It takes three books to officially make it a theme, yeah? Amazon pushed Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia at me after I finished Song of Achilles and Circe, and it fit perfectly in my left-side-takes-on-mythology streak. LeGuin plucks Lavinia, the last wife of Trojan refugee Aeneas, from a single mention in Virgil’s poem and crafts a world around her. In her hands, Lavinia comes alive as a beloved daughter of a beloved king who marries a foreigner and becomes a mother of Rome.
Lavinia comes of age in a world that is about to change. When she comes of age to be married, she struggles against the fervent wishes of her distant mother to marry a cousin. Driven by hints from the spirit of Virgil (traveled from the future… just go with it), Lavinia knows that her destiny lies elsewhere and she employs every trick she has at hand to leave room for it. She eventually finds her happiness, but, as is the way of things, it is short-lived.
What is left after a death? Everything else. The sun a man saw rise goes down though he does not see it set. A woman sits down to the weaving another woman left in the loom.
LeGuin crafts a quiet and meditative tale here. The writing is lovely, but nothing much happens. For all that the story is told from her perspective, Lavinia is difficult to grasp. Working from limited source material, LeGuin creates the character of whole cloth but Lavinia never really manages to become more than a bridge between the ancient Italy and the beginnings of Rome. To some extent, I think that’s fine; not every woman in history has to have been an under-appreciated pivotal figure. But coming on the heels of the heavy emotional punch of the endings of Miller’s works, the ending here was unsatisfying.