Lucinda Elliot's Reviews > The King Must Die

The King Must Die by Mary Renault
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's review
Jan 15, 13

bookshelves: never-read-again
Recommended to Lucinda by: someone who made a mistake
Recommended for: Nobody, least of all unthinkingly sexist men
Read in November, 2010, read count: once was enough

I previously expressed deep concern about Mary Renault's internalised misogyny in my reviews of Renault's Theseus novels.

While finding them brilliantly researched and evocative, I also considered them to be permeated by scorn for women to the point where I was concerned that the author seemed almost to collude in Theseus various acts of brutality towards women (ie, his contemplated rape of 'Persephone' the matriarchal Queen, his his smugness about his destruction of matriarchy, his brutal threats to his aging father's war prize for snuggling up against him, etc).

However, over on the discussion thread my view was changed by a reasoned and perceptive response from the reviewer Caroline Galwey.

I am now willing to concede that I have previously done Mary Renault some injustice in assuming her attitude towards Theseus to be one of authorial approval. Her portrayal is almost certainly fairly ironic, and whilst in life Renault did not sympathise with women in general and saw herself as an honourary man, she probably did her best in these novels to be more objective than I have previously conceded.

Of course, at that time, the view that the overthrow of matriarchy by patriarchy was an undeniably good thing was universally accepted. Theseus' belief that a society characterised by the rape and oppression of women was infinitely preferable to one where one man voluntarily gave himself over as a bloody sacrifice, would be unquestioned. It is to Renault's credit, in fact, that she was able to portray Theseus' as being finally so brutalised by his patriarchal assumptions.

So, following my discussion with that reviewer I will just say that these books are interesting, brilliantly researched, vivid and evocative; but the reader should be aware that Renault, even though writing within the ethos of her time,
almost certainly did NOT intend Theseus to be seen as a role model, and he is portrayed fairly ironically, if in my opinion, with a little too much admiration.

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