(urth) The Katharine maid

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Sun Oct 29 13:04:53 PST 2006

Daniel D Jones wrote:
>Chapter 2 of Shadow:
>"...when a woman big with child is sent to us we open her and if the babe
>draws breath engage a wet-nurse if it be a boy.  The females are rendered
>the witches..."
>It seems to me the line saying that the children the torturers take know no
>breast is a direct contradiction to the above which says they engage a wet
>nurse.  At least, the only definition I'm familiar with for "wet nurse" is
>woman who suckles another woman's child.  If it is a contradiction, then
>question is whether it's an error of Severian's or Wolfe's.  I suspect it's
>Wolfe's.  I can see any point or significance to Severian misleading the
>reader in so subtle and trivial a manner.  Outside of that apparent error,
>don't see any contradictions or issues with Severian being born in the

The apparent contradiction about who suckles whom and when played a large
role in why I theorized that Severian might not have been born in the tower.
I'll set aside for the moment the issue of torturer recruitment.

>  The text doesn't specifically say but it seems unlikely that a
>pregnant woman would be given a Caesarian while her ultimate disposition
>yet to be decided.  After all, it's possible she'll be released.  Thus it
>seems not only possible but likely that some women do give birth while
>imprisoned in the tower, if only those who are awaiting final judgement and
>disposition.  I don't see any issue or contradiction with Severian being
>to Catherine while she was a prisoner but before her sentence had been
>down.  Once her sentence was given, it was executed and Severian was
>into the guild.

Let's dismiss Severian, too, for now. Now suppose this scenario:

Some woman, pregnant but not yet "big with child", is sent to the torturers.
Unlike most people sent to them, she is not tortured relatively soon after
arrival. The pregnancy progresses and eventually a boy baby draws breath,
whether born naturally or otherwise. A week, or a month, or three months
later the order comes for her to be tortured. She dies as a result of it.
What happens to the baby?

According to the logic of your above supposition, this hypothetical baby
would at this point be "taken" into the guild. Who feeds and otherwise cares
for it -- and *where*? Severian said, "the children the torturers take know
no breasts". Not only are there no female members of the guild, I can't
recall *any* female in NEW SUN even being inside the Matachin Tower who was
not a "client". It would be logical to assume that a newborn would be
treated the same way as a child cut from the womb. But if so, why did
Severian specify "...when a woman big with child is sent to us we open her
and if the babe draws breath engage a wet-nurse if it be a boy."? It seems
that he is making some sort of distinction between babies born naturally and
those the torturers cut out. I was trying to account for that in my theory.

Again: "My mother certainly, for the children the torturers take know no
breasts. The grayness at the edge of my field of vision, then, was the metal
of her cell wall." That "then" bothers me. In his thoughts, as the vague
memory comes to him, he concludes that the woman he can't see and probably
couldn't recognize if he could see her, *must* be his mother *because* he is
nursing in a cell. In other words, those particular aspects of the memory
distinguish him from "the children the torturers take" in some way.

If there was nothing unusual about infants nursing from their respective
mothers in cells, how could he have arrived at the conclusion he reached?
Why couldn't the woman nursing him have been just some wet-nurse? *Because
it happened in a cell.* A wet-nurse would not have been in a cell.

It therefore seems to me that your above interpretation of what Severian
meant by "taken" into the guild can't be correct. His "the children the
torturers take know no breasts" statement is unqualified, making no
exception for himself or the hypothetical baby. Even if each and every
apprentice in the guild came to be there as a result of his mother having
given birth to him naturally in a cell or by C-section, then who are the
children the torturers take who know no breasts?


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