Review of Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia


Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one who does not enjoy science fiction, I didn’t think I would ever read Ursula Le Guin. However, she decided to apply her talents at world-building to bring to life Aeneas’ wife Lavinia and pre-Roman Italy, and gave me an opportunity to experience all that makes her Le Guin. Lavinia has a very minor part in The Aeneid, but as Le Guin cleverly plays upon the literary present, Lavinia still exists and can tell her story. Lavinia is a princess fated to marry the warrior Aeneas and she must follow the standards for such a woman, but since she also lives in pagan times, she must follow the will of her gods. These two goals are brought into conflict, and her life is guided by piety, meaning responsibility beyond oneself. Living piously does not guarantee an easy life; guided by the poet Vergil, Lavinia’s decision to reject all of her suitors in favor of a foreign warrior leads to war and bloodshed as her suitors feel betrayed by her. While this novel is about female strength, it also just as much about what it means to be a pious man. Le Guin’s Aeneas is an answer to toxic masculinity; he is the embodiment of how to be a strong warrior merciless in battle, but also be tender, loving, and circumspect with the ability to set aside his ego when things do not go his way.

I really enjoyed this novel, and I really liked Lavinia herself. She feels very human as she tries to live both in her society and beyond it.

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