(urth) The littlest apprentices

Brent Dyer brentdyer at sbcglobal.net
Tue Oct 31 13:37:24 PST 2006

I'm new here, and I've been trying to stay out of this, but I just can't.

At first, I was on board with the distinction between the types of "taking" done by the torturers as explaining this apparent contradiction, but now I think that it misses the point.   The problem is not whether Severian really remembered suckling at his mother's breast, but how Severian knew it was his mother and not a wet nurse.  In the  much-debated excerpt, Severian remembers nursing and then realizes that it must be his mother because he sees the gray, metal walls of the Tower and realizes he must be in her cell.  The text is clear that *all* of the walls in the Tower are gray metal.  If, as he states in tSotT, the brotherhood engages wet-nurses, how does the presence of the gray walls confirm that the memory is of his mother?  The tautology set up by Severian is that 1) his memory takes place in the Tower; 2) infants taken from their mothers by the brotherhood do not nurse; 3) therefore the memory must be of his mother, because she is the only woman who could have
 nursed him in the Tower.

I believe that the point of the excerpt is not to establish that he was with his mother in the Tower, but to rule out the possibility that the breast belonged to a wet-nurse who suckled him before his mother became a prisoner in the Tower.  I think that the two excerpts being debated are facially inconsistent.  If the torturers used wet-nurses to care for orphaned male infants, then Severian could not have been certain that his nursing memory was of his mother---it could have just as easily been of one of the wet nurses engaged by the torturers after his mother's death.

As much as we want to harmonize the two statements, I am convinced that it cannot be done.  This leaves three possiblities: (1) Wolfe made an error---always possible, but not a very satisfactory answer, especially since this error is so glaring and the inconsistency seems deliberate; (2) Severian is engaging in wishful thinking---trying to comfort himself with a memory of his mother and refusing to acknowledge the possibility that him memory could be of someone else; or (3) Severian was lying when he said that the brotherhood engaged wet nurses for orphaned infants.

The second possibility has some merit.  Severian seems to spend a lot of time engaging in self-delusion (something about which I may write later tonight with regard to my previous posts on Dorcas and Jolenta), but I don't think that is the case here because it is too obvious.  And I don't think Severian is so far in denial that he would overlook obvious inconsistencies in his precious, "infallible" recollections.  I think that the third possibility is the real answer.

I believe that, throughout tBotNS, Severian sanitizes the Guild to try to make it more palatable for the reader, and to try to minimize the taint of his former association with it.  Aside from Thecla's experience on the Revolutionary (which is really quite tame---it's the aftermath that is shocking), there is no real description of any torturing, even though Severian surely must have been involved with quite a bit of it as part of his apprenticeship.  Severian's loyalty to the Guild, and his desire to minimize his own atrocities, causes him to distort and omit quite a lot.  I think that the bit about engaging wet nurses is another example of Severian "dressing up" the Guild for the readers.  In the same breath that he describes forced caesarians of pregnant women---most of which were almost certainly  well before term---he tells a fib about engaging wet nurses so that the reader will think that the torturers are merely bureaucratic functionaries entrusted with a distasteful
 task, but who are as compassionate as possible under the circumstances.

I think that the reality is that the torturers were probably callous in their treatment of the infants "taken" by them, seeing them as nothing but a burden until they became old enough to start training as apprentices.  More likely than not, the infants were given a minimum of care (certainly not wet nurses) as a way of naturally selecting the strongest and most ruthless candidates for future entry into the Guild.  What's more, it seems unlikely to me that the Guild would even be able to find wet nurses.  Severian makes it clear that the Guild must be self-sufficient because no one else will deal with it.  It seems like a stretch to think that the reviled torturers could find wet-nurses.  In fact, doesn't Severian say at some point that there were no women living in the Tower except the Guild's "clients"?  That would also indicate that the wet nurse story is a lie.  Wet nurses don't just come in for a few hours and then go home for the evening.  The requirements of breast
 feeding require that they live with the children that they care for.  That simply wouldn't be possible if there were no free women living in the Tower.

----- Original Message ----
From: James Crossley <ishmael at drizzle.com>
To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 2:48:41 PM
Subject: Re: (urth) The littlest apprentices

On 10/31/06 12:43 PM, "Nathan Spears" <spearofsolomon at yahoo.com> wrote:

> You're conflating the "take" from "take from the womb" and the "take" from
> "the children the torturers take."  As several people have noted, they don't
> have to refer to the same concept.
Should have typed faster and more concisely, I guess.  Well said.

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