Ariela's Reviews > Lavinia

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Aug 17, 2009

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In Roman mythology Lavinia was the daughter of Latinus and Amata. Her hand was promised to a regional king named Turnus, but when Aeneas arrived following the battle of Troy her father decided to marry Lavinia to Aeneas instead. A great battle between Turnus and Aeneas resulted, which is described in the last chapter of Virgil’s Aeneid. Although Aeneas’ eventual marriage to Lavinia founded the Roman race, not much is said about her in Virgil’s story, and this oversight inspired author Ursula K. Le Guin to write a book about Lavinia’s life. “Like Spartan Helen, I caused a war,” the character Lavinia writes, “She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn’t be taken, but chose my man and my fate.”

The novel begins shortly before Aeneas arrives on Latinus’ shores, with Lavinia coming of age and suitors around the country vying for her hand. Lavinia is barely in her mid teens, and she struggles to reconcile herself to all of the attention – all she wants is to remain at home, forever her father’s daughter and a young girl at heart. Then, after Lavinia receives a vision from an oracle, Latinus decides to marry her to Aeneas. The ensuing power struggle between this foreign man and the people of Latinum makes for a page turner of a story.

The end of Lavinia’s tale is likewise engaging, but I gave the book 3 stars because the middle of the novel left something to be desired. For the most part it described Lavinia’s everyday life and thoughts, and I felt like I would have gotten as much out of two pages of description as I did from the 20+ that were given. I also disliked how Lavinia seems aware of her fictional nature – she often talks about the poet, Virgil, and how she can never truly die because she exists in his poem. “No doubt someone with my name, Lavinia, did exist,” she muses, “but she may have been so different from my own idea of myself, or my poet’s idea of me, that it only confuses me to think about her.” This aspect of the story confused me too, and my experience of the book would have been much improved if Le Guin had not introduced this relationship between Lavinia and the poet who wrote about her.

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