Ursula Le Guin
In her novel Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin takes the character of Lavinia who gets little more than a tertiary mention in Virgil’s Aeneid, and provides her with voice, character, and background. The novel is in the first person point of view with Lavinia speaking directly to the reader. She describes her childhood, upbringing, meeting with and subsequent marriage to Aeneas, the birth of their son, Aeneas’ death, and her son’s rise to power.
Lavinia is portrayed as a strong woman determined to fulfill her obligations as the daughter of a king, later as the wife of a king, and later still as the mother of a king. The love she feels for Aeneas and he for her seems genuine and touching. She converses with Virgil’s spirit, learning what the future holds in store for her and her progeny. She is curiously aware of her status as the poet’s creation and is not shy of telling the reader Virgil neglected some of the relevant details in her story and was mistaken in others.
Le Guin takes us to areas where Virgil never ventured. She expands on his vision by presenting the untold part of the story. Through her vivid and meticulous description of the rituals, ceremonies, and oracles, coupled with the daily routines of domestic life at the time, Le Guin creates a world that hovers on the borderline between myth and history. Her novel has a haunting quality that makes the mythic appear real. Her believable evocation of a different time and a different place, grounded as it appears to be in thorough research, is what I most enjoyed about the novel. That and the obvious fact she is such an incredible writer.