First edition cover
|Author||Ursula K. Le Guin|
|Publisher||Harper & Row United States|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The stories share few links except those derived from the use of a common geographical setting; the only link between characters appears in the stories Brothers and Sisters and A Week in the Country, both of which deal with members of the Fabbre family (whose history is continued in the later story Unlocking the Air). Common to all the stories, however, are emotionally moving personal events — often, though not always, romantic — set against the backdrop of much larger political events such as wars and revolutions. Continually reasserted are the right of the individual — sometimes alone, but often in conjunction with others — to his or her own thoughts and emotions, not dictated by society, or convention, or the State.
Additional stories in the cycle include the novel Malafrena (1979), set in the Orsinia of the 1820s; the Borges-like story "Two Delays on the Northern Line" (1979, anthologized in The Compass Rose 1982), containing two tangentially linked episodes of uncertain date; and "Unlocking the Air" (1990, anthologized in Unlocking the Air and Other Stories 1996). The last-named story extends Orsinian history to the time of the downfall of Communism in Orsinia – and the rest of Eastern Europe – in the winter of 1989.
The stories are set in a fictional country somewhere in Central Europe, at different times in the period 1150-1965 (though only two take place before the 20th century). This country, "Orsinia", appears in Le Guin's earliest writings, and was invented by Le Guin when she was a young adult learning her craft as a writer. The names Orsinia and Ursula are both derived from Latin ursus "bear" (ursula = diminutive of ursa "female bear"; ursinus = "bear-like"). Le Guin once said that since Orsinia was her own country it should bear her name.
The history of Orsinia follows, in general, that of other countries of Central Europe, particularly those formerly part of Austria-Hungary. Formerly an independent kingdom (The Lady of Moge), by the 19th century it was a dependency of the Austrian Empire (Malafrena) It was involved in the First World War (Conversations at Night), and was thereafter independent for a while. Its fate in World War II is not mentioned, but in 1946 or 1947 it became a satellite state in the East bloc. A revolt was attempted in 1956 (The Road East), but was crushed and followed by reprisals (A Week in the Country), and remained a repressive police state for several decades. In November 1989, following a series of non-violent protests, the government fell, to be replaced by a transitional régime promising free elections (Unlocking the Air). Le Guin has not published any Orsinian stories dealing with its history since then.
The Orsinian stories borrow episodes from, and sometimes explicitly refer to, the history of the Czech lands, Hungary, and other countries of Central Europe - for example, it is landlocked and in the 19th Century rebelled unsuccessfully against Habsburg rule. It is not however, a mere fictionalization of any real country, but rather one imagined with its own unique characteristics and history, distilled from Le Guin's personal interpretation and reaction to historical events.
- "The Fountains"
- "The Barrow" (1976, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1976)
- "Ile Forest"
- "Conversations At Night"
- "The Road East"
- "Brothers and Sisters" (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol. 10, Nos. 1 & 2)
- "A Week in the Country" (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4)
- "An die Musik" (1961, The Western Humanities Review, Vol XV, No. 3)
- "The House"
- "The Lady of Moge"
- "Imaginary Countries" (1973, The Harvard Advocate)
- Of uncertain status is "The Diary of the Rose" (1976, anthologized in The Compass Rose 1982) which, despite the presence of several names in the Orsinian style (including one, Sorde, which also appears in Malafrena) abandons the realism of the other stories in favor of a science fiction premise (explored for its personal and political implications) and never explicitly states the place or time where it takes place (at one point "the twentieth century" is spoken of in an apparent past tense).
- A central theme in the story: demonstrators shaking keys to "unlock the air," was seen in the demonstrations of 1989. "Today, at exactly noon in Prague, people flooded into the streets around Wenceslas Square, the central shopping thoroughfare, rattling key chains and tinkling tiny bells. The jingling of keys, acts symbolizing the opening of hitherto locked doors, has become a common gesture in the wave of demonstrations.... On Jungmanova Square, Mr. Havel himself stood beaming broadly on the balcony of a building.... He lustily jingled a bunch of keys." John Tagliabue, "Upheaval in the East; From All Czechoslovakia, a Joyful Noise," The New York Times, Dec. 12, 1989.
- "Folksong from the Montayna Province," Prairie Poet (Charleston, Ill.), Fall 1959, p 75.
- "An die Musik," Western Humanities Review, 15 (1961): 247-58.
- Elizabeth Cummins, Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin, rev. ed., (Columbia, SC: Univ of South Carolina Press), 1993, pp. 126-7. ISBN 0-87249-869-7.
- James W. Bittner, "Persuading Us to Rejoice and Teaching Us How to Praise: Le Guin's Orsinian Tales," Science Fiction Studies, no. 16 Vol. 5, Part 3 (Nov. 1978).
- "As for Orsinia, I have not been able to go back there since 1990, though I have tried several times. The borders are closed. I don't know what's going on. It worries me." "Ambiguous Utopias". Retrieved March 28, 2011.
- "And of course if there's any country Orsinia is like, it's Czechoslovakia. It's puzzled me that everyone says Orsinia is like Hungary, but nobody mentions Czechoslovakia." McCaffery, Larry (1987). Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s. p. 183.
- "I have used the history of Poland, though not in science-fiction stories, in "main stream" stories.... I have written an historical novel, Malafrena, and a collection of stories, Orsinian Tales, all set in an imaginary central European country in the historical past. Malafrena concerns the Revolution of 1830 and you will find certain parallels to Polish history in it.""An Interview with Ursula Le Guin A.D. 1988". Retrieved March 28, 2011.
- "Another thing important to Orsinia's development was that I became aware politically. The first thing I really noticed and took personally, from a political standpoint, was the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1947 [sic] by the Russians. That's when I came of age and realized I had a stake in this world.... Writing about Orsinia allowed me to talk about a situation that had touched my heart, yet I could distance it, which was very important at that time." McCaffery, Larry (1987). Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s. p. 183.