randy_byers: (Default)
Russ The_Two_of_Them.jpg
She thought that it wasn't David, it wasn't even sex; it was some kind of deeper trouble, not only painful but unbearably, exasperatingly boring, something that would've been a lot better if it had been tragic and easier if it'd been sad.

Something unbearably disillusioning.

And old. Very, very old.


I've been working my way through a couple of different lists of Best/Favorite science fiction by women in Gwyneth Jones' Imagination/Space, mostly recently Tiptree's Up the Walls of the World and McIntyre's Dreamsnake. For Joanna Russ, Jones quite rightly recommends The Female Man, but because the Tiptree and McIntyre were both published in 1978, I chose to re-read The Two of Them, which was also published in 1978 and has long been one of my favorite Russ novels. I've always found it a difficult novel, and it's hard to imagine that I could provide a better reading of it than Jones' "Postscript to A Fairy Tale," which finds in the novel a Cinderella story and a parable of the failure of what's now called second wave feminism to achieve gender equality.

The Two of Them begins with two agents of the Trans-Temporal Agency, Ernst and Irene, arriving on a hollowed out asteroid that houses a neo-Islamic culture where women are treated like ornamental birds in a cage, supposedly for their own protection but really to keep them under control. What Ernst and Irene's mission is, and what the nature of the Trans-Temporal Agency is, is left unclear, but when Ernst and Irene discover the twelve-year-old daughter of the emmisary who greets them and discover that she wants to be a poet but will never be allowed to in this culture (where her aunt Dunya was declared insane for wanting the same thing), we flash back to Irene's adolescence as a bright, awkward, misfit in the USA of 1953. This is pretty clearly an autobiographic element in the story, and I feel that Russ used a similar situation in her Alyx story, "The Second Inquisition." Like the girl Zubeydeh, Irene is unhappy with her options in a culture that is repressive of women like her housewife mother. When a mysterious friend of her mother's named Ernst shows up at the house, Irene is fascinated and soon finds out that he is an agent of a mysterious agency that exists somewhere in an alternative reality. (It seems to me that the agency is not Trans-Temporal so much as Trans-Reality, where Reality conforms to the Many Worlds Hypothesis).

Back in the neo-Islamic asteroid, we find out that Ernst recruited Irene into the agency, rescuing her from the limited future she was facing in her home reality, and that they have been lovers and colleagues in the agency for many years since then. They have a very close, loving relationship, and when Irene decides that she wants to rescue Zubeydeh by recruiting her as Ernst recruited Irene, Ernst is willing. But as Irene mulls the situation, she realizes that rescuing Zubeydeh doesn't accomplish much. What about Zubeydeh's pill-popping housewife mother, who seems to prefer her cage to freedom, or her mad aunt, or Irene's own mother left behind in the home timeline, or her disabled best friend Chloe, who is so socially isolated that she lives vicariously through operas that Irene dismisses as heartless stories about women trapped and killed by social rules while men (especially the morally-ambivalent baritones) are free to have fun while they suffer.

The Two of Them is difficult partly because it's so conflicted. Irene is consumed by guilt for her failures and limitations. She wants women to be as free as men, but she can see that women are often their own worst enemies and complicit in their own oppression. The novel is also self-aware of its own contradictions. This self-awareness starts out as awareness that all stories are artificial, as Irene dissects the cliches of operas and the neo-Islamic poetic fables on TV on the asteroid. Trashy romances that Zubeydeh consumes with a passion and wants to eventually write herself. The fact that Irene and Ernst are moving between probabilities also emphasizes that in some ways they are choosing which story they want to inhabit, which in turn underlines the fact that the one we're reading about is just as arbitrary and full of plot holes as any of the others. Russ takes glee in mocking her own story, in fact, and examining the ways in which it doesn't make sense. Eventually a shocking death occurs, and the novel seems to start unraveling before our eyes, as Irene tries to fix it by imagining that it is a comedy instead of a tragedy.

Yet the nightmare of history won't allow Irene wake up in a comedy. Irene has to face the reality that the oppression of women is deeply engrained in the world and is always working against her, constraining her choices. Ironically, once she cuts herself loose from the agency, which she comes to see as a conspiracy against women, granting freedom to a select few such as herself while abandoning the rest throughout the multiverse, she loses all power of self-determination.

I've always found the end of the novel hair-raising, as Irene dreams of a dream of the mad aunt Dunya, about a valley of dry bones: "Innumerable skeletons are spread from wall to wall, and piled up immeasurably into the half-grey, half-lost rocky ceiling so far from any open love or light, are skeletons lying as they fell long ago in aeons-old attitudes of terror or flight, bones intermingled with bones, heaps of bones choking the dry watercourse and stretching back between the valley walls, a dry, silent carpeting as far as the eye can see." These are pretty clearly the bones of all the women who have died in servitude to men, and nothing in that valley has changed for a very long time. This is an expression of hopelessness and fear that true gender equality can never be achieved in the face of the long history of inequality.

But then, magically, a voice begins to whisper, "Shall these bones live!" and creates a breeze that begins to rustle through the bones, promising new life. I never really understood this ending until a couple of years ago when I discovered that it's a reference to a passage from Ezekiel, where Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones and then hears the voice of God, '“Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel."'

I'm still not sure what Russ intends with this reference. I don't think she believes gender equality will be wrought miraculously by a supernatural being. It seems more likely that the miracle will be caused by books like The Two of Them, in which women are given a voice, even if only a bare whisper. Of course, while Russ kept writing for a short while after this book was published, she all too soon fell silent herself. But of course Russ was a Jew and would have been well aware that throughout history the people of Israel have never long been free of oppression, enslavement and exile. There's a deep sense of pessimism in this book, for all the agile acrobatics and humor of the narrative. One thing I noticed this time through is that Irene is furious the whole time, but she is also aware that her anger causes her to make strategic and tactical mistakes. Looming over all of this is the question of whether sympathetic men -- such as Ernst -- can be allies in the project of equality, or whether we are doomed by our culture to keep replicating the same power relationships that our culture has stabilized for thousands of years. It's a powerful meditation, if ultimately a gloomy one.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Boy, sometimes I'm amazed at the things I don't know. Today I was reading Andrew Sprung's analysis of Obama's Charleston eulogy and found there a quote from Obama's Dreams from My Father in which he lists stories from the Bible: "the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones." That last bit about Ezekiel hit me like a thunderclap.

I've long been mystified by the ending of Joanna Russ' science fiction novel, The Two of Them. In it the protagonist, Irene, has a dream about a valley of dry bones. It is completely and utterly and hopelessly dead: "Innumerable skeletons are spread from wall to wall, and piled up immeasurably into the half-grey, half-lost rocky ceiling so far from any open love or light, are skeletons lying as they fell long ago in aeons-old attitudes of terror or flight, bones intermingled with bones, heaps of bones choking the dry watercourse and stretching back between the valley walls, a dry, silent carpeting as far as the eye can see."

Irene hears "a little, cooing sigh" in her mind's ear: "Shall these bones live?" There is no hope of life for these bones, because they are a form of nothingness, and nothing can come from nothing. Yet something utterly mysterious happens, and the voiceless whisper -- "Shall these bones live!" -- becomes a little breeze. "It is nothing living but only the memory of another voice, the voice of Dunyazad, Shahrazad's sister, that mad, dead, haunted woman who could not tell stories, who could not save herself. It is the voicelessness of Dunyazad that passes like a sigh from wall to wall of the valley of dry bones and shivers faintly over the multitude of the dead. It has no Word. It has nothing to say. It whispers its crazy nonsense thoughtlessly and hopelessly to nothing at all, but where it passes, throughout the length of that still, grey place, there is the barest shiver, the faintest stir, the dimmest, most imperceptible rustling. You can barely see it. You can barely hear it. From autumn leaf to autumn leaf goes the message: something, nothing, everything. Something is coming out of nothing. For the first time, something will be created out of nothing."

I think I've always felt there was something biblical about this passage, especially the idea of creating something out of nothing (ex nihilo). However, until seeing that phrase from the Obama autobiography, I hadn't realized that she was riffing on a specific passage from the Bible, Ezekiel 37:1-14, which opens: 'The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”' The Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy that the bones can live, and when Ezekiel does so, the bones are miraculously clothed with flesh. The Lord explains: '“Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel."'

What Russ is doing with this story is still a bit of a puzzle to me, because she is not appealing to anything supernatural, as far as I can tell. Yet what happens *is* mysterious. Somehow the unvoiced stories of a forgotten madwoman will bring something out of nothing? Those final pages of The Two of Them have always been inexplicably powerful for me, but even now knowing the source of the imagery I can't say I understand it. It is a call for hope when all is hopeless, and perhaps it's essentially a reminder that we don't understand the forces of history any better than we understand how the world came to be. But it seems to go beyond advising that there's no reason to feel hopeless; it seems to say that the untold stories -- the hidden truth -- still exert themselves on the world. Perhaps, then, it's a reminder that human history is not the stories we tell but actually a force greater than stories.
randy_byers: (bumble bee man)


Today was my annual Homebrewed Compost Application Day, wherein I dig out my homebrewed compost (spiders and beetles and worms, oh my!) and spread it on this or that garden bed. There's never very much, but I always get an absurd pleasure out of the DIY aspect of it. This year I spread most of it on the area where I grow tomatos, because my tomato plants were pretty anemic this year.

I also planted some Siberian irises that are descendants of plants that were in Joanna Russ' garden. These came to me courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] kate_schaefer, who spread them around this year in the wake of Russ's death. There will be more about this in the forthcoming issue of Chunga.

In a perhaps balancing act, I tore out the irises in another bed, which I'm hoping to plant with something more bee-friendly, probably a rosemary or thyme plant and possibly some of the bee's friend (Phacelia tanacetifolia) seeds that [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw picked up for me somewhere.

It felt really good to get out and dig around in the dirt. I've been incredibly stressed out by my job lately, and have felt exhausted and half-sick this weekend. It was a tremendous release to break a sweat in the act of breaking soil. Maybe there's something to the idea that getting dirt on your skin is a healthy thing to do. That's what "studies show," you know.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
So as I was writing about Joanna Russ over the weekend, I thought it might be cute to find the paragraph of hers I'd mimicked and post it along with my version. So last night I pulled out the ancient folder containing the story I did this for, "Singularities". It smelled of mildew, although the paper all looked clean. Notebook paper with handwritten text, typewriter paper with typed text. There was the Seal of approval that carl had drawn for me when I was feeling down about the quality of what I'd written. And here were two different versions of the paragraph I had based on Russ. Loooooooong paragraph. Starts off well, but uh-oh, quickly becomes pointlessly weird and stilted. So I looked at the second version, which takes it more in the direction of the story I wanted to tell. Well, there's more story there, the weirdness is more pointed, but boy is it stilted and disconnected and inhuman. I read the first paragraph of the finished story, and it was so horribly over-intellectualized that I immediately stopped. This was bringing up bad memories.

So I pulled out the slightly-less-ancient folder that contained the novella, "Recognition", which was the longer version of the same story that I wrote after I moved to Seattle. Started reading the first paragraph, which was completely different from the original opening -- and boy was it horribly precious and confusing and over-written. I looked briefly at the notes that Victor wrote after he read it, and his first point was that the shifting verb tenses was a bad idea. No shit! What the hell was I thinking?

I put the folder away, and I spun out. I got really upset. I had to leave the house. And I was surprised by how upset I felt. I thought I'd put my dream of being a great writer behind me. I thought I had found a niche of amateur journalism that made a lot more sense for my personality. And I think I have. What I didn't realize is that moving on didn't mean those old feelings of failure, disappointment, and self-loathing from the era of trying to write fiction had been resolved. Wow. I can't say I missed those feelings! What a cesspit.

So I went down to the Pacific Inn and ordered a two-piece fish and chips. I drank a couple of pints of fine local beer. I watched NBA basketball for an hour and exchanged quips with the bartender, Bobby. And I went back home, and I read a few pieces from Dave Kehr's collection of movie reviews, and everything was fine. Ugly feelings back in the folder, back in the file cabinet.

I know this is kind of a cheat. There's more I could say about why I failed as fiction writer, and particularly about how over-intellectualized I was as a young man and how much work I put into learning how to feel (one of the insights I gained from reading Russ was how much work it is to feel clearly), and how much help I got from my friends (and from a counselor) doing so, how much I still fail on that front (c.f. romantic relationships). How much the learning process led my writing in a different, less ambitious, direction that is a much better fit for who I am. And there, that's my outline of a deeper self-portrait. I feel rattled even saying that much. Funny where a little fond nostalgia for the old days will lead you.
randy_byers: (powers expdt)
Yesterday [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond and I were talking about Joanna Russ, and he told me the story of how he first heard of her and of the series of important connections that followed from that. It's a great story, and I hope he writes it up. It involves Chip "Samuel R." Delany, and it got me thinking about the likelihood that Chip was also the one who, less directly, introduced me to Russ' work.

There's no way to know for sure, but I pulled out my log of all the books I've read since March 29, 1979 just to see what it would tell me. I was still 18 at the time I started the log, and I had been a big science fiction reader for several years already. Memory tells me that I'd read Delany's Babel-17 in the fall of 1978 and hadn't been impressed. (I'd bounced off Dhalgren in the eighth grade in 1974, the year it was published.) Then I went to my first science fiction convention, where I met Denys, and Denys urged me very strongly to try Delany again. And because I was so bowled over by Denys, I did try Delany again. My log book probably does reflect this. Delany's The Einstein Intersection is #9 on the list, which means I read it sometime relatively soon after March 29, 1979, which would be about right for a post-Norwescon timeframe. The record shows, to no one's surprise, that I worked my way steadily through Delany's oeuvre thereafter.

One curious thing I learned from looking at the log is that the first book I read by Thomas Disch was On Wings of Song, which I read shortly before the next date I recorded, which was July 7, 1979. (I had read fifty books in that four month period. It probably takes me two or three years to read fifty books these days.) Delany, Disch, and Russ were my trinity of great writers in those early years at college. My theory going into this historical exercise was that Chip's critical writing about Disch and Russ is what turned me on to them, but my log book doesn't necessarily support that theory when it comes to Disch. My thought, which Ron had also suggested, was that it was Delany's collection of essays, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw that introduced me to Disch and Russ, but I apparently didn't read that until December 1979. By then I had already read 334, The Genocides, The Puppies of Terra, Echo Round His Bones, and Fun with Your New Head.

However, the log does seem to support the theory that The Jewel-Hinged Jaw is what brought my attention to Joanna Russ. Four entries later comes Alyx (the Gregg Press edition), and later in January 1980 I also read And Chaos Died for the first time. I read The Female Man, We Who Are About To, and The Two of Them in March. The log confirms my memory that And Chaos Died was my favorite: I reread it in February 1981 and then again in December 1981. Turns out I misremembered something else, however: I did reread We Who Are About To, in 1982, and I reread all her other novels over that period too. I haven't gone through all thirty years of my log, but from what I did look at it appears that the only other novel of hers I read a third time is The Two of Them, and it's probably true that I've always liked that one slightly better than the more famous The Female Man too. I read And Chaos Died a fourth time in 1989, and I haven't looked any further than that. In 1989 I would've still been hoping that I could write something like my favorite Joanna Russ novel.

In my personal pantheon John Crowley joined the original trinity slightly later in time. (Eventually Disch fell out.) I discovered him on my own, as far as I can tell. The log confirms that I read The Deep first, in 1980. I have a very clear memory of reading the paperback in the dilapidated easy chair that carl and I had in our apartment in Eugene. What I didn't remember is when and in what order I read the rest of his existing work. The record shows that I read Beasts sometime between March and August 1981 and that I read Engine Summer in August. That one I remember reading in the upstairs bedroom of my parents' house in Portland, where I was staying for the summer. I read Little, Big in February 1983, and that's when Crowley joined my pantheon.

Well, I don't know why I felt compelled to share all this. I guess Joanna's death triggered the memories. Someone recently pointed me to a long blog post an artist did on how to train yourself creatively, and one of the guy's suggestions was to read everything by your favorite writer and then read all of your favorite writer's favorite writers. That's what I was doing back then. If I saw a book with a blurb from Delany, I read it. I pored over his essays about Joanna Russ, and carl and I pooled our money (a buck-25 each) to buy Sharee a copy of Fundamental Disch, which Chip edited. It was exciting times, and my brain was exploding with new input. I dreamed that someday I'd join my pantheon as one of the greatest science fiction writers of the era. Well, a boy could dream in those days. It was a good dream to chase after, even if what ended up catching me was something entirely different.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
A couple of days ago word came that Joanna Russ had suffered a series of strokes and wasn't expected to survive long. Today it was announced that she died at 7 this morning in a Tucson hospice.

I've written here before that Russ is probably the writer I most wish I could write like. I've told the anecdote about the college writing course in which I was given the exercise of taking a paragraph from a Joan Didion essay and copying the grammatical structure while creating a paragraph of my own. I enjoyed the exercise so much that in a creative writing class I was taking at the same time I took a paragraph from Russ' science fiction novel, And Chaos Died, and did the same thing in a story I was working on.

And Chaos Died was probably my favorite of her novels. It's certainly the one I've read the most. It's an incredible tour de force in which we see what it's like to become telepathic and telekinetic (and freak out about it) from the subjective point of view. It's also very homophobic, which ended up being ironic when Russ came out as a lesbian not too long after. Even ignoring the homophobia, it probably isn't her greatest novel, even if it's my favorite. The most influential -- and I believe the one that sold the most copies -- was The Female Man, her complex and fiercely feminist exploration of gender dystopias and utopias. I found all of her novels powerful, even We Who Are About To and the non-SF On Strike Against God, neither of which I've ever re-read. She was a great writer of short fiction and essays as well. How to Suppress Women's Writing was another important feminist work, and Magic Mammas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts is a collection of writing that explores, amongst other things, the contradictory feelings about sex in the feminist movement.

It's frequently noted that she studied under Nabokov at Cornell, but I've never heard any details and don't remember her ever discussing it in her own writing. Was he a big influence? I never got to know her, although I had the chance. When I first moved to Seattle she still lived here (she was a professor of literature at the University of Washington) and hung out at Vanguard parties. I was always too intimidated to talk to her. She was brilliant, opinionated, and strong-willed. She basically stopped writing fiction sometime in the '80s, and didn't write much non-fiction after that either. The writing she did leave us -- stories, novels, essays -- is a treasure trove of fluent science fiction and probing, personal feminist thinking.

I only recently finished reading her collection of reviews and essays, The Country You Have Never Seen. It reminded me again how much I loved her writing. I discovered her in college when I was still impressionable. She made one hell of an impression. Somebody today described her as a tiger. Yes. A lion. A creature of fierce intelligence and passion, who could express herself in a manner that seemed effortless. For me, one of the great writers died today. We who are about to die salute her.
randy_byers: (powers expdt)
It took me at least two years to read this book, partly because it's a collection of short pieces, so it was very easy to dip in now and then rather than just plow through it. I first became aware of it when I read the review in Sandra Bond's fanzine, Quasiquote. The publication of this book in 2007 by Liverpool University Press fulfilled a long time wish of mine that all of Russ' review columns from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction be collected. (David Hartwell used to talk about publishing such a collection.) I'm not sure this book actually collects all of her F&SF reviews, but it certainly has all the ones I remember reading in the back issues of the magazine I sporadically picked up back in the late-'70s and early '80s. There are also reviews from other sources, along with a section of essays and a short section of letters, mostly letters to the editor of various feminist magazines.

I believe I've said here before that Russ is the writer I've most tried to emulate in my own writing, on a style level. There's no way I could really write like her, however, because she's a far different personality. I found myself arguing with her judgementiveness in a lot of these pieces, but that's part of what makes her such a lively read. She's opinionated, she's often angry, she's frequently contemptuous, and she expresses herself very, very clearly and passionately. Even when I'm frustrated by her opinions, her way with words and ideas is a joy to behold. Part of what I've always loved about her style is the sarcastic, bitter sense of humor, which is very much on display in this collection. The phrase "rapier wit" comes to mind. I'm glad it was never aimed at me.

Because it's a hodgepodge collection, the book as a whole doesn't have the cumulative impact of some of her more focused non-fiction collections such as To Write Like a Woman or Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts. But Russ is an important enough writer that she deserves to have even her grocery lists and recipes collected, and it's wonderful to have all these bits and pieces to wander through. I'm glad she's still remembered enough to be honored with such a collection as well.

QOTD

Sep. 1st, 2010 06:03 pm
randy_byers: (powers expdt)
'I find that my students read and admire Asimov and Clarke in greater numbers than students ever have before, but when they write they steal fantasies from A.E. Van Vogt, who is unmistakably in the first stage, that of pure invention. They don't write A.E. Van Vogt stories; they use him for poems or for strange works that aren't, properly speaking, science fiction at all, or for science fiction which owes nothing directly to Van Vogt but an eerie kind of glamor. When artists are given a choice between imitating crude originals and second-hand, polished literary versions thereof, most bad artists will choose the literary version and most good artists the bad original. My good writing students don't imitate Asimov, because one can't imitate Asimov; he is good enough to have exhausted his subject matter. A.E. Van Vogt (to put the matter as politely as I can) is a very inventive and yet very bad artist -- in Shaw's words, the victory of an enormously fertile imagination over a commonplace mind. (He said this about Marie Corelli.)'

-- Joanna Russ, "The Wearing out of Genre Materials" (1971) in The Country You Have Never Seen (Liverpool University Press, 2007)

QOTD

Jan. 12th, 2010 07:56 am
randy_byers: (thesiger)
M. Merle writes like this, by the way, it is very modish and experimental, it is called "run-on sentences," she flung herself on the bed, I will kill all publishers, she thought.

-- Joanna Russ, from a review of Day of the Dolphin in the January 1970 issue of F&SF
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I recently reread Joanna Russ' short story, "The Zanzibar Cat," when I discovered that it was an homage to Hope Mirrlees. The Zanzibar Cat is also the name of one of Russ' short story collections. I've never understood the title, and now I find that it's most likely a reference to Thoreau's comment in Walden, "It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar." The commentary I've found on the internet says that Thoreau was denigrating travel to foreign places as a path for growth or self-discovery and was advocating development of the soul instead. He was specifically advocating that we follow our dreams rather than try to find happiness in the material world.

It's interesting to try to connect these ideas (as garbled as they may be at second hand) to Russ' story. The cat in the story is a familiar of the evil Duke, who seems to represent Fairyland, which is perhaps a dream world. Yet this would seem to contradict what I'm understanding of Thoreau's quote, where the cats represent the triviality of the material world. At the same time, however, the protagonist of the story, the Milleress, defeats the Duke by asserting her authorship of the story, if I'm following things correctly. Thoreau is said to be preaching that we be the authors of our selves, that we rely on our own being for self-worth, rather than pursuing material wealth or worldly power. Is that the moral of Russ' story? Do the Duke and his cat actually represent the illusion of worldly power, thus reversing the usual significance of Fairyland?
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Now, said the Duke, I am going to strip away the walls of this castle; and you must know that you are on the edge of Fairyland, which is the name you keep avoiding, by the way, on the very edge, to be exact, and when the walls of this castle disappear, the wind which always blows from that place will strike you, and as you will no longer be protected by these walls of mine, that Fairy blast will kill you. It's a cheap way to be rid of one's enemies and very much to my taste.

"Not bloody likely," said somebody in the crowd. The Zanzibar cat horripilated like a bottle-brush. He arched himself on the Duke's hump and spat a ghastly gah! like an ordinary cat. There was a stir in the crowd as the Miller's daughter pushed through. She did not look, to those who looked at her, like the same girl she had been, sweet as a lamb and so shy she could not hold up her head. She looked possessed. She looked, in fact, (as they blinked and rubbed their eyes) not at all like a young girl of twenty but like a woman twice that age, and a spinster too, and a hard one too, as hard as nails, or maybe a many-times-married woman, because the effect is -- curiously enough -- much the same. All this came out in her face gradually as she walked the length of that courtly hall, and as rooms seem to listen to what's being said in them and to conform themselves to it, so the hall shrank as the Milleress walked down it until it seemed to the army of Appletap-on-Flat that they stood in a smoky tavern on the edge of the Merry Marches where a desperate and infamous gambler sat in front of a half-spent fire and that the gambler was the Duke. Some even fancied that the Milleress looked rather like a landlady, a comparison that evoked painful memories in many. The Duke's cat, still threatening, had nevertheless hidden behind the Duke's neck. He plucked it into his lap and stroked its fur. It settled, though cautiously.

It is very much to my taste, he repeated, and accords well with my fancy. I will do it now.

"You will not," said the Milleress. The room shrank a little more.

-- Joanna Russ, "The Zanzibar Cat (Hommage à Hope Mirrlees)"

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