Mary Beard: 'I will never sell Germaine Greer down the river'

The classicist and television presenter speaks to 'Books of My Life' about her childhood reading habits, 'Jane Eyre' and why she'll always defend Germaine Greer

When I tell people about the guests on Books of My Life, it is Mary Beard that seems to elicit the most excited response. The Classics professor, author and presenter attracts a particular type of devotion among her fans. And although Beard has a certain no-nonsense British manner, her appeal extends far beyond her home shores.

We recorded this episode of Books of My Life earlier this year at the Jaipur Literature Festival, where Beard's 2017 book Women & Power: A Manifesto was in high demand, with queues snaking out of the bookshop for a signed copy.

But for all her success, Beard doesn't appear to have changed a jot. She was great company, meandering from her childhood reading habits ("I do remember being hooked by a not particularly well known tale by Beatrix Potter, the Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit"), to a staunch defence of Germaine Greer.

What was most surprising, though, was how late Beard first encountered texts such as Homer's The Odyssey and Virgil's The Aeneid. Rather than immersing herself in the Classical world as a teenager, it turns out she was devouring encyclopaedias instead. "I was an avid reader of non-fiction," she says. "Give me an encyclopaedia and I would read articles about all kinds of things. There was a pleasure in the written word telling you things about how the world was and had been."

It was a joy to sit down with Mary Beard for this episode of Books of My Life. I hope her devoted following find out something new about the literary life of this pied piper of the Classics.

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