The Private Life of Helen of Troy, trophy wife

Menelaos was understandably upset after Paris violated the sacred laws of hospitality by running off with his wife, Helen.

The Private Life of Helen of Troy

by John Erskine

Bobbs-Merrill, 1925. 304 p. 1926 bestseller #1. My Grade: B.

Menelaos and his pals followed Paris to Troy, hell-bent on revenge. After a 20-year siege, they sacked the city.

Helen was still so beautiful Menelaos couldn’t bear to kill her.

All that happens before John Erskine’s story begins.

In The Private Life of Helen of Troy, Erskine explores what happens when this beautiful and maddeningly frank woman is back under her husband’s roof again.

Daughter Hermione, age 1 when Helen ran off with her lover, wants to marry her double-cousin Orestes.

The parents quarrel over what’s best for their child, forgetting that Hermione is no longer a child.

Meanwhile Orestes mother, who is Helen’s sister, murders his father, who is Menelaos’ brother.

Orestes and his sister murder their mother and her lover to avenge their father.

Hermione marries Orestes, leaving her parents to figure out what their attitude to the newlyweds will be.

All the sex and violence is off stage.

Erskine’s interest is not in what happens but in how people react.

Erskine makes Helen and Menelaos come alive—a remarkable feat since these people don’t do anything but talk about what they did years before.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

2 thoughts on “The Private Life of Helen of Troy, trophy wife”

  1. I am 78 now, and began a long affection for the Iliad and the Odyssey as a child. Other treatments of the subject – Tennyson’s “Ulysses;” Kazantsikis’ “The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel;” and Erskine’s “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” all contribute to my enjoyment. I wish there were a complete print somewhere of the film made from that last version. [Purported versions claim to be available on questionable web sites that do mischief to one’s computer.]

    Of course, statuesque Rosanna Podesta and green-eyed Jacques Cernas were well matched as Helen and Paris in the 1950s version “Helen of Troy.”

    One side note is the inconsistency of translations in the use of the term god/God/gods. Enjoy!

    Jon Cristofer Miller


    1. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and your knowledge.

      I have avoided dipping into film versions of the novels as I’ve been reading, but as I’m getting close to the end of my self-appointed task of reviewing all the bestsellers of 1900-1969, I’m looking forward to viewing some of the film versions readers such as yourself recommended.


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