This book, “Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It,” may be of interest to Wolfe fans. It covers two periods, the Norse (or rather, very early Christian) and the Medieval — two cultures that Wolfe situated some of his work in — but emphasizes what the women were up to.

The idea of reading a book which is enmeshed with women, not men, isn’t strange to Wolfe readers, as for example there’s a point in “Interlibrary Loan” where, looking around for possible murderers, a woman has to be singled out, because there’s no one else available — everyone around Ern, the main character, including the police”man,” is a woman. “Peace” has Alden Weer, saturated as he is with mothers and aunts, going wherever his aunt goes, and that’s mostly to view goods in a department store (he also plays with girls and their dollhouses). Green, in “There are Doors,” works in a department store selling antiques to women. “Fifth Head”s number five gets interested in a girl and finds himself dressing up and playing parts and roles in all her plays. “Borrowed Man” features sections where all the men — villains and “heroes” both — are going to feminine tea rooms and browsing about in stores where they are surrounded by women’s underwear (this brings to mind all the browsing in “Land Across’s” fine dress stores, where shawls made of blends of silk and lamb’s wool might be found, as well). Silk always finds himself in houses surrounded by women — the manteion, his palaces, and Incanto’s home. (Silk… and what a name, that, whom we are told wears what people consider a woman’s hat, may also have tried on women’s underwear when he was a boy.) All the members in the deadly cult in “Land Across”… prove to be mostly actually women. Men often in Wolfe seem to invade and sneak into women’s private chambers — see Stubbs in “Free, Live Free” and Gideon Chase in “Evil Guest” — where they involve themselves in discussions with the women in their private spaces. Etc.

Silk invaded Blood’s property, in part, to prove he’s not a milk-sot, a mamma’s boy; the reader is tested if they feel similarly compromised after reading Wolfe. For more than you might know, if you’re reading Wolfe, you’re not just in castles and Utgard, but up to your neck in the varieties of women’s finery.

Anyway, I’m suggesting there’s actually a bit of a blur between this new fabulous book and Wolfe’s corpus. There is also great deal of interest here in tapestries, woven goods, plus gems and jewelry, and reading about this evokes readings of Wolfe as well. Despite for example Fava’s pretending that Silk is the type who wasn’t at all invested in it even as he found himself surrounded by it, the sumptuous is of interest in both.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email