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From: "Roy C. Lackey" 
Subject: (urth) The cenoby files
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 16:57:40 -0500

Having just completed a slow rereading of the LS series, there are some
puzzles I can't seem to work out. Those bored with nitty-gritty plot details
may want to skip it.

This puzzle is bound up, primarily, in two scenes and two associated
objects. The scenes are Marble's two trips to the attic of the cenoby in
CALDE. She went up there to get to the roof to get a better view of the
Trivigaunti airship. One of the two objects is a painting on the wall of the
second-floor hallway of the cenoby, the other is a trunk in the attic. It's
hard, sometimes, to sort out the pronouns used by Marble after she
assimilated some of Rose's personality, to know which of herselves is meant;
sometimes she switches viewpoints in the same sentence. But both trips to
the attic came after Rose's death. In order to make as much sense of this as
I can, I must first establish some background for both Marble and Rose.

Marble's earliest memory is of the first time she booted up in a huge room
on Urth. She was naked and was given a maids' costume to wear. She was, in
other words, literally created to be a maid. (This is in chapter seven of
EXODUS, the one about the talus factory. There are some clear parallels
regarding taluses and chems there with ideas Wolfe put forth in his Tolkien
essay regarding individuals and their place in society, ideas that Adam
Stephanides, iirc, commented on earlier this year, but I don't want to get
into that here. But I will note that when Marble got "new clothes", as she
puts it, after becoming a sibyl, she had to put aside the clothes she was
created to wear. With her new clothes she assumed a new place in society her
creators had not intended for her. Make of that what you will.) Marble had
been the sibyls' maid when "the first bios moved into the city". (231) She
was just a maid for two and a half centuries.

Marble told Silk that the oldest of the children she had first taught "must
be sixty, or about that. I was--didn't teach until then." (LS1, 3) She was
what? What she was going to say, I believe, was that she had been just the
sibyls' maid up until then. This is confirmed in LS4, when she told Quetzal
why she wanted to be released from her vow. (231-32) She then taught only
the youngest of the children, teaching them "their sums and letters". So,
Marble had been a sibyl for only fifty-odd years.

Now to Rose. She was 40 when she gave birth to Blood. Blood told Silk that
he was 49, but Silk intuited that he was lying, that he was at least five
years older--call it 54. That makes Rose about 94 when she died. Rose is a
bitter, old bitch whom no one likes. She has nothing but contempt for
Marble, as shown by her persistent refusal to use the customary honorific
"Maytera" when speaking to others of her: "Marble's still fooling around in
the kitchen. The littlest thing takes that girl forever." (LS1, 8) Note the
"that girl", even though Marble is more than three times as old as Rose. To
Rose, Marble is "that girl" because Rose remembers her when she still had
her girlish face and synthetic-bio covering.

When Marble first went up to the attic, she searched her memory for how long
it had been since she had last done that; 184 years before. (LS3, 5) She had
been a "graceful girl" then; in fact, she had been a "graceful girl" for 120
years by then, because the _Whorl_  has been gone from Urth for 300 years.

About that painting. On her second trip to the attic (LS3, 8) she was
thinking about the painting on the wall of the second-floor hallway of the
cenoby, the one of Molpe blessing an old woman and some doves. She says she
had lied when she told a postulant once that she had posed as Molpe, "almost
the only lie she had ever told". Yet she seems to have a memory of having
posed for that painting. At any rate, she goes on to think she "could not
have been a sibyl then, only the sibyls' maid". In other words, she was
still just the maid at the time that picture was painted.

Marble did not pose for it; that was a lie, as she confessed. She told the
lie because she wanted, as an old woman will who was once beautiful, the
young postulant to understand that she had once been young, too; that
somewhere inside she was still "that girl". Wolfe is particularly tricky
about that painting, mingling memories and misdirecting the reader. The
memory of having posed comes from Rose, evidently, despite the comments
about chems making better models. Here is the relevant passage:

    "She [Marble] could not have been a sibyl then, only the sibyls' maid;
but the artist had been a relative of the Senior Sibyl's, who had agreed to
let her [Rose] pose. Chems could hold a pose much longer than bios. All
artists, he had said, used chems when they could, although he had used his
mother for the old woman because chems never looked old. . . .
    "She smiled at that, tilting her head far back and to the right. The
hinges, then the other track.
    "He had given them the picture when it was done."

That picture, then, was painted more than fifty years ago, when Marble still
had her girlish looks and Rose was a relatively young, attractive, slender
sibyl. Marble's lie eventually became the truth. A single word in the
following quote is all that gives me any reason to doubt this explication of
that picture: "A chubby postulant whose name she could not recall had
admired it; and she, thin, faceless, old Maytera Marble, flattered, had said
that she had posed for Molpe." How and why should Marble have felt
"flattered" if it was a lie? If it wasn't a lie, why would she repeatedly
confess it to Betel at each shriving, such false confessions themselves
constituting more lies? Remember, that lie was told many years before Marble
acquired some of Rose's parts and personality.

Fifty-odd years ago, Rose was close to forty. Both Marble and Rose have
independent memories of Maytera Betel when each was a sibyl; Marble of
confessing over and over to her for the lie about posing for the painting,
Rose of Betel's help with her pregnancy. When Marble told that lie she was,
by her own account, "thin, faceless, old Maytera Marble". So, since Rose
remembers Marble when she was "that girl", either Marble suffered a rather
precipitous breakdown of her girlish facade, or she was made to give it up,
possibly as a condition of teaching. It wouldn't do to have a teacher who
looked like a girl herself.

Silk also saw that painting when he went into the cenoby to fetch Marble
another habit. He noted that the Molpe painting was one of "three faded
pictures" . (LS3, 4) Would a painting have faded noticeably in Rose's
lifetime? Or is the fading more consistent with a period of 184 years?

Now that trunk. On that first trip to the attic Marble also noticed an old,
rusted, tin trunk. She tried to recall who had owned it, "eventually running
down the whole list--every sibyl who had ever lived in the cenoby--without
finding a single tin trunk among the associated facts". When a sibyl died,
what few personal possessions she had were either shared among the other
sibyls or returned to her family. The fact that she knew the names--had a
list in a memory file--of "every sibyl who had ever lived in the cenoby" is
because Marble had spent her entire career aboard the _Whorl_ at the Sun
Street Manteion. Remember, it has been 184 years since she last opened that
attic door, and the tool to hook the door with has been lost for "more than
a century". She goes on to think: "She hadn't been up there, no one had--"
There is no way, then, for that trunk to have belonged to Rose, but there is
more misdirection, by Wolfe, about this trunk.

On her second trip to the attic Marble again noted the trunk, only this time
matter-of-factly thinking "and here was her old trunk". Then she searches
her files again for the word "trunk", only to come up with the same useless
list of names. Then she changes the search word to "footlocker" and, bingo,
"Here was a list of the dresses she had worn before they had voted to admit
her. Her perfume. The commonplace book that she had kept for the mere
pleasure of writing in it, of practicing her hand." The trunk had been
Marble's, the perfume and dresses in it those she had worn before becoming a
sibyl; sibyls have no use for such feminine things. Marble reinforces the
idea that the trunk is hers when she mentions to Quetzal that, before she
started teaching, she kept a sort of diary "to practice my hand". The
problem is, _that trunk had been in the attic for at least 184 years_! Its
contents had never been dispersed because Marble was still alive.

Now, either Wolfe screwed up here (and went out of his way to do it!), or
that "fifty-odd years" figure mentioned earlier must be re-examined. Note
the vote "to admit her" in the above quote. If it is true that Marble hadn't
been in that attic for 184 years, and if the contents of the trunk were
hers, then what was the vote intended to admit her to? Not to be a teacher
or a sibyl; she was drafted to be the former and more or less forced to
become the latter and, in any event, she didn't become a teacher until
fifty-odd years ago.

What is going on here? Who posed for the painting, when? Whose trunk was it,
and when was it put in the attic?



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