Tuesday, July 16, 2013
By: Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia is a retelling of Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid. The story is told from the point of view of Lavinia, the native Latin princess whom the Trojan Aeneas marries, but who does not speak a word in the Aeneid. What's interesting about the book is that it doesn't cast Lavinia as a victim, but as an active protagonist.
As daughter of the king, Lavinia plays a central role in the city's religious devotions. Therefore, she's something of a paradox: “a powerless girl yet one who could speak for them to the great powers, a mere token for political barter yet also a sign of what was of true value to us all.” Lavinia is about the power of the seemingly powerless.
Le Guin also emphasizes the traits that separate Aeneas from the other heroes of the Trojan War. Aeneas is portrayed as a modest man who is conflicted over his violent actions in the Aeneid, and who strives to maintain peace during his reign as king.
The poet Virgil shows up as a character in an amusing episode: while lying in a state of delirium on his deathbed, he travels out of his body (and through time) as a “wraith” and meets Lavinia. As they talk, she tells him what he got wrong in his poem, but it's too late for him to make the corrections.
As usual, Le Guin immerses the reader in the world she writes about, and the world itself forces you to confront large philosophical ideas. This time, it's a (well-researched) imagined past rather than an imagined future. This book is a fine example of how Le Guin's writing deals with timeless issues “of what is of true value to us all.”
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