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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) The Shadow of Aubrey Veil
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 00:13:35 

Prologue: those of you who have not read my post entitled NOTES FROM CLIFF
might consider doing so now because it lays the groundwork as to how I
approach FIFTH HEAD on an interpretive level. It's extremely germane.

I call my analysis the Secret Shadow approach because I believe that while
the novel's grand theme involves the search for identity, its central
conceit is that no one is simply who he or she seems. 

Its antithesis, on the other hand, and with all apologies to Sigmund Freud,
I call the Modified Cigar approach: i.e., "Sometimes a cigar is just a
cigar, even when it explodes." 

Lupines eager to critique what follows as anything other than it is--a
postulate of my own critical manifesto--please be advised I do not smoke,
although I have been known to explode. 

In all of Gene Wolfe's FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS, my favorite character has
always been Aunt Jeannine. This is because many, many mysteries obtain to
her that Gene Wolfe never seems to address anywhere. What are we to make,
for example, of her crippled nature? How did it result--either congenitally
or through misfortune? Why hasn't she had her legs--which are described as
being withered--fixed? After all, we know from events in V.R.T. that
cryobanks carrying replacement limbs exist. We also know that Maitre has
the capabilities to transplant supernumerary limbs--witness the four-armed
slave seen in the warehouse caper. And yet Jeannine remains crippled. 

There also seems to be some question as to how old she is. She's described
as being a little gray-haired old lady, whereas Maitre seems more
vigorously middle-aged. Is she older? And how does she die by the end of
the novel? Apart from her invalidness she seems otherwise healthy.

Still another aspect I always found puzzling is her desire for money. Why
would she need it when all her material needs are being taken care of?
Despite what is later revealed to be financial difficulties, surely, from
the descriptions we are given of the Maison du Chien with its fountains and
rooftop gardens, the whorehouse is no dump. Why then this need for
additional funds? A gold-plated wheelchair? What would she do with the
money? Retire to the Florida equivalent of Port-Mimizon? And does the
quarrel that is mentioned as being responsible for Jeannine and Maitre no
longer speaking to one another and having separate quarters result from

Another thing I found curious is that she also attends the first play
Number Five and his cronies put on--why does Wolfe have her do this, since
her presence at the play adds nothing in the way of plot advancement?  Yes,
it allows us to glimpse her withered legs pre-departure, but this could
just as easily be conveyed by having Number Five notice them as she
levitates up the spiral stairwell? 

Then there is her scientific persona of Aubrey Veil, the originator of
Veil's Hypothesis. Whatever would possess the madam of a whorehouse to
undertake the study of aboriginal aliens on a completely different world?
What leads her to formulate her intriguing hypothesis--that the abos of
Sainte Anne have killed and replaced the humans? What is the significance
of 'Aubrey Veil?' Remember how important decoding names is to a complete
understanding of Wolfe; surely she has been given the pseudonym for some
potent reason.

Lastly then, we have an additional mystery to consider and here I need to
quote it direct. Victor, cast in the prison darkness of the citadel, is
reminiscing about his get-togethers with Jeannine. Notice exactly how he
states it:

She possessed real intelligence as well as a fascinating mind, and we had a
number of long talks--often with one or more of her "girls," as she called
them, for audience. (p.230)

Apart from the slightly ludicrous notion of a bunch of vaginas-for-hire
sitting around listening to two scholars chew the anthropological fat, the
sentence is preposterously redundant. No editor worth his or her salt would
*ever* let a writer use both quote marks and the appending 'as she called
them.' In fact, there is no need to use either. Cross out the quote marks,
the 'as she called them' and maybe add a "present" and the sentence still
reads absolutely the same. Remember the old saw from Creative Writing
101--"Never say things twice or be redundant"? Well, this is Wolfe saying
it three times and it's a clue--one of his patent tricks that he uses
frequently, and over and over again <malicious grin inserted here>--i.e.,
that the tea-and-Leakey get-togethers discussed above are anything but what
they appear to be.

In fact, as we all know, Gene Wolfe is an extremely sly and tricky writer.
Witness, for example, how we're able to glean Number Five's true name--Gene
Wolfe. Witness the delicious irony as well that VRT's long sought-after
mother turns up unbeknownst right next to him in prison. My Secret Shadow
approach maintains that 5HofC is *filled* with these sly, ironic gems,
whereas to assume as others have that these are the only two such examples
of mischief in the entire book severely underestimates Wolfe's gift for

In light of the above paragraph and to continue with what has been a long
series of similar suppositions I would like to make the following proposal:
wouldn't it be exquisitely apposite if Jeannine Wolfe herself validated
Veil's Hypothesis? But then, yes--wouldn't this mean that Jeannine's an

Absolutely. But how can this be?

Let us consider the evidence, especially in regards to some of the earlier
questions I posed above. Whenever possible I will try to mention parallel
examples of what I'm proposing. This is another artistic conceit of
Wolfe's, using what appears to be simple color or interesting detail for
echopraxic effect (as mantis has demonstrated several times over, the book
fairly roars with echos, faint though they may appear on initial

The scene I think which best exemplifies this is the play scene I mentioned
above. Remember that the wheelchair-bound Jeannine sits in the audience. On
stage is Phaedria, who will play "the crippled daughter of the French
governor," with David playing her lover. *Crippled* here has two valences,
one of which I'll present now, the other later. Who is the only other
crippled person present? Aunt Jeannine. Surely, we are meant to draw the
parallel. (Notice too how both Phaedria and Jeannine share the same lust
for money--it's Phaedria who later suggests David and his friends
pickpocket the play's attendees). Also note somewhat later this seeming bit
of color: in the middle of the play the sisterworld of Sainte Anne rises in
the sky and casts its green light upon the play. Given the earlier parallel
I suggested, I maintain this is meant to suggest the following: Jeannine at
one time was romantically involved with someone of political stature on
Sainte Anne. 

Aha, you say, even if true so what? How does this mean she's an abo? How
does it tie into anything else?

Well, here go the first of many bold suppositions. If you find them
ponderously difficult to accept, so be it. Sit back, relax and smoke a
cigar, while I attempt to blow my own torus of interlinked smoke rings and
weave my tale fantastic.

I submit to you that the person we known as Aunt Jeannine is much, much,
much older than we all believe. In fact, she is the baby in the picture she
shows Number Five of his "true" parents--i.e., the original Gene Wolfe and
his wife, who emigrated to Sainte Croix and built the Maison du Chien.
Notice how when he sees the picture Number Five assumes the child is a
male, but has difficulty seeing the face because it's nearly smothered by
*white* wool blankets. This is standard Wolfe misdirection. Compare as well
the account of Mrs. Blount, who is born just before the penal colony ship
Nine-Eight-Six takes off; I believe this is the echopraxic parallel, and
one of several ways Mrs. Blount's account reprises that of Jeannine's.

So let's assume the baby in photo is Jeannine. She grows to become an
attractive young woman on Sainte Croix. But remember Maitre's chagrin about
how the Wolfe clan has never risen up to leadership positions on the
planet? What better way to get your political foot into the door than
marrying your daughter off to the son of the French governor of Sainte
Anne? This is a time-honored conceit--marrying into politics--and has been
around since the days of Hellas and Rome (remember Sejanus' proposed
marital link in I, Claudius?) And I do believe that Sainte Anne rising over
the play featuring Phaedria/Jeannine as the governor's "daughter-[in-law]"
allows us to suppose this.

How this comes about is entirely speculative. Gene Wolfe 1 apparently has
some money if he can pay his and the Mrs.' way 20 light years across space,
then establish the Maison du Chien. Perhaps it's de rigeur to send your
daughter off to finishing school on Sainte Anne the same way rich Americans
send their daughters off to Paris (e.g., Jane Fonda and Candace Bergen,
both of whom schooled in France). On Sainte Anne she meets the Governor's
son or perhaps an arranged marriage has been made. At any rate Jeannine is
married to the governor's son, who, if we are to accept the evidence of the
play, where David is "a dashing captain of chasseurs," is in the military.
Because he's away playing soldier, the bored Jeannine, who is the daughter
of a scientist, is intrigued by certain notions about the native Annese,
who in these days are still quite numerous. Again here I cite the account
of Mrs. Blount, who mentions having abo children for playmates. Jeannine
either invites one of these abo children to come live with her or has a
summer home in the country, where the Governor can go a la Camp David for
the American President to get away from politics and the heat of the city.

Unfortunately, it is not much longer after this point that the war breaks

Slight obligatory break to discuss history and Wolfe's naming conventions.
On Sainte Anne there are two cities that have the same names as French
cities here on Earth: Laon and St.-Dizier.
Why does Gene Wolfe appropriate the names of these cities? Well, Laon for
starters is the capital of Aisne Department, which is why I've made Laon
capital of Sainte Anne. Stands to reason, doesn't it? An even more
pertinent reason for Wolfe's picking Laon I'll reveal later. As for
St.-Dizier, Earth, it's regional headquarters for its area and hence the
local repository for documents. Recall now that on Sainte Anne, during the
war, St.-Dizier is "fused," and all the records are destroyed. Whether
nuked or lasered, the fact that it has been chosen over Laon parallels
World War Two, in that while Tokyo, the capital, was heavily bombed, it was
Hiroshima, a regional headquarter, that was nuked. Also recall that
Hiroshima had one of the larger Catholic presences in all of Japan--hence

Meanwhile, back in Laon (the Annese equivalent of Tokyo), bombs destroy the
Governor's Palace or Summer Villa, wherever Jeannine has been undertaking
her Jane Goodall-like study of the Annese. (Dianne Fossey of "Gorilla in
the Mist" offers another suggestive female parallel.)

Tragically, however, she's killed in the bombing, but one of her abo
familiars lives, though her legs are horribly mangled.

Recall again the words of Mrs. Blount: "Yes, there was still quite a few
French left here when we came, most all except the littlest children had
their arms or their legs gone or was scarred terrible." Again, I believe
this is meant as parallel; recall as well the earlier cited "crippled"
reference in the play. Now it applies to another soon-to-become Jeannine.

This unknown abo girl--I have been unable to deduce her name--decides that
she will impersonate the beautiful daughter-in-law of the Governor because
it's a better life than eating swamp rats and snails in the back of beyond,
where we're told half of all children die and foraging groups must be kept
to subsistence levels. Here's where the Laon angle again is especially
important. Remember how I told you it had additional significance? Well,
Laon, France, is home to the secondmost important Catholic relic in all of
Europe (the first is the Turin Shroud): a *copy* of the **Veil** of
Veronica, which in itself purports to be a replica of Jesus's face. Note
here that it is only a *copy*, however, as well as the *Veil* aspect (the
original Veil is in St. Petersburg). Now we begin to see why Wolfe has
chosen both Laon and Veil to use in FIFTH HEAD. The abo girl becomes a copy
of the original, Veil-who-once-was-Jeannine.

The new Jeannine, like her brother in disguise, Victor Trenchard, is able
to pull off the old switcheroo, and even to regenerate her lower
extremities, but because of Dollo's Law is unable to produce functioning
legs. That's why they're withered. (Also why as well Roy Trenchard can't
use his hands post-train loss). And it's also why she can't get them fixed
or a transplant. She's Annese, not human.

Meanwhile, after the fusing of St.-Dizier, the French sue for peace the
same way the Japanese did after we vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But because life on Sainte Anne is now no picnic for the disenfranchised
French, when Jeannine/abo is contacted by her father (or vice-versa) and
presented with the chance to return to Sainte Croix, she avails herself of
the opportunity.

Life begins anew for Jeannine back on Sainte Croix. Because she is an abo
like Victor's mother or Cassilla she can affect how old she appears. She
also now postulates the autobiographical Veil's Hypothesis. And remember
how Victor generates his own Liev's Postpostulate? Liev and Veil in real
life are mirror as well as anagrammatic images of each other.

Also note the fractious nature of the various Wolfe siblings. She and
Maitre (who in reality is one generation younger) at one point argue so
violently they no longer want anything to do with each other, and perhaps
her name is even anathema to bring up in his presence. Recall also Number
Five's description of Aunt Jeannine as the Black Queen in chess: "a chess
queen neither sinister nor beneficent, and Black only as distinguished from
some White Queen I would never encounter." The White Queen Number Five
never encounters, I submit, is the real Jeannine--remember the *white* wool
blanket that smother's the baby's face in the picture? Given how Jeannine
has no inkling that both Number Five and David exist, might we not suppose
the same thing may have happened a generation earlier with Maitre--that he
assumes she is merely an older sibling he's never heard about? (Remember,
she can keep looking younger, or at least maintain a less ageful aspect.)

As for the money she desires I suspect she wishes to return to Sainte Anne
and die among her own kind rather than spend the last of her days in a
whorehouse (Maitre simply doesn't have it to give her). Unfortunately, this
is exactly what happens, and I submit she dies of old age at the novella's

And the mysterious scene involving her, John Marsch and her "girls," as she
calls them? 

Let us recall the Shadow Children of "A Story." Not only are they able to
generate eidola akin to New Sun aquastars--the Old Wise One is one such
aquastar, and we also have mention by one of the marshmen that whenever you
attack a group of Shadow Children there always appear to be more of them
than there actually are--in fact, the Shadow Children have names that are
based on how many in number their group comprises. But the numbers are only
valid when the configuration is odd--1, 3, 5 or 7--suggesting that whenever
the group is even numbered there are eidolic aquastars present.

Recall too that the Shadow Children are childlike in size. Now let us
attempt to explicate Dr. Veil's first name: it's Aubrey, which means 'elf +
ruler.'  Elfin as in childlike, eh?

I submit to you Aubrey Veil is an abo of the Shadow Child variety. And her
"girls, as she calls them" are aquastars, mind-generated eidola. Because
remember the name of a single Shadow Child when its group is reduced to
one? It's Wolf. Jeannine Wolfe, to be more precise.

(The parallel to this scene is the one in which Maitre explains to Dr.
Marsch about the naked giantess walking through walls: she's an image too,
a hologram.)

One last point I'd like to make in regards to the sensefulness of the

Readers of my CAVE CANEM may recall how I puzzled over what I thought was
an editorial or auctorial miscue in "A Story" and "VRT." This is because in
the former the abo constellation is called Shadow Child, but in the latter
it's called Shadow Children, and features twice as many paired eyes (binary
stars, probably). Also in "VRT," Dr. Marsh, despite having been shown its
location earlier, is unable later to find the Shadow Children

He does however find it eventually, or rather his own shadow does.

She's Jeannine Wolfe of Sainte Croix, the abo proponent of Veil's




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

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