(urth) Ouen's Catherine

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Fri Oct 13 17:59:32 PDT 2006

One of Severian's first actions upon returning to the Citadel as autarch was
to kidnap Ouen. Even if I concede that Severian knew or had reason to
suspect at the time that Ouen was Dorcas's son, it wasn't until the
innkeeper said that Ouen looked much like an older Severian that Severian
made any sort of connection between himself and the waiter. At that point he
questioned Ouen about past brushes with the law and a past relationship with
a "dark woman".

What "dark woman" did Severian have in mind, and what did he know, or
suspect, about her and this look-alike waiter? I can only conclude that he
came to this conversation with a prior notion about a certain dark woman and
her relationship to himself. The only female who fits the bill is the tall,
slender, dark maid who acted the part of Holy Katharine on feast day. But
what justification did he have for such a notion? I don't see it in the
text. I don't see any indication in the text prior to this scene at the inn
that he thought that the maid, or someone who looked like her, might be his

Only after being questioned did Ouen say that her name had been Catherine.
Can you hear the difference in spelling between the spoken "Catherine" and
"Katharine"? I can't, and I don't think Severian could either.

It seems that it was on this second visit to the inn that Severian first
realized that Dorcas was his grandmother, and then only after first
concluding that Ouen was his father. Two revelations about his lineage in
one day.

But I doubt that the maid who played Katharine was actually his mother.
Others have speculated that the maid was a khaibit, which may be so. If
true, then the woman for whom she was a khaibit was likely Ouen's Catherine.
Nothing at all was mentioned about Catherine's height, which is unusual for
Severian to omit. If Ouen's Catherine was an exultant, that helps account
for Severian's height. (I know that little of this is original to me; I'm
just trying to figure out Severian's family tree.)

It is always assumed that the "order of monials" Catherine ran away from was
the Pelerines. That may also be true, but being tortured to death is hardly
an apt or likely consequence of deserting a voluntary religious order.
Catherine's real 'crime' may have been deserting the inner circle of the
autarch's most valuable hostages. As Gurloes said, some bold chatelaines
traded places with their khaibits. Severian was born about the time the Old
Autarch opened the whore house, when the autarch no longer had any practical
use for any sort of concubine.

The khaibit maid's 'crime' may have been complicity in Catherine's schemes,
and her punishment her perpetual participation in the torturers' annual
feast. Catherine may have tried to hide for a time among the Pelerines, or
she may have affected the role, just as Cyriaca later adopted the costume
for a party and fooled Severian.

If Catherine was an exultant, then it must be through her that Severian is
related to Thecla's family. I don't know if it's possible to figure out who
Catherine's parents were.


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