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From: "Roy C. Lackey" <rclackey@stic.net>
Subject: (urth) Dear Dorcas
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 16:47:15 

        I note that none of the responses to Carlton Greene's "Dorcas as
outcast?" post addressed the larger question he raised: was Dorcas really
the "nice Catholic girl"--as I believe someone here once described her-- she
seems to be, or was there something more sinister about her? I brought this
issue up offlist to Robert Borski a few months ago but didn't post it here
because I anticipated that it would go over like a--well--lead balloon.
Carlton's post gives me the excuse to do so.

        BTW, welcome to Carlton and the slew of new posters; where are they
all coming from?

        Obviously, any attempt I might make to cast Dorcas in a harsher
light than the commonly perceived one will be tenuous. Any evidence from the
text, if it exists, must be subtle or it would have been pointed out long
ago, by someone. My thoughts proceed from the largely negative tone of the
few memories and dreams she relates. Why should they be so bleak? Was she
happily married? Did she want and love her child(ren), or did she have a
choice in the matter? If Agia's estimate of her age is correct (16 or 17),
and the age at which Agia began to menstruate (13) is typical for the times,
then Dorcas must have gotten married almost as soon as she had her first
period, in order for her to have been married four years at the time of her
death. Not only that, but if the boatman was in his seventies when he died,
then he had to be about thirty when he married the girl. The issue of their
ages alone makes their relationship suspect, an issue that was entirely
avoidable had Wolfe made her to be but a few years older. For her to have
been nearer to Sev's own age would not have damaged the plot in any way.
Therefore, Wolfe did it deliberately. Why, if not to call attention to the
fact of it?

        All of the dreams that she relates are dark and dismal, freighted
with symbols of death. The one dream she mentions which was not
nightmarish--but which she could not remember--was the one she was having
when Sev woke her in the field where Dr. Talos's group was camped the
morning they left Nessus by the Piteous Gate. And even that event was
tainted by the fact that she was alarmed about Sev bending over her. Sev,
his mouth reddened from eating a pomegranate, woke her: "I should have known
from the stains on your mouth. I thought you'd been sucking blood all night.
... "Well, you did look like a black bat bending over me." Indeed, Dorcas
seems to have something of an obsession with bats, especially blood bats.

        Following their reunion at the House Absolute, she and Sev talked
together in the Shakespearean garden, where she related to him two recurrent
dreams. The first of these dreams is the one in which she becomes aware that
people regard her as "an unclean spirit who has wrapped itself in the
woman's body they see." (II, XXII) In her dream she enters "a tiny shop
conducted by an old man and an old woman." The old woman is making lace and
"I hear the sound her thread makes behind me as it is pulled through the
work." Sev asks her what she is there to buy. "Tiny clothes." "Doll's
clothing, perhaps." But when she goes to pay for them her money changes to a
lump of filth and the hissing of the thread stops. The thread is a rather
obvious reference to the thread of life spun and cut by the Greek Fates, but
whose thread? Notice that the tiny clothes, while of a doll's proportions,
are not specifically said to be for a doll. The size of the clothes--half a
span--would be too small for a full-term baby. But if she has had a
miscarriage--whether unintended or not--or an abortion, the tiny clothes
would be of a proper size. If the tiny clothes had been intended for a doll
it should not have the emotional impact that it does for her. Indeed, the
dream evokes much more the sense of guilt than grief, as does the fact that
the doll-related dreams are recurrent. Her sub-conscious mind is preoccupied
with the subject, not just the nightmarish details of her interment.

        Her marriage may well not have been a romantic one; just as Ouen was
farmed out as a potboy at the age of ten, she may not have had a choice.
Life is cheap in the Commonwealth and familial bonds even weaker. She may
well have been forced into marriage as a child and resented it. She probably
had no choice about becoming pregnant. Either she, or her husband, may not
have wanted or been able to support more mouths to feed. Who knows what
problems and disagreements they may have had? But her conscience is
bothering her about something, something to do with a baby.

        The issue of age is raised once more in the second dream she
relates. She dreams of being "in a boat poled across a spectral lake" and
"An old man poles it, and I lie at his feet." What prompted this dream
image? Her dream cannot be prescient, because the dream is long after the
fact of her interment. She can have no idea how much time has elapsed
between her death and resurrection, even after figuring out that that is
what has happened. The old man can't be her husband, because he wasn't an
old man when she died. We have no reason to believe he even owned a boat
then: he was a shopkeeper. Who was this old man in the dream? The Lake's
equivalent of a mortician who poled the boat she was "buried" from? The
other elements in the dream do not fit that theory: "Just as we are about to
touch shore, I fall from the boat, but the old man does not see me, and as I
sink through the water I know that he has never known I was there at all."
Yet it *was* near the shore where her body was found--and her husband
couldn't find it in forty years of searching, though he was present when she
was "buried". Something is wrong here: it doesn't add up.

        After relating the dreams she remarks that the people in her dream
may be right, that in some sense she *is* a "foul specter". Sev answers:
"You could never be a foul specter, or anything foul." She replies: "Oh,
yes," she said seriously ... "Oh, yes I could, Severian. Just as you can be
what they call you. What you sometimes are." To interpret her statement as
meaning simply that all people have a dark side would have her stating a
platitude; she has to be implying something more tangible.

        The multifarious use of symbols in Wolfe's work being so pervasive,
it seems to me that when he repeats or otherwise reinforces an image, that
he means something by it. My next point against Dorcas is one of these. (II,
XXII) "The whip mark Dorcas had carried from the Piteous Gate burned on her
cheek like a brand." This comment comes immediately after she related the
dream about the old man in the boat. Who else in the novels has branded
cheeks? Morweena. For what crime was she branded and killed? Killing her
husband and child.

        She then recalled to Sev Dr. Talos's labeling him as Death, which
Sev said was a metaphor. She said it was a bad metaphor and, as they were
walking back to the others, Sev wondered to himself if "Dr. Talos's calling
Dorcas "Innocence" had not been a metaphor of the same kind."

        Bad dreams, dolls, and bats all come together later in CLAW, on the
night that Jolenta suffered what turned out to be a mortal injury. While Sev
was lusting after the undine, Dorcas had another dream involving dolls. (II,
XXVII) She enters a toyshop with shelves lined with dolls and a well in the
center of the floor with more dolls on the coping. She says "I remember
thinking that my baby was too young for dolls, but they were so pretty, and
I had not had one since I was a little girl,..." Then, the doll turns into
Jolenta. That the Jolenta-doll falls down a well in the dream establishes,
one, that Jolenta was on her mind and, two, that Jolenta was cast into a
life-threatening scenario. Unless we are to grant that Dorcas is
prescient--the dream coming before the knowledge of the alleged bat
bite--then the dream indicates to me that she had hostile feelings for
Jolenta. Only two days before Sev had had sex with Jolenta. It was her
relating two incidents from her girlhood which causes Sev--and the
reader--to leap to the unwarranted assumption that Jolenta had been bitten
by a blood bat. The assumption is unwarranted because their geographical
location and the behavior of the supposed blood bat does not agree with
evidence presented elsewhere in the text. One of the incidents she relates
is that, when a young child, someone used to frighten her by telling her
about blood bats. The second was when she was older and a common bat got
into the house. Someone killed it and she asked her "father if it were a
blood bat, and if there were really any such things." He told her that there
were, but that they lived in the north "in the steaming forests at the
center of the world." (II, XXVIII) She was alone with Jolenta when the
wounds were made. The Cumaen indicated that Jolenta should recover from her
wounds, just as Sev did when he was later bitten by a true blood bat, but
she didn't. And when Sev reached the roof of the tomb following the seance,
Jolenta was dead and Dorcas was alone with her and bending over the lifeless

        At the inn in Thrax Sev was again bending over Dorcas when she woke,
which she remarked on. He then recalled to her the earlier incident in
Nessus, but this time used the word vampire to describe how he must have
looked to her. When asked by Agia, in the Botanic Gardens, what was the last
thing she remembered, Dorcas answered: "Sitting by a window ... There were
pretty things in the window. Trays and boxes, and a rood." Was this last to
keep the vampires away? And which side of the window was she on? Why wasn't
her weighted body where it was supposed to be? Why couldn't Caron (the name
I am using for the boatman), who searched over and over almost daily for
forty years, who had pulled some of the bodies up so often that he knew them
by sight, find his wife's body? He was present when she was interred. He had
a "map". The most obvious answer is--she wasn't there.

        Caron, for all the sympathetic portrayal of his searching for his
too-soon dead wife for forty years, has always struck me as a ne'er-do-well.
Besides marrying a child half his age, he sponged off her family's labors,
then, when she died, squandered whatever fortunes they had not long after
her death. If Dorcas died giving birth to a second child, as the text
implies, then he did not keep the child, for whatever reasons, because Ouen
has no memory of a sibling. Did the baby live? What became of the child?
Ouen, presumably because he was old enough to get by without his mother,
Caron retained until the age of ten, then farmed out as a potboy, never,
apparently, to see him again until Ouen sought him out when he was grown.
That act does not say much for Caron's fatherly instincts. Yes, Caron may
have been poor and unable to afford to keep the boy, but that seems to be
largely his own fault. He makes a show of lamenting his dear-departed wife,
but admits to not retaining so much as a nail from their old home/shop. He
even sinks so low as to hock his last momento of her, a locket with her
pictures in it. That is not the act of a grieving man devoted to his wife's
memory. He managed, after all, to obtain the resources to acquire a boat
after she died, to search for her body with. His quest for her body seems to
me to have its origins more in guilt--or fear--than grief. He is haunted by
the memory of her eyes popping open when her body hit the water; his
conscience will not let him rest until he sees her good and dead. Was he
complicitous somehow in her death, whether overtly or by omission? We may
never know, but his conscience is bothering him about something, because
even if she wasn't dead when she was interred, she would have been soon
after being sunk in the lake. When he can't find the body where it was
supposed to be when he first looked for it, he becomes obsessed with finding
it. Why? Is he worried that she is still alive in some sense and will come
back for retribution? Was it just coincidence that, when Sev last saw
Dorcas, the old man was dead and she was kneeling beside his body in their
old home? While it is certainly possible that the old man just happened to
die about the same time that Dorcas found him, it strains credulity. It
smacks of melodrama. Did he die of natural causes, or was an old score
settled? Note that when she talks to Sev of returning to Nessus to find out
what she can of her old life, she mentions her male child--but not her
husband. Curiously, she also never brings up the subject of how she came to
be in the lake. From her perspective, if she had been truly dead, no time
should have passed between her death and resurrection. Once she regained her
memories, as she was rapidly doing after seeing the chair in Thrax, for her
only a few months subjective time have elapsed since she died. She *has" to
know *something* about her own death--but never mentions the second child
she supposedly died giving birth to. Very curious. Yet she remembers living
above the shop with her husband and first-born child.

        How did she find him, anyway? The quarter where they had lived has
been long deserted--who was there to inquire of? The only clue she had to
her past came from the note that Sev intercepted at the Inn Of Lost Loves,
yet she clearly had not sought out Ouen. In my post about flowers I raised
some questions about the logistics of how the old man's body wound up on a
bier on the second floor of their old, decayed home. Where did little Dorcas
get the strength?

        Dorcas is sympathetically portrayed throughout the text as an
innocent child. For reasons not explained in the text she was allowed by her
family to wed when she could barely have reached puberty, and was soon a
mother. She was still a child when she died, as far as I am concerned, and
why she died is unclear. The only testimony in the text is Ouen's statement
that his father said she died in childbirth. Women die in childbirth every
day, especially in primitive societies, but they do so at a far higher rate
in fiction than in reality. It's practically a cliche in literature and
films. In any event, it may just have been a simplistic, catchall answer
that Caron gave Ouen to shut him up when the boy asked about his mother.
Caron didn't mention to Sev and Agia how Cas died, or even that they had any
children, only that they were married for nearly four years. For a man so
preoccupied with his dead wife, he seems to have been strangely reticent
about her with the one person in the world who would want to know all about
her--her son, Ouen.

        Most people who die in Nessus are not interred in the Lake of Birds.
Why did Caron--if the decision was his--elect to inter her there, rather
than in her native soil? Vampires traditionally do not like water, and
Dorcas was deathly afraid of water. Why *did* her eyes pop open when she hit
the water? Her eyelids had been cemented shut, and even if she had been in a
"com'er", it isn't easy to force enough of anything down someone's throat to
keep their body in place in water. The act of stuffing the lead shot down
her throat by itself would probably kill her, if she wasn't already dead.

        There is not enough direct evidence in the text for me to assert
that Dorcas was a vampire or that she and/or her husband were somehow
involved in the death of a baby, but the subject of bats comes up too often
to be dismissed out of hand and the death of Jolenta is suspect, as is the
timing of Caron's. Then there is the question of just how and why Dorcas
died and why Hildegrin was on the scene when Sev stumbled onto her body. He
said he had done a favor or three for the Cumaen, who is linked to Inire,
who is an agent of Yesod, whose members know--and manipulate--future events.
It was no accident that Sev fell in the lake just where Dorcas' body was. I
do suggest that Caron couldn't find the body in all those years because it
wasn't there. Her body was put there, but whether by an agent of Yesod or an
undine, is unclear. And there is still the mystery of what happened between
chapters, from the moment that a hand was pulling Sev *down* in the water
until Dorcas' hand was pulling him *up* from the water.


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

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