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From: Jim Jordan <jbjordan@gnt.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) Wolfe's women
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 00:05:12 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

At 01:23 PM 6/19/97 EDT, Kefalothorax wrote:

>Well, let's see if I can get my muddle of thoughts straight...
>Basically, Wolfe's protagonists seem to be men (I repeat that I
>haven't read past the first two pages of Pandora), and women
>relate to them in kind of standard ways. The man is usually on a
>quest for Divine Love, and sex with women seems to be the
>preferred metaphor for this search. 

	I think this is often the case. A fairly clear example is There Are Doors.
My initial reading took Lara/Laura and the whole World of Woman in a very
negative way. I now think that the World of Women exists in the perceptions
of the main character, who is afraid of women, and who sees his girlfriend
in a variety of fearful and wondrous ways. Except that all this becomes
kind of real for him (just where is the border between psychology and
fantasy-reality in this novel?). Finally, he sees her as a living doll.
Thus, the World of Women and Lara/Laura are not evil, but the protagonist
is just plain scared of women (as all men are). Mama at the Italian
Restaurant (the church) tries to help him get over this fear.

>  But (with the possible exception of Apheta), they are not
>Divine Love,

	Apheta is not divine love. Wolfe told me that Severian is on the quest,
but has never found it. I'm inclined to think that the Heirogrammates may
be rather more sinister than appears at first glance -- or at least a mixed
bag. Happily, the Increate has His own designs....  (Compare "The Detective
of Dreams" for the basic scenario.)

> so there is often a sinister quality to the women in
>their position as False Attempts At Divine Love. I refer again to
>Severian stating that women love men, but must destroy them.
>Also, there's Candy in _Free_Live_Free_ , who says that men come
>to her BECAUSE she's physically repulsive (Candy has two of the
>most common attributes of Wolfe's women: she's a whore and a
>glutton. not as many gluttonous women in Wolfe's writing as
>whores, but enough to have struck me as a reoccurring motif. Take
>his female gods at the end of _Urth_). 

	Well, pathetic Candy is a mess all right, but she is also on a quest for
love and freedom. With her companions she is trying to follow the yellow
brick road out of the insanity and tyranny of modern America (Oz) to the
former freedom offered by Been Free in the abandoned aeroplane in the sky
(the church). At the end of the book, she and her companions have indeed
found something....

>  Women, in there failure to be Divine Love, have three areas of
>emphasis: (1) The Stand-in is largely benign, but still not the
>final solution (say, maybe, Valeria);

	Yes. Wolfe confirmed this to me.

> (2) The Sex Object is not
>actively malign, but very empty, perhaps emphasizing the futility
>of trying to find Divine Love through sex (Jolenta); (3) The
>Agent of Destruction. Focusing the sinister, or even Infernal,
>side of women's failure to be God, willfully leading the man even
>further away from there goal (Agia).
>  Maybe this just goes back to the protagonist being male, and
>many men having a somewhat limited range of relationships with
>women. And there may be similar limitation on his men, but it
>hasn't struck me in quite the way it has with his women. 

	I think you're right. I initially took Anne Schildler (Castleview) in a
negative light, but she's looking for the Castle (church; kingdom of God)
also. Thus, I think it is mainly a matter of Wolfe's writing primarily
about male protagonists. 

>  To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that Wolfe is sexist,
>but his writing does seem to be from a particularly masculine

	One of the interesting things about Wolfe's fiction is that he takes the
differences between men and women seriously. His characters are often less
than universal (unlike most of literature), but rather are masculine or
feminine. I suspect this arises from his religious beliefs. It makes his
fiction rather startling in places. Severian becomes a more universal
figure only by incorporating a resurrected Thecla into himself.

>  But, it comes down to this: _Peace_ is the only Wolfe book I've
>ever lent to female friends and received a positive response. And
>the sticking point usually seems to be the portrayal of women.

	One of my questions for Wolfe in my interview with him (and I don't think
this went into the final version) was that I could see that women could
charge him with being anti-woman. I provided illustrations: There seem to
be a lot of bad women in his books. He objected to this, and declared that
he did not intend to distribute badness unevenly. And then it became clear
that Lara and Anne Schindler are not so bad after all....
	I mention this to say that I think such perceptions are not unique.


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