religious conversion, female oppression, and the struggle for power and recognition in a sixth-century historical setting with a surprisingly contemporary attitude." Library Journal"Duffy’s seductive retelling of the story of the legendary empress Theodora will delight historical fiction fans. . . . a portrait of a woman who rose from misfortune and poverty to build an empire alongside a devoted husband." —Publishers Weekly"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, author of The Little Stranger

Fantastic praise from the UK: "Stella Duffy’s first historical novel will set a benchmark for others to aim for. Her story of Theodora’s rise from dancing girl and whore to Empress of Constantinople is a delight in all ways . . . magical, moving and inspiring in one, this is easily Duffy’s best novel to dateand that’s setting the bar pretty high." —Manda Scott, author of the Boudica series"Not only is Theodora herself engagingly brought to life as a sassy, wise-cracking tart with a heart, but Constantinople, the great imperial capital whose crowds she woos and seduces, is also a pulsingly vivid presence." The Guardian"It boasts a heroine to rival Becky Sharp or Moll Flanders." The London Evening Standard"A bravura performance: a witty, moving, sexy book that bursts with as much colour and excitement as the city of Constantinople itself . . . This is a book that engages with big ideas about religion spirituality and the role of women and yet it is also a joyous and energetic read.  The pace is brisk, the dialogue is earthy and contemporary and Duffy is wonderful on the theatre and its backstage rivalries.  Throughout it all Constantinople is the star, and its rich smells, bustling streets and handsome buildings are beautifully evoked." —Kate Williams, Financial Times (UK)"Theodora, the sixth-century actress/whore who became Justinian’s empress (not to mention pioneer feminist and Orthodox saint) is exquisitely summoned by Duffy . . . This is a story rich in colour, texture and taste, told in a fleet-footed narrative." The Telegraph (UK)"Duffy proves herself equal to the grand scope of her tale." Metro London"Duffy succeeds brilliantly in breathing life into her proto-feminist heroine and rescuing her from relative obscurity."  —Mail on Sunday"Duffy has carefully followed the history of this woman, but has achieved something much more: the creation for her heroine of a real inner life, which is the most affecting achievement of a historical novel." —Jane Jakeman, The Independent (UK)
"A compelling, and at times racy, historical novel with its portrait of a remarkable woman." —Justin Warshaw, The Times Literary Supplement