(urth) Were Jolenta and Dorcas lovers?

Brent Dyer brentdyer at sbcglobal.net
Mon Oct 30 19:32:08 PST 2006

I've been enjoying the list for a couple of weeks and just finished perusing part of the archives.  I'm re-reading BotNS for the second time and enjoying it quite a lot, which is a relief, since the first reading mostly befuddled me. Last night I read a passage that was, for back of a better word, shocking.  It's at the beginning of Chapter XXV of tSofL:

"I knew then how Dorcas had felt when Jolenta died.  There had been no sexual play between the boy and me, as I believe there had been at some time between Dorcas and Jolenta; but then it had never been their fleshly love that had aroused my jealousy.  The depth of my feeling for the boy had been as great as Dorcas's for Jolenta, surely (and surely far greater than Jolenta's for Dorcas).  If Dorcas had known of it, she would have been as jealous as I had sometimes been, I thought, if only she had loved me as I had loved her."

What?  My initial reaction was that this passage was Severian engaging in sour grapes about Dorcas, slandering her memory to console himself about her recent loss.  And that still seems to be the most likely explanation, but two things about the passage that seem contrary to this explanation: (1) the chapter occurs some time after Dorcas spurns Severian in Thrax and (2) it is written not as an account of Severian's thoughts and feelings at the time, but in his capacity as a narrator writing years after Thrax.  Severian certainly would have to be carrying a lot of bitterness to still be feeling the need to trash Dorcas years after the fact.  So, if I assume (at least for the sake of argument) that Severian isn't just speaking out of spite, the passage raises several questions for me.

1.    Were there any indication, prior to that point, that Dorcas and Jolenta had a sexual relationship?  I've been reading carefully, and I don't think that I would have missed something that big.

2.    Was Severian jealous of Dorcas and Jolenta?  Once again, I don't remember being under the impression that Severian was jealous about Dorcas' relationship with anyone.  Quite the contrary, Severian seemed pretty callous toward Dorcas' obvious devotion to him.

3.    What on Earth (or Urth) would cause Severian to think that he loved Dorcas more than she loved him?  As nearly as I can tell, Dorcas was completely faithful to Severian after the night they spent in the storeroom (except, perhaps, for the sapphic interludes with Jolenta that I might have completely missed) while Severian seemed intent on coupling with every attractive female he encountered.  He even overtly dallied with Jolenta immediately upon being reunited with the Talos/Balders drama troupe,clearly intending to hurt Dorcas.

I have a few theories to explain answer these questions.  One is that Severian has imagined a sexual relationship between the two to justify his own boorish behavior.  "So what if I slept with Jolenta, Dorcas did too. And she never really loved me anyway."

Another theory is that Severian assumed, perhaps wrongly, that there must have been a sexual relationship between Jolenta and Dorcas because he has a difficult time comprehending filial devotion.  To Severian, attachment only occurs when someone is (1) a sexual partner or (2) your master or apprentice.

My last theory is that Severian assumed a sexual relationship between Jolenta and Dorcas because, at the incident at the Piteous Gate (sorry to open that can of worms again), Dorcas chose to go with Dr. Talos, Baldanders, and Jolenta instead of  Severian and Jonas.  That might also explain the comments about jealousy and the deliberate choice to have sex with Jolenta first when Severian was reunited with the rest of the troupe---both to hurt Dorcas in the same way that he (believed) that she had hurt him and to try to drive a wedge between Dorcas and Jolenta.  Ultimately, this drama is inverted and reenacted when Dorcas sleeps with Severian beside the campfire and Severian notes that she seemed very inerested in having Jolenta see them.
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