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Lavinia Hardcover – April 21, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the Aeneid, the only notable lines Virgil devotes to Aeneas' second wife, Lavinia, concern an omen: the day before Aeneus lands in Latinum, Lavinia's hair is veiled by a ghost fire, presaging war. Le Guin's masterful novel gives a voice to Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, who rule Latinum in the era before the founding of Rome. Amata lost her sons to a childhood sickness and has since become slightly mad. She is fixated on marrying Lavinia to Amata's nephew, Turnus, the king of neighboring Rutuli. It's a good match, and Turnus is handsome, but Lavinia is reluctant. Following the words of an oracle, King Latinus announces that Lavinia will marry Aeneas, a newly landed stranger from Troy; the news provokes Amata, the farmers of Latinum, and Turnus, who starts a civil war. Le Guin is famous for creating alternative worlds (as in Left Hand of Darkness), and she approaches Lavinia's world, from which Western civilization took its course, as unique and strange as any fantasy. It's a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves's I, Claudius. (Apr.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This novel takes a minor character from Vergil's Aeneid and creates a thoughtful, moving tale of prophecy, myth, and self-fulfillment. Lavinia is the teen princess of Latium, a small but important kingdom in pre-Roman Italy. As she moves into womanhood, she feels pressure from her parents to choose one of her many suitors as both her husband and the future ruler of the kingdom. But the oracles of the sacred springs say she will marry an unknown foreigner. This stranger is none other than Vergil's Aeneus, proud hero, king without a country, and the man who will lay down the foundations of the Roman Empire. Their marriage sparks a war to control the region; while readers don't see the glorious battles, they do get the surprisingly moving perspective of the home front through Lavinia's eyes. Best known for her works of fantasy, Le Guin takes a more historical approach here by toning down the magical elements; gods and prophecies have a vital role in the protagonist's life, but they are presented as concepts and rituals, not as deities playing petty games with the lives of mortals. This shifts the focus of Vergil's plot from action to character, allowing Le Guin to breathe life into a character who never utters a word in the original story. Lavinia is quite compelling as she transforms from a spirited princess into a queen full of wisdom who makes a profound impact on her people. The author's language and style are complex, making this a title for sophisticated teens.—Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014248
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014248
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Susan Shwartz on April 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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I read about Le Guin's adaption of the second 6 books of the Aeneid in last Saturday's WSJ's Arts Section. She prepared by reading the entire epic in Latin.

This book is even more spare, more austere than most of her work, but it is not self-conscious or self-gratulatory about it. She has caught the "Old Roman" voice and understands the almost untranslatable words "pietas" and "nefas."

No English words do these concepts of moral and civic virtue as opposed to unspeakable wrong justice, and Le Guin both knows this and presents them as the ongoing moral struggles and examples they represent. She has also placed herself firmly in the grand tradition in which, Vergil, Dante's "il miglior fabbro" (sp) appears to her (and to her protagonist, the Italian princess who marries Aeneas) and explains, as he is floating in and out of life, what he was trying to do with his vision, in tribute to and in conflict with Augustus in a very different city indeed.

In the end, character enters into dialogue with poet: creator and created benefit from the experience. Because, as Lavinia says with no resentment, Vergil has failed to "breathe sufficient life" into her (she has not a single word of dialogue in the poem), she has not life enough to die like Dido (who really is an operatic character), but lives on, a quiet, eloquent voice of an intregrity that Rome lost, but never ceased to value.

Le Guin's prose is very different from the clangor of the dactylic hexameter epic line. It is brilliant, bravura, meant for battle and great deeds; Lavinia's quiet prose describes daily wonders and is wrought out of her service of her city, her family, and her altars -- a different sort of vocabulary, indeed. Both possess their own strengths.

And Le Guin now joins the artists who, in the Middle Ages, wrote within the Matter of Antiquity, which was, as a twelfth-century Frenchman said, wise.

He was right.
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Format: Hardcover
At what is undeniably the height of her writing prowess, Ursula K. Le Guin brings us a novel of incredible richness and depth. As example I offer this: It is the only book I have read that contains a self-aware character. Lavinia sees herself as a character, brought into being by Virgil's poem and given immortality by her scant share of it. "I am contingent," she tells us early on, perhaps meaning that her being is dependent upon Virgil who will be born many centuries in her future.

What emerges under Le Guin's careful stewardship of this fragile being, brought into existence by a passing remark of a poet, is a rich landscape of simple country life. Along with Lavinia we experience the joys and comfort of simple rituals, offerings to household gods and the spinning of wool. We witness the arrival of a great hero as foretold by ancient oracles. As treaties are made and broken we endure the horror of war and then watch with pondering inevitability as the happiness of marriage swiftly becomes the tragedy of a widow and the squandering of a husband's dream.

We are redeemed in the end by Lavinia's immortality and by, again, the inevitability of history. Rome is founded. Virgil writes his epic. Lavinia is given life.

With her skill, Le Guin does more than expand upon the immortal life that Virgil granted to Lavinia, she draws us into that life. Lavinia speaks to us across the centuries, but through Le Guin's work, we also wander the wooded hills of ancient Latinum.

There is depth to this work that I think I will only discover upon re-reading it. And then there are depths that I think I will only discover after re-reading the Aenied.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the by far the best book I have read so far in 2008. It has lovely prose, and filled with intelligent writing and levels upon levels of meaning.

LeGuin is clearly inspired by the classic The Aeneid: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editio).

She tells the story of Aeneas and the Trojans coming to Italy through the point of view of the native Latin people, particularly through the eyes of their kind and intelligent princess, Lavinia, destined to become the second wife of the Trojan prince and leader Aeneas, and the mother of Rome.

The events of this story can be interpreted as a tragedy to the Latins - armed strangers come to their country, a war immediately breaks out, the leader of the strangers marries their princess (the only surviving child of their king), and their culture and destiny are changed forever. The Latins living through these happenings certainly do not realize that these events will someday lead to the Roman Empire.

Particularly well done (in a marvelously well written book) are the explorations of the relationship between creator and character - as in the scenes when Lavinia goes to the sacred springs of her family and receives visions of the poet Virgil. She is his character; he her creator. They are being granted visions of each other, separated as they are through hundreds of years and layers of myths and legend. Does he change reality to better fit his artistic visions? Who effects whom more - Lavinia or Virgil? Which comes first - character or creator?
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