Extract

A Knight to Remember

There are times, reading this assured biography of Sir Steven Runciman, when one’s attention swerves from the life and times of the great Byzantinist to focus on his biographer. Who is the young Proteus of research, balanced judgment and feline wit? Runciman was famously a stylist; so is Minoo Dinshaw. Historian, gossip and queer, Runciman was a mine of anecdote, much unprintable and often dealing with crowned heads (having encountered the Almanach de Gotha early in life, he never let it go). Dinshaw can certainly keep up, memorialising the relationship between Bloomsbury members as deftly as he analyses an academic manoeuvre or the thrust of a istorical argument. But of him we are told nothing: only that he lives in London, and that this is his first book. His picture makes him look terribly young.

Runciman, who died in 2000 aged 97, remained at some level a boy himself, mischievous and as full of wheezes when he was helicoptered into Athos for a last hurrah as when he and a sister developed a complete religion, equipped with rites and the contents of a dressing-up box, in the gloomy family seat at Doxford before the First World War.

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