Forum Posts

oliverbyrne
Apr 17, 2022
In Gene Wolfe
I stumbled upon a book called "Memoirs from Beyond the Grave" this week and wondered if it might have helped inspire "Peace". Written by Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, it was meant to be published fifty years after his death. Chateaubriand started by retelling the events of his life but gradually expanded the book to include extensive historical context. His life (1768-1848) overlapped with Napoleon's (1769-1821) and I wonder if he knew why Napoleon kept his hand in his waistcoat. Proust, among many others, was an admirer of the "Memoirs". Since Wolfe was such an admirer of Proust, it seems likely he also read Chateaubriand. The work is noted for it's poetic prose and general tone of melancholy. I think the same could be said of "Peace". I don't think this contributes to a better understanding of "Peace", but I did think some on this forum would find it interesting.
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oliverbyrne
Mar 19, 2022
In Gene Wolfe
Really enjoyed part one of you chapter three discussion. The line about "And then a bunch of carnies showed up and kidnapped me" had me laughing out loud. At one point you talked a bit about whether or not Peace can be regarded as Weer's memoir or if the post-modern techniques make that untenable. (I hope I've got that right.) I'd like to suggest that it does work as a memoir, but not one that Weer is intending to publish. If that's so, then what is his intention? In chapter four the perspective does seem to shift for a few pages, but it's just Weer summarizing the contents of a diary he's found. This part of the chapter is particularly full of holes and his abrupt change of voice may suggest his discomfort with the material. You may be right that both Olivia's story and Smart's were written before "Peace" was conceived, but I think that what the Chinese officer learns is significant to the overall narrative. Contrast the moral of that story with the moral of Smart's (if you can find one) and you'll see some interesting things that Wolfe will pick up again in chapter five. Chapter four takes a very hard left turn and I can't wait to hear what you guys make of it. Thanks for helping me see "Peace" in new ways.
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oliverbyrne
Mar 04, 2022
In Gene Wolfe
I was startled by your discussion of Blaine's comment that "all history is biography". I'd like to suggest that Blaine makes the comment in much the way you describe, but that Weer's remembering it reflects something else, and Wolfe's including it in the text something else again. To Wolfe, the idea is that history can only be told through the lens of a system of values. As a writer Wolfe understood this, because no writer can prevent the totality of events as they happened. Every story, and every history, is a filtered, value weighted, interpretation of a set of facts. So too is every personality. What Wolfe is really doing here is showing the gradual erosion of Weer's ego, like the house Weer lives in which he describes as "melting like a candle". Weer is struggling with the idea that his history, his ego, is little more than a collection of lies and sheer nonsense. If you strip all that away, what's left of Weer?
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oliverbyrne
Dec 30, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
Your review of Smart's story gave me a lot to think about, and thank you! I've long suspected that Den has altered a story that seems a "tall tale" in the first place, and that Den's version depreciates Smart because Den didn't like him. Den's memories of Olivia are vivid, and take up much of the book. To me, it's always seemed like this was the part of his life he remembers most fondly. Den has more in common with her than with his parents, and she includes him, begrudgingly or not, in a number of adventures that he remembers for the rest of his life. I believe that Den's parents took Den back only because of Olivia's marriage, and that Den knew this, and blamed Smart for it. Freed by her engagement from her financial dependency on Den's father, Olivia sent John some early twentieth century version of "Dude, getting married over here. Your kid though, seriously". Lacking air travel, email etc. this exchange, and the Weer's eventual return, would have taken a long time, and Den would have stayed with Olivia in the interim. There are other comments. later in the book, that suggest Den and Julius were not close. Den's version of the Mr Tilly story has to be colored by his opinion of Smart. But what did he change?
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oliverbyrne
Oct 27, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
I just finished listening to part 2 of your chapter 2 discussion and I enjoyed every word. I'm really glad to hear you diving into the interplay of memory and imagination that I think is central to the book. Thinking back to chapter 1, I'm reminded of the Indian Treaty that the grownups spend Den's fifth birthday party forging. I read this as the white settlers' willingness to paper over an ugly truth with a self-serving fiction. It's significant that Den remembers this so clearly and that he recounts it immediately before the Bobby Black incident. To me, what he's held onto is that it's okay to make up lies when it serves your purpose, even when that purpose is avoiding your pain, or your moral failings. I suspect that Den is unconsciously prefiguring the arc of his whole life.
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oliverbyrne
Oct 10, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
I'm curious what you guys might think of the following. I've always taken the story of Saint Brandon as an explanation for the presence of spirits, good and evil, from the old world, in the new. No doubt there's a lot going on in that story that I don't understand, but the bow of the boat is said to be in Boston Bay and at the end of the tale, when the cat and the king of rats are fighting, we're told that one is wickedness, and the other a fairy. As they fight, pieces of them run off into the woods. I take this to mean that although Brandon brought Christianity to ancient America, he also brought...other things. Juxtaposed with this is Doherty's reference to his grandmother "the old Kate" which is another name for an evil spirit, mentioned later, called the Bell Witch. The banshee story that Den shares in chapter one is told by "the old Kate", or rather, by Hannah who knew her. Wolfe is showing us an oral tradition of stories from the old world being carried on in America. Is Doherty descended from the Bell Witch? Maybe. The "Bell Witch" has a Wikipedia entry, and I'll hazard that Wolfe did not create her. You can visit Bell Witch Cave in Tennessee and, while it's not an exact match, I'm pretty sure that the cave Olivia, Den and Professor Peacock visit is meant to evoke it. Part of the legend is that disturbing the native bones buried there would awaken an evil spirit. Since I'm pretty sure Peacock carried away a skull, it's sad that he disappears from the story immediately after. More of this comes up later on.
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oliverbyrne
Jul 22, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
I really enjoyed your latest post - I got a little chill when you pointed out the parallel between Bobby Black's accident and the talk of murder during the cave trip. But you skipped over one event that I think is important. As they are preparing to hike back, Peacock leaves Den on the hilltop so he can go back down to the cave and talk to Olivia alone. Why? What do they talk about? And why does Olivia later lie to Den about her dish of olives?
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oliverbyrne
Jul 06, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
I just wanted to point out that Olivia was Wolfe's mother's middle name. I seem to recall that he mentioned in an interview that she played a large part in his love of reading as a child. Your suggestion that avocations are important to finding one's real humanity really resonated with me, and I wonder if Wolfe is sort of thanking his mother for her help. I can't help wondering if she ever read it, and what she might have thought. If memory serves, Wolfe also said that Peace was the "most autobiographical" of his books.
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oliverbyrne
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