(urth) The Katharine maid

Daniel D Jones ddjones at riddlemaster.org
Mon Oct 30 11:38:52 PST 2006

On Sunday 29 October 2006 16:04, Roy C. Lackey wrote:
> Daniel D Jones wrote:
> 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*? 

The apprentices are raised in the tower and cared for by older apprentices and 
Guildmembers.  I see no reason that this couldn't include infants as well, 
and no reason the children couldn't be bottle-fed on milk taken from a cow, 
goat, etc.  This would explain why they "know no breast."

> 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.

As great a writer as he is, even Wolfe is only human.  I don't think he 
analyzes every sentence for every possible interpretation and nuance of 
meaning.  Only his readers do that.

I think the statement about "knowing no breast" was simply a plausible way for 
Severian to know that this was his mother and not a wet nurse.  Once they are 
taken into the guild, they know no breast.  So a memory of a breast must be 
his mother.  The contradiction with the elsewhere statement about wet nurses 
is simply an error on Wolfe's part.  

> 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.

No, he concludes the woman nursing him must be his mother because she is, in 
fact, nursing him.  Once he was taken from her and placed into the care of 
the guild, he was never suckled again.  He then concludes that the grayness 
is a cell wall because he knows that his mother was imprisoned.  The "then" 
means that this sentence follows logically from the former one, not that it 
logically implies the previous sentence.  He doesn't conclude that it's his 
mother because of the cell - he concludes it's a cell because it's his 

> If there was nothing unusual about infants nursing from their respective
> mothers in cells, how could he have arrived at the conclusion he reached?

As I just explained.

> 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.

No, the passage assumes there were no wet-nurses.  The children taken know no 
breast.  They are bottle fed.

> 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?

Every child that's taken by the torturers.  You're taking the sentence as an 
absolute - if a child was taken by the torturers, then he _at no time_ knew a 
breast.  I think the sentence means that, _once taken_, the infant _never 
again_ knows a breast.  Since the children taken know no breast after they're 
taken, the fact that he's in the process of knowing a breast is proof that he 
has not yet been taken and is in the arms of his mother.

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