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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) In Looking Glass Castle
Date: Sat, 5 Sep 1998 19:21:55 

> ObWolfe: Someone mentioned "In Looking Glass Castle" as a story featuring
> a backwards-living character, but I don't see that at all.  That's the
> featuring the world where there are no men and the scientist with a man
> hiding in her house, isn't it?  What am I missing? 

This is my assertion and it's one of two speculative claims I make about
"In Looking Glass Castle"--the other being that the man Daisy McKane sees
first in her house, then later on the Frances Alda, may be a figment of her
overwrought imagination.

Here follows my reasoning for claim #1. The usual disclaimers obtain. 

When we first hear of the previous owner of Daisy McKane's house, it's via
the unnamed real estate agent who's driving Daisy to her new home. Says she
about the woman, after initially revealing the deceased has never had
herself cloned: "...she drowned and had to give this [the house] all up." 

Daisy too refuses to have herself cloned. This is perhaps symbolized by her
later finding some empty seed packets in the house, but also links her back
to the previous occupant. (Perhaps they're even daisy seeds.)

Not much later we learn from Daisy that the drowned woman was an eccentric
and that her name was "Jane Something." The "something" aspect of her name
obviously implies Daisy doesn't remember her name, but may also be
considered a variation on the convention used to label an unidentified dead
female, i.e., Jane Doe. Daisy too might be considered somewhat of an
eccentric for her time, refusing to have herself cloned and continuing to
live alone.

Next follows a most curious exchange between Daisy and "the fat woman" who
is her next door neighbor (the operatic connection here, I maintain, is
germane, as I'll later attempt to detail). Pearl, the neighbor, makes two
confusing remarks about drowned females, one being Jane, the other being
Pearl IV, her third cloned daughter. But which remark pertains to which
victim? Is it Pearl IV whose boat has flipped over and whose body has never
been found? Or is it Jane--whose body, when it does wash ashore perhaps
somewhere else, is identified as Jane Doe? In regards to the latter Daisy
has already imagined "Jane rolling dead, naked in the surf"--and this may
be a clue. Also, who is more likely to fall headfirst down a cistern--an
adult woman or a child, i.e., Pearl IV?  I maintain a child. But from this
point on Daisy seems to believe that it's Jane Something who drowned in the
cistern, and not Pearl IV. 

Still later, after Daisy encounters the "PIG" in her house, she asks him,
"You killed the other woman--the one before me." To which the man replies,
"Indirectly and unintentionally, yes." But how does this relate to Jane
Something's death in either version--the cistern or collapsed boat
scenario? Did he indirectly and unintentionally leave the cover off the
cistern? Or did he somehow frighten Jane on the boat, leading to her
inadvertent death somehow?

Then there's the White Queen angle. "In Looking Glass Castle" obviously
draws a good deal upon the works of Lewis Carroll. Consider the title, and
this quote from Carroll's preface to THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: "The
'castling' of the three Queens is merely a way of saying that they entered
the palace." I.e., in Wolfe's nightmarish treatment of feminism-gone-wrong,
women/queens have taken over the castle/America. It's also worth noting
that TTLG features a chess match, and that Gene Wolfe borrows on this in
naming at least one of his characters (Char Cavallo = "black knight"). Also
significantly, in chess, the queens are the most powerful pieces. Which
brings us back to the White Queen. In Carroll's TTLG, she lives backwards,
a way of life "which always makes one a little giddy at first, but there's
one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways." Asked by
Alice what things she remembers best, the White Queen replies, "Oh, things
that happened the week after next." In other words, though it's obviously
confusing, she remembers the future better than the past.

In an exchange of dialogue with the male trespasser in her house (John
Doe?), Daisy insists she is not the White Queen, but only in the aspect of
not believing in impossible things. Also, in Wolfe's fiction, anytime a
character stridently asserts something to be not true, the opposite often
turns out to be the case.

In any event, when Daisy is offered a berth aboard the Frances Alda by Dr.
Edith Berg (this, after a raid by the police on her house produces no
intruder), she takes it. Given that Frances Alda (1885-1952) was a famous
American diva [Frances was also the name of Lewis Carroll's mother], and
that both Alda and Edith mean "rich," might there not be some sort of clue
pertaining to opera here--say, some work by a composer with a name similar
(remember, we're in looking glass territory) to "Alda" Berg? I'm arguing
yes--that it's Alban Berg's Wozzeck, an opera where the title character
suffers from hallucinations and winds up drowned. This is exactly what I
believe to be Daisy McKane's fate. That when she sees (or more correctly
*believes* she sees) the male intruder from her house below deck, something
she does in a panicky mode leads to her demise and it is this watery
forfeiture of life that she recalls when she earlier has the imagery of
Jane Something rolling dead, naked in the surf. (I'm not going to argue in
depth at this point about the hallucinatory nature of the male intruder;
suffice it to say I think he originates out of Daisy's sexual frustration
and thus parallels the situation of the governess in Henry James' TURN OF
THE SCREW--a big chunk of which resonates throughout "In Looking Glass

As for the Pearl/Jane/cistern connection, notice how, just before the
Frances Alda sails, Daisy is reading a book by Joan Somebody called Cradle
of the Sea. Like the dead person in the cistern, Daisy is in an enclosure
surrounded by water; subsequently she drifts off to sleep--which parallels
an earlier dream where "She dreamed that she was Jane, head-down in the
cistern". But where else are pearls formed, if not the cradle of the sea?
And it is this confused memory of the future, conjoined with the present
(the discussion of Pearl IV's death), which leads to the earlier
supplanting of the Jane/surf notion with the Jane/cistern scenario. 

Gene Wolfe received an unasked-for-grant from the Illinois Arts Council for
"In Looking Glass Castle." It remains among my favorites of his shorter

Robert Borski 



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

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