FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) PEACE Birkhead and inventions
Date: Thu, 26 Oct 2000 17:42:30 

Roy C. Lackey wrote:
> What is it with Miss Birkhead?

Indeed, there is weirdness going on around Miss Birkhead.  On the second
page of part five (236 in the Harper 1975 edition) she is in the office
(so she makes two appearances, not one, though the second is only one
sentence).  In the time it takes for Weer to read the letter from
Charles Turner, she has become sick, and a fill-in has already been
assigned (242).  And later that same afternoon, she is dead, and a
notice has already been posted on the bulletin board (261).  This could
have happened, but it's not very likely, nor is it plausible that
neither Weer or Miss Hadow would have commented on her essentially
dropping dead in an afternoon.

That's not the only strange thing going on in part five.  In another
post, Roy points out how Weer's "present" infiltrates his "past," but
this phenomenon is much more blatant in part five than elsewhere.  His
office alternates between being his real office and his memory office,
as shown by the letters nailed to the desk (243-44, 264; that mail is
nailed to the desk in the memory office is given on p. 145).  On p. 244,
Weer has his present memories.  And on p. 250, Dan tells Weer: "'your
secretary...said she could always tell when you were tired, because you
started to drag one leg.'"  Apparently Weer's present is not only
affecting his past interlocutors' perceptions of him, but their memories
of him as well.

Another odd thing is that, unlike Weer's other recollections/relivings,
there's no narrative break from the doctor's office.  Weer just leaves
Van Ness's office and returns to the plant.  Combined with the other
anomalies, this makes me suspect that part five is not a genuine
recollection, even a distorted one.  Rather, it is an invention of
Weer's, continuing the invented visit to Van Ness, which enables him to
round off his narrative by depicting himself as president and the state
of Cassionsville.  The "events" of that afternoon may never have
happened, or may have happened but not all on the same day.  I make this
suggestion with some trepidation, since it adds a further layer of
uncertainty; but I don't think part five's anomalies can be swept under
the carpet.  At any event, Weer is demonstrably unreliable in part five,
to a greater extent than in the rest of the book (setting aside his
being dead).

> So it isn't until the book is
> almost over before we learn that she is in fact not a Miss, but Mrs. Helen
> Birkhead Tyler, with two children and a husband, Ben. Why did Wolfe wait
> that late to drop that little detail? Why not leave her Miss Birkhead?

It could be that Weer's feelings for Miss Birkhead were stronger than he
admits, and that Weer waits until the end to reveal yet another missed
opportunity.  If my guess about the invented character of part five is
correct, then Weer's putting Miss Birkhead's death in that day ties in. 
It also ties in with Weer's rudeness when Miss Hadow tells him Miss
Birkhead was proud of being his secretary (261)--is he just annoyed by
Miss Hadow's blatant flattery, or has she inadvertently struck a nerve? 


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

<--prev V30 next-->