Reading The Shadow of the Torturer – Chapter VI: The Traitress

SYNOPSIS: Severian delivers books to the Chatelaine Thecla, currently being held by the Torturers. Thecla is the sister of Thea (who has absconded with Vodalus) and is being used as a bargaining chip by the Autarch. Severian instantly becomes infatuated with Thecla, and Thecla, desiring some company, requests that he keep her company.

ANALYSIS: Thus begins the first of Severian’s rather troubled relationships with women.

Perhaps it was her great violet eyes, with their lids shaded with blue, and the black hair that, forming a V far down her forehead, suggested the hood of a cloak. Whatever the reason, I loved her at once – loved her, at least, insofar as a stupid boy can love. But being only a stupid boy, I did not know it.

Her white hand, cold, slightly damp, and impossibly narrow, touched mine as she took the tray from me.

Again, the Exultants are hinted to have a somewhat alien appearance. Although we briefly saw Thea in the first chapter, and Valeria as a girl in another, Thecla is the first major woman to show up in a book which so far has focused on an all-male guild.

What makes Thecla take particular note of Severian is that he, unlike the journeymen, does not wear a mask. The mask for the torturers seems to be less about concealing identity than it is about projecting an image of themselves as fearsome executors of justice – the persona of the torturer overtaking the individual man. It is a sort of hiding in terms of withdrawal from normal human society. A masked man is unreadable and remains closed to others. Severian’s unmasked state makes him susceptible to being drawn into a human relationship with Thecla.

Most of them [the exultant families] have nobody at court – can’t afford it, or are afraid of it. Those are the small ones. The greater families must: the Autarch wants a concubine he can lay hands on if they start misbehaving. Now the Autarch can’t play quadrille with five hundred women. There are maybe twenty. The rest talk to each other, and dance, and don’t see him closer than a chain off once a month.”

The rebellion of Vodalus has already suggested that the relationship between the ruler of this world and the aristocracy is not always a happy one. This sort of hostage situation confirms it, and also acts as a hint regarding the incognito appearance of the Autarch in this book.

I have come to understand that the Increate, in choosing for me a career in our guild, was acting for my benefit. Doubtless I had acquired merit in a previous life, as I hope to have in this one

Gurloes makes what I think is the first real reference to the theological beliefs that people in this world have, which at times seem Judeo-Christian, at others more like Hinduism.

Gurloes was one of the most complex men I have known, because he was a complex man trying to be simple. Not a simple, but a complex man’s idea of simplicity. Just as a courtier forms himself into something brilliant and involved, midway between a dancing master and a diplomacist, with a touch of assassin if needed, so Master Gurloes had shaped himself to be the dull creature a pursuivant or bailiff expected to see when he summoned the head of our guild, and that is the only thing a real torturer cannot be. The strain showed; though every part of Gurloes was as it should have been none of the parts fit…sometimes he went to the top of our tower, above the guns, and waited there talking to himself, peering through glass said to be harder than flint for the first beams. He was the only one in our guild – Master Palaemon not excepted – who was afraid of the energies there and the unseen mouths that spoke sometimes to human beings and sometimes to other mouths in other towers and keeps.

I find this description of Master Gurloes to be somewhat poignant, perhaps because when I was younger I tried very hard to escape from myself and become the image of what I at least thought was ‘normal’ and what people would want me to be, because it seemed the only way to get away from being alienated from others. But, of course, what I learned was that this is actually a surefire way to just feel even more alienated. I remember attending many parties, and, in spite of all the ‘fun’ I had, feeling all the more lonely after leaving it.

Some of the technology of the spaceship appears to be functional. I assume that the “unseen mouths” are just the voices of the ship’s computers.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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1 Response to Reading The Shadow of the Torturer – Chapter VI: The Traitress

  1. Pingback: Reading The Shadow of the Torturer – Chapters IX-X | Res Studiorum et Ludorum

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