Anna Comnena is described as the first female historian, the author of her father's celebratory biography. She was an educated princess in eleventh-century Constantinople, the daughter of the Emperor Alexius. She was expected to succeed him, and raised as heir, but her hopes were dashed by the birth of a younger brother. In what is over-modestly described as a biography, Naomi Mitchison combines her story with that of her father, and the whole civilisation of the Eastern Empire, indeed the whole known world of the time. The Eastern Empire is seen as a necessary bulwark between a young and promising Europe and the perils of Islam and wild tribes in Asia. Mitchison also warns her readership of the perils of a dead civilisation, and writing in 1928 she poses a challenge to the direction of Europe in these perilous postwar years. Thwarted ambition at last drove Anna to attempt to kill her brother, who, says Mitchison, went on to be one of the best of Emperors. Isobel Murray is Emeritus Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of Aberdeen.
Naomi Mitchison [1897-1999] was a literary phenomenon. Tireless in her writing, and unafraid and often highly unconventional in her opinions, she left an extraordinary legacy. There are novels for adults and children, based on the classical ancient world, and on the immediately contemporary, stressing at different times her deep interest in Scottish and African societies, and her concerns for the future. She also wrote poetry and plays, memoirs, a war diary, political articles and reviews, and non-fiction - dealing with issues as different as birth control, North Sea Oil and GM crops.
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