Breaking out and speaking: Old myths and narrative tensions in Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia
Breaking Out and Speaking: Old Myths and Narrative Tensions in Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia1
Women cannot write—using old myths. But using new ones—?
Joanna Russ, To Write Like a Woman
In recent years there have appeared numerous novels by women writers which offer retellings of the grand narratives of our culture or of some perennial works of European literature. In these novels a well-known story is related through the eyes of a previously marginalised female character who is either the subject of focalisation or “breaks her silence” in order to show the woman’s true experience in a patriarchal society as well as her place in the literature written by men. Suffice it to mention The Red Tent (1997), Anita Diamant’s much acclaimed and best-selling midrash version of the biblical story of Jacob and his wives, told from the perspective of his only daughter Dinah. Or Jenny Diski’s Only Human. A Comedy (2000), which centres on Sarah, Abraham’s wife, caught in a love triangle with the only God, struggling for her husband’s heart and the control of both her destiny and her narrative. Another strand of female recyclings comprises mythological narratives, probably most famously exemplified by Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2005), a feminist retake on Homer’s Odyssey which explores the combined issues ← 221 | 222 → of gender and story-telling2. Such works testify to the exploration of the literary tradition by female writers in search of lacunae, i.e. missing elements, whose reconstruction...
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