LeGuin, Ursula. Lavinia.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

LeGuin was best known, of course, for her innovative, highly intelligent science fiction, but she also produced some very poetic historical fiction. The classics aren’t taught any longer, so not many younger readers will ever have heard of Virgil or the Aeneid, but that’s the subject of her last novel.

Lavinia was a minor character, the daughter of the king of Latium, just south of where Rome would one day rise, and she became the last wife of Aeneas, leader of the refugees fleeing the Mycenaen sack of Troy. (The narrative follows her from girlhood to marriageable age, when her hand is greatly sought after by the younger aristocrats in the area, but she knows she’s destined to marry a stranger.) She spends time in the holy places in the forest, as a king’s daughter was expected to do, and while sleeping one night on the fleeces of the sacrificial lambs, she has a vision of the dying Virgil from a thousand years in the future. He tells her the story of Troy and its fall, and of how Aeneas escaped and wandered the world until finally coming to Latium. So when that does indeed happen, she knows exactly who that man is in the prow of the leading ship. There are periods of war and a great deal of political maneuvering (the detailing of which LeGuin always excels at), and Lavinia does what she can to see that the future happens she way she believes it’s supposed to. The narrative and the pace are rather slow and deliberate in style, almost stately. It reminds me of Mary Renault’s historical fiction. This is not galloping adventure but a thoughtful exploration of the feeling of the pre-classical world, especailly outside Greece. Take your time and let it seep into you.

Published in: on 20 August 2019 at 4:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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