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From: "William H. Ansley" <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: (urth) The Cat
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998 01:16:11 

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

I have a question about Gene Wolfe's story "The Cat," the sixteenth story
(starting on p. 210 in the mass market paperback edition) in Wolfe's 1989
collection _Endangered Species_.

Since this story is obviously set in the same universe as TBotNS, it seems
that it should provide more insight into that universe, but (to me at
least) it does not. I have read the story several times, twice just before
sending this posting, and I still have no idea what is supposed to be
happening at the end of it.

A very brief summary of my interpretation of the story follows:

The story takes place in the fifth year of Severian's reign. It is told by
Odilo the Steward who is in charge of maintaining the Hypogeum Apotropaic,
Father Inire's residence in the House Absolute. Inire befriends Chatelaine
Sancha, a lovely young girl of seven or eight, and shows her his circle of
magic mirrors that can teleport a being to or from any point in the
universe. She, thinking it is a toy, tosses her cat into the circle. The
cat disappears. Inire promises to do what he can to get the cat back. At
some point in time not too long after this, it becomes known that Sancha is
attended by a "phantom cat." Years later, because of a scandal probably
engineered by Chatelaine Leocadia, Sancha leaves the House Absolute. She
stays away for 50 years. When she returns to the House Absolute, Sancha is
allowed to stay in the Hypogeum Apotropaic because of her friendship with
Inire. When Sancha dies, apparently of old age, a dark paw print appears on
her counterpane and beside it is what appears to be a doll. It is the
length of a hand and seems to be a perfect scale replica of a lovely,
pubescent girl, apparently made of flesh and blood, though lifeless. It is
interred with Sancha, on Inire's instructions. When the paw print cannot be
removed from the counterpane, Odilo has it sent to the residence of
Leocadia, whose sight is failing. Leocadia goes blind but sees the cat
stalking her in her dreams.

The last sentence of the story is:

"It is not well for those of high station to involve the servants of their
enemies in their quarrels."

I think I must be missing something very basic in this story, because I
just don't get it.

I am assuming that something Father Inire does in his attempts to retrieve
the cat cause it to come back as a phantom cat, that this isn't just a
result of the cat being teleported by the mirrors. And I am assuming that
the phantom cat is Sancha's cat, somehow returned in (mostly) immaterial

But what is the "doll" supposed to be? Why did it appear and where did it
come from? Did Sancha's death cause its appearance or occur because of it?
Were Leocadia's visions of a cat revenge for Sancha's banishment? If so,
why did it only occur after Odilo sent the counterpane to her residence? Do
the servants referred to in the last sentence of the story refer to Odilo,
Inire, both or neither?

If anyone has any insights into this story, I'd really appreciate hearing them.

Thank you,
William Ansley

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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