(urth) Wolfe: Misogynist or Realist?

Jack Redelfs jackredelfs at gmail.com
Fri Oct 20 16:56:37 PDT 2006

I have been interested the discussion of evolution, but I'm not
sure if a convincing case has been made for "chivalry is biology."
Evolution "says" that society can't allow men to kill fertile women
wantonly. But evolution has no problem with men beating and
humiliating their wives, or raping and enslaving strangers.
These actions don't interfere with reproduction so evolution
wouldn't seem to "have an opinon" on them.

That's an interesting side-discussion, but more closely
regarding Wolfe and his attitudes:

Jeff Wilson said:
> Moral context is truly important, but if you constantly write about
> rape and mistreatment of women over and over again, then there would s
> seem to be some kind of over-infatuation going on.

> I think that's pretty much what the argument is, and I've seen little
> regarding moral context, since only a couple of people have pointed to a
> actual examples.

Perhaps few have addressed the argument because it seems so
absurd on the face of it. It's so very easy to say that there are countless
authors, in literary and pulp fiction, that describe horrid behavior toward
women in obsessive detail - what about Samuel Delany's _Dhalgren_,
for one example? Wolfe doesn't even come close. Someone
already mentioned Stephen King and Clive Barker, "but they write
horror, so it's okay.." Unlike a million counter-examples,
most of the rapes and tortures in Wolfe are alluded to,
not described in detail.

I have always thought of Wolfe as one of the most humane SF
authors. He seems like the last SF author I would have thought
guilty of misogyny. Although maybe he put himself at risk by
failing to write thinly veiled political tracts about womens' and
gay rights (ala John Varley).

It appears that you, Jeff, are not immediately going to
condemn Wolfe, and I'm glad. So you ask:

> It's not quanity of violence against women, it's the moral
> context. Is it presented as a crime? spoils of war? just
> desserts? pretext to arranged marriage? harmless fun?

I'm glad you are asking these questions. We could go over
this thing on a case by case basis, and I'd try to be openminded
about the possiblity that I'm wrong about Wolfe, although I'm
not sure I'd succeed. It's probably difficult to be objective about
your favorite author.

In one respect Wolfe's
work IS similar to horror authors like Lawrence Block and
Clive Barker. The Bad Guys quite often "win."
I won't deny that sometimes this causes me to
feel sick or disgusted when I'm reading Wolfe. Perhaps if
I had a different intellectual background, I'd think
that Wolfe was jaded and perverse (or misogynistic?) to
write like this.

Or maybe he's trying to make a point: true victories are
not made from killing Bad Guys or saving damsels in distress.
Sure, we should try to do what we can to right the world, but if
we fall short, are we to despair? If we only
recognize temporal succes, are we not setting ourselves up
for failure? True victories are victories of the heart.

Or, to paraprase _Lictor_,
"They say you are a great warrior who has
killed many," said the chief of the Island people to
Severian. "I am warrior, but not great," said Severian.
"For a man is made great not by killing others, but by
killing parts of himself."

Of course, this is just my own personal interpretation
of what Wolfe is trying to say. Others have a completely
different take on it, and who's to say they're not more correct?

That's the beauty of Gene Wolfe. He doesn't hit you over the head
with a moral message, like many authors do (Heinlein, anone?)
There's no Wise Old Man to explain what lessons you "should"
be learning from this scene or that.

Perhaps that's why _The Book Of The New Sun_ is beloved by
devout christians and confirmed atheists alike.
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