Friday, March 21, 2008


author Michael Swanwick has said: "Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it. Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning."

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, (p. 233, Ace pb)

But the dream of women -- actually, of a woman, a girl -- has set my mind again upon a theory I formulated when I was living in the mountains. It is so simple a theory, so obviously true, so self-evident that it seemed to me at that time that everyone must have thought of it; but I mentioned it several times to various people at the university at Roncevaux, and most of them looked at me as if I were mad. It is simply this: that all the things we consider beautiful in a woman are merely criteria for her own survival and thus the survival of the children we shall father in her. In the main (ah, Darwin!) those who followed these criteria in their ambushes of the female (for we do not really pursue them, do we? We are not swift enough. We leap upon them from cover, having lulled their suspicions) populated the worlds -- we are their descendants; while those who flouted them saw, in the long prehistory of man, their children torn by bears and wolves.

And so we seek long-legged girls, because a long-legged girl is swift to fly danger; and for the same reason a girl who is tall, but not too tall -- a girl will be swiftest at a height of about a hundred and eighty centimeters, or a little more. Thus, men will crowd around a girl as tall as an ordinary tall man (and her shorter sisters will lengthen the heels of their shoes and thicken the soles to seem like her). But a girl too tall will run clumsily, and one of, say two hundred and twenty centimeters will almost never find a husband.

In the same way the female pelvis must be wide enough to pass living infants (but not too wide or, again, she will be slow) and every man gauges the width of those bones when the girl has passed. Breasts there must be or our children will starve as babes -- so our instincts tell us still, and though a thin girl can run well, one too thin will have no milk when there is no food.

And the face. It has troubled artists ever since the fading of superstition allowed human portraiture -- they decide what shall be beautiful, then marry a woman with crooked teeth in a wide mouth. When we look at their pictures of the great beauties of history, the idols of the populace, the mistresses of kings, the great courtesans, what do we see? That one has mismatched eyes and another a large nose. The truth is that men care for nothing for any of these things, and want vivacity and a smile. (Will she see danger, will she kill the sons of my loins in her rage?).

The girl in my dream, you ask, what of her? Shadowy, but as I have described. Naked. No woman arouses me who wears even a wisp of clothing; and once at Roncevaux when I tried to slake my passion with a girl who did not divest herself of a sort of halter, I was a sad failure.

-- John V. Marsh, "V.R.T.", The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, (p. 233, Ace pb)

No comments: