The strands thrum faintly beneath her fingertips, like the strings of a lyre.
–Marie Brennan - Daughter of Necessity - c.2014
In The Odyssey Penelope is the wife of Odysseus. While he is lost on his journey she remains at home on their island kingdom, pursued by many suitors who wish to marry her, Odysseus is presumed dead, and her husband will be king. She does not want to marry any of them. In the story she waits, faithful to Odysseus, for her husbands return. To keep her suitors at bay she says she will decide which of them to marry when she finished her weaving. She every day she weaves, but every night she unweaves so that the garment will never be finished.
In Brennan’s story the act of weaving itself is vital. For Penelope is descended from the Fates. She has some small gift of their magic. She cannot weave as they can, but she can change things here and there. She weaves a way out of the situation for herself, but each and every time it ends in disaster, so she is forced to either live with those consequences or unpick the work and try again the following day.
It is an interesting story. And well-told.
Penelope is a woman of her time, Brennan does not attempt to get around the rules and restrictions of her life. Instead she works with them. Penelope can act as a woman of her age would be allowed, albeit with more power due to her inherited magics. But even they are restricted by her lack of power, and her morals.
Jodie over on LadyBusiness has plenty to say regarding female agency and historical settings, so you should go read that.
I left the story wanting to know more about this Penelope; how did she start out life with Odysseus and why waws she so loyal to him? Did he deserve it?
It’s an interesting choice, as it echoes the way so much of what women did is erased and forgotten about when we look back at history and celebrate the great achievements.