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Did Odysseus Have a Daughter? Why Not? October 7, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Uncategorized.
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Please welcome Laurel Corona, author of Penelope’s Daughter.  Check out her reasons for “messing with” one of Homer’s epics and her thoughts on the absence of realistic women in these kinds of stories.  Then read on for the chance to win a copy of her book  for yourself!

Recently a number of authors have spun off new novels from classics, focusing on secondary characters or imagining what happened later to a much beloved one.  This is fun idea, because I think everyone who falls in love with a book doesn’t want it to end.

In the case of a work everyone knows was fiction to begin with, like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, it’s easy to go with the flow. Elizabeth Bennet and Jane were inventions, so why can’t their stories continue? I frequently get asked what happened next to Chiaretta, one of the sisters in my book, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice.  It’s always struck me as a strange question, because how would I know?  Really the reader’s answer is as good as mine, and I always say I view Chiaretta as someone I used to know whom I now have lost track of.

For that reason, my partner’s reaction to my idea for a novel based on the Odyssey struck me as odd. “What do you think about Penelope being pregnant with a daughter when Odysseus goes off to the Trojan War,” I asked, “a daughter he doesn’t even know exists?”

“You can’t mess with Homer!” he replied.

“Why not?” I asked.  I realize now, although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, that he and many others see Homer’s work as history–at least on a basic level, despite all the monsters and gods. If Odysseus really existed, I couldn’t just go around adding people to his family, because I had an obligation to the essential facts of the story.

I see my partner’s point, although I was always inclined to see the story of the Odyssey as fiction, and therefore fair game. But the deeper I dug into the epic poem itself, the more convinced I became that Homer (and, to be fair, the earlier bards from whom he got his tales) would not have seen a daughter as relevant, so even if she existed, she would not have merited a mention.

To Homer, women are relevant for two reasons.  The first is that they make trouble for men. In many cases the whole story is about that trouble (think of Circe turning men to swine, or Helen and her fabled trip to Troy). The second reason is that occasionally a woman behaves ideally, at least from a male perspective, and she must be singled out for admiration.  Clearly to Homer, Penelope is this type. I read the Odyssey over and over while I was working on Penelope’s Daughter, and I got really tired of seeing Penelope do literally nothing but weep bitter tears and bemoan her fate. All she wanted was to have her man back, and she would never—NEVER!—be unfaithful to him.

“Come on!” I found myself saying. Odysseus is gone for nearly twenty years—wouldn’t tears get a bit old, especially for a husband she barely had time to get to know?  It is, I think, a much cherished fantasy that a love left behind would cry her (or his) eyes out forever, but it’s important to remember that Penelope was probably early in her teens when she married, and she had only enough time to produce a one-year-old son before her husband left for two decades. Two, maybe three years together, nineteen apart—how much about him could she honestly remember?

My guess is that, if the story of Penelope is true, she spent those years as a productive, effective queen.  As she matured, she found her voice and her power. That’s the Penelope I pictured as I wrote. Though the novel tells the story of her daughter Xanthe, one of my favorite things about writing it was getting to explore Penelope’s story from a perspective more realistic, affirmative—and likely—than Homer’s.

Off the top of my head, I recall four women in the Odyssey, other than servants and goddesses: Penelope, Anticleia (Odysseus’ mother), Helen, and Helen’s daughter Hermione, who merits a few lines when she gets married (one of the few important things women do).  A few other women are mentioned, and Penelope’s sister’s spirit appears in one scene. Homer never got real. We’re one half of the population in real life, if rarely so in epic stories. The lack of variety in women’s personalities and activities doesn’t mean they didn’t have that variety.

My work as a historical novelist is focused on hearing the whispers of forgotten women and telling their stories.  I became convinced as I wrote that Odysseus and Penelope really did have a daughter, and by the time I finished the book, I thought it odd to read the text and not see her name, because I knew she was there.  I hope readers of Penelope’s Daughter will feel the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Giveaway Details

  • Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Penelope’s Daughter; be sure to include your email address if it is not available through your blog or profile.
  • Contest is open to those with US/Canadian mailing addresses, per the publisher.
  • Winner will be selected using Random.org on October 25 and notified via email.
  • Winner will have 48 hours to respond in order to claim the prize.  If the original winner does not respond by the deadline, a new winner will be selected.
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Comments»

1. Laura Sloman - October 8, 2010

What a brilliant concept! I too, am one to totally fall in love with major/minor characters in a book or story and wonder (almost obsessively) “What if” or “What happened next?”. The Odyssey is on my list of classics to read next!

2. Trisha - October 8, 2010

I love books like this as I believe it adds to rather than detracts from the original story, and the Odyssey is just full of opportunities for other works. I’d love to win a copy!

3. Laurel Corona - October 21, 2010

Hi Laura and Trisha! Hope you both enjoy the book! Write me at alcauthor@gmail.com to tell me what you thought!

4. Laurel Corona - October 21, 2010

Oops– that lacauthor@gmail.com

5. Becky - October 23, 2010

I would be interested in reading this one!

6. Heather J. - October 26, 2010

According to Random.org, the winner of this contest is #2: Trisha! I’ll be sending you an email shortly to confirm. Congratulations!

7. Reminder & A Winner « Really Old Classics Challenge - October 26, 2010

[…] @ eclectic/eccentric! She won a copy of Laurel Corona’s new book Penelope’s Daughter in our contest.  I hope you enjoy the book […]


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