A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 30: Royal Assassin, Chapter 5

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

The following chapter, “Gambit,” opens with a brief rumination of older-in-milieu codes of conduct. It pivots into a gloss of some time, during which Buckkeep slides into winter and Fitz attends to his then-few assigned duties. He also moons after Molly, for which Burrich gently chides him. The older man offers what seems some useful advice, but he is stricken when Fitz relates the way in which Patience cautioned him against pursuing Molly.

Elderlings Tarot - Temperance by cottontofu
Elderlings Tarot – Temperance, by cottontofu on DeviantArt
Image used for commentary.

Fitz takes Burrich’s advice and amends his behavior. He also finds himself being drawn more and more closely to the wolf cub he had rescued as he works to rehabilitate him. And he finds himself growing closer to Kettricken, who is effectively alone at what remains, for her, a foreign court whose customs are opaque to her. As he converses with her, overly boldly, Fitz realizes that he has been manipulated by Chade into becoming her de facto adviser, a role he continues to ply among also calling on Patience daily.

Fitz also finds himself summoned to Shrewd, and he encounters Regal as he answers the summons. After a tense exchange, Regal moves on, and Fitz attends on his king. He finds the King’s chambers strangely secluded and Shrewd himself somewhat addled–until the new chamber servant, Wallace, leaves. After he does, Shrewd tasks Fitz with a mission to a northern Duchy, Bearns, where there are rumors of budding unrest and rebellion surrounding a self-styled Virago.

As he departs from his king, Fitz encounters Serene, alongside whom he had studied the Skill. She had succeeded Galen, and she had taken on his hatred of Fitz. The encounter worries him as he prepares for and heads off to his errand.

In the end, the errand runs smoothly. Fitz provokes a challenge from Virago he needs not fight; his more clandestine training ensures that she presents the symptoms associated with oathbreaking, and she flees. The Duke and his daughter offer strange familiarity that leaves Fitz entirely uneasy.

Early in the chapter, Burrich makes a comment, with “bitterness in his voice,” regarding being unwed and, to his knowledge, childless. The comment and its delivery suggest that the homoerotic overtones between him and Chivalry (previously noted here, here, and here) may not sound as clearly as the earlier novel had implied–which would reflect continued conceptual development as Hobb continued work on the series. Or it could imply that the relationship, being one along uneven power dynamics, was more coercive than the earlier novel implied, which has an entirely different set of resonances.

The gloss on the events of Fitz’s mission to Bearns is perhaps more telling. His target’s name is telling; the Six Duchies tend towards emblematic names, and “Virago” fits in the archaic sense of “woman who does manly, heroic deeds” and the more common current sense of “unpleasant and ill-tempered woman.” (And it might be argued that many traditionally masculinized virtues are unpleasant and of ill temper, as well.) She evidently thinks herself more the former and shows herself more the latter. Fitz’s handling of the situation is remarkably good; he not only eliminates Virago, but he does so in a way that leaves her unable to be a rallying point for further action, shaming her without lifting his blade. He is, ultimately, good at his job, and if he were to confine himself to doing that job, things might be otherwise than they turn out. But that’s material for later parts of the write-up.

More help is always welcome–and appreciated!


One More Office Piece

I have made something of a practice of writing about the office spaces I have inhabited, ranging from a 2012 CCC piece through four samples of work for student use (here, here, here, and here) and a few more reflective pieces (here, here, and here). I still inhabit some of that office space; I’ve not relocated my home office yet, since I still live where I did, and I still have a part-time teaching position, even if I’ve not been assigned a class for the current session. But not all of that office space is still mine; I’ve lost jobs, and one of the schools I’ve taught for has closed since I left it. (There’s another I think might before terribly wrong, if things continue as they have been for a while, now.) In one case, I’ve moved from one office to another, not because anything wrong has happened where I work, but because I have assumed a new position that has a private office among its trappings–and, since I’m in a new office, it’s time to write one more office piece.

The new office, which is mine, just as the photo of it is.

It was not a long move to get from the most recent former office to the current one; I am now in a large private office just off of the lobby where my former desk–ably staffed by a new hire–sits. Most of what I had at that desk remains there or near there; it was tied to the position rather than to me, and I inherited a fair amount of material from my predecessor in my present position. I also brought a fair amount of stuff from home that I had had for previous office spaces and had packed away against not having a private office of my own to post it in. (Yes, I have the home office, but there is only so much space on its walls, and much of that is taken up with shelving.) Having arrayed it as I have, I do run into the problem I address in my 2012 CCC piece, that the honors and awards I have on display can be read as evidence of my insecurity.

At the same time, the people who have seen my office have commented favorably on it; they like the way it looks (and smells), describing it as “professional” and “homey,” among other pleasant terms. It does not read for them as covering my fears (though, just over a week into the job as I write this, I have a fair number of fears to cover; I am not certain I am ready, though I trained for this for years). Instead, it reads for them as justifying the trust that has been placed in me by awarding me the position I hold. It helps them to know that they are in good hands–and I hope that I can, indeed, wield such hands for them.

The privacy of the office is itself an indication of that trust. Even more than before, I am in a position to handle sensitive, confidential information; not only do I still deal with treatment matters, but I also attend to concerns of the agency’s finances and personnel, things that even those who can handle the clients’ data well cannot be privy to. And I may, in time, have to deal with disciplinary matters I would rather not have to address, though I will do so as the need arises; privacy is good for that, as well, and that I am afforded that privacy is, again, a mark of trust.

I hope to be worthy of it, and for quite some time to come.

Furnishing a new office ain’t cheap. I could still use some help.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 29: Royal Assassin, Chapter 4

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

A chapter titled “Dilemmas” follows and opens with a brief rumination on the Wit and the Skill before portraying Fitz waking alone in his room and staggering off to make ablutions. He returns to bed and to a fitful sleep.

Fitz and Nighteyes by Manweri
Michelle Tolo / Manweri’s Fitz and Nighteyes on DeviantArt: image used for commentary

When he wakes again, he finds his chamber has been tended to. As he avails himself of it, the Fool enters and checks on him, bantering with him acerbically before leaving just ahead of Patience and Lacey bustling in to check on Fitz. They fuss over him, and Patience presses upon him the folly of his putative attempts to woo Molly, citing the entanglements of his royal–if bastard–blood and Molly’s own potential prospects. Fitz protests to no avail, and Patience and Lacey leave him to rest.

After contemplating the decor in his chamber again, Fitz dozes off to be wakened by a summons from Chade. Answering it, he finds the old man considering a scroll. He is also clearly considering political implications, as he walks Fitz through a general idea of a way people might seek to exploit him. They exchange news, with Chade offering detailed information on the problems Verity and Kettricken face. Chade also offers some rebuke to Fitz for his conduct with Molly, echoing Patience’s warnings about the political ramifications. He offers some commentary about his relationship with Chivalry and Verity before returning to the topic of Fitz and Molly, urging him to heed Patience’s advice in the matter He also reiterates his warnings to Fitz for his own safety.

After their meeting, Fitz makes his way into Buckkeep Town, walking idly and taking in the gossip the place offers. Along his route, he encounters a vendor selling animals to be used for sport–including a young wolf. Fitz haggles for the wolf, purchasing him and taking him outside of the town, purposing to get him strong enough to fend for himself.

The wolf is of paramount importance in the series, and the level of engagement between Fitz and the wolf cub in the chapter makes that importance clear. Earlier events–the episodes with Nosy and Smithy in Assassin’s Apprentice–make clear that Fitz bonds to animals swiftly and deeply, and he already seems to share a particular affinity for the wolf he has found in a cage in Buckkeep Town. There will be more to come for the two of them, as is clear even without knowing from prior readings what will happen in the novel.

Less significant to the overall narrative, perhaps, is something that I noticed as I read the chapter this time and that I do not recall having noted before. Fitz wants to disregard Patience’s advice (and the emblematic name makes a bit of a joke) regarding Molly, and, having been an adolescent boy in the throes of lust that might have had something of love in it, I can well understand that desire and the recklessness that informs it. That is not what I note, though; what I note in this reading is that Chade’s reaffirmation of Patience’s advice seems, if not to persuade Fitz, at least to mollify him. Admittedly, Chade has a particular authority over Fitz, but there is still something of the “guys will only listen to ideas when other guys say them” about the matter. How to read it–a reflection of the prevailing standards surrounding the composition, a yoking of such behavior to immaturity, or something else–is not necessarily clear to me as I write this, but it is something that might stand some investigation moving forward.

It’s one of the things that I have loved about Hobb’s works. There’s a lot to unpack in them.

Any chance you could send some help my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 28: Royal Assassin, Chapter 3

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The third chapter in the novel, “Renewing Ties,” opens with a description of an old scroll detailing the encounter of the early Six Duchies ruler, King Wisdom, and the Elderlings after which the overall series takes its name. It moves to Fitz going back out into Buckkeep Castle before he finds himself drawn to a tower room to which Verity has summoned him via the Skill. The two of them confer frankly and surprisingly openly, and Verity seems to have great affection for his bastard nephew.

Image result for verity farseer
An image described as of Verity, used for commentary.
Source unknown to me; information will be welcome.

When Fitz leaves Verity, Lacey, Patience’s maid, finds him and bustles him to her lady. Patience quizzes Fitz randomly, and he begins to suffer again from the lingering effects of the poison that had been used upon him. Patience recognizes his infirmity and sends him off to rest–and he encounters Molly along the way. He is initially buoyed by the encounter, but as he elicits information from her, he finds himself rebuked for his seeming drunkenness and for the many lies he had told and allowed, and he learns that matters have been poor for her family. She leaves him despairing of his infatuation with her, and he staggers back to his room to sleep.

Again, I find myself reading affectively, sympathizing with the folly of an adolescent boy trying to make sense of lust and love at once, and I have to think that that correspondence informed my early regard for the novels; when I first read the Farseer books, I did so much closer to my own adolescence than I am now (though some might say I still need to grow up), and I was not much more adept than Fitz in such matters, if I was at all. It is as good a reason as any to start to make a fuller study of something, and better than most.

There are parts of me, even now that I am largely out of academe–I’ve given up the search for an academic job, and I’m not teaching in the current session at the one school where I do still get to stand in front of a classroom–that clamor for me to make some kind of insightful, scholarly comment about the chapter. And I could tease out something about, perhaps, a suggestion of something between Charim and Verity like that I have suggested lay between Burrich and Chivalry in the imagined past of the novel, or I could point out that Hobb subtly signals the ultimately untenable nature of chivalry through reflecting on Chivalry when Fitz’s eyes meet Patience’s and “She nodded slowly, accepting the lie [Fitz had told] as necessary, and looked aside. [Fitz] wondered how many times [his] father had told her similar lies. What did it cost her to nod?” Neither would be wrong, exactly, and either might be fodder for a short piece of commentary that might well be worth doing. So might a bit linking what happens in the chapter to more of the foreshadowing that is itself a common theme in the series of novels; looking ahead only to find later that such peerings were correct is something of a motif in the main Elderlings novels, perhaps the dominant one. (I’d have to do more work on that, though.)

At another time, I will have such things to write. I hope you will continue to read them.

I’d love to have your support.

Reflective Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the May 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 112: Composition during the July 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 112 during the July 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. While there was some overlap with previous iterations of the course in terms of the assignments requested, there was not congruity; the later assignments differed from previous practice. Three papers (a profile, a rhetorical analysis, and a “persuasive” paper) and a presentation deriving from the final paper accounted for the majority of the grade; discussion activities accounted for more than a third, and a quiz over APA guidelines occupied the remainder, as presented in the figure below:

ENGL 112 Assignment Spread

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met in a hybrid on-live session on Wednesdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 18
  • Average class score: 762.222/1000 (C)
    • Standard deviation: 158.91
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 5
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

ENGL 112 Grade Spread

Since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to assess attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):

ENGL 112 Rptd Absences

This session has been one of the better ones I’ve had in the past few years. Although live attendance could have been better, the students who did attend were more engaged than many I have had in my classrooms since leaving New York City, and student engagement in discussion threads was quite robust. I think it directly ties to the quality of the work I received from students in the class; many of the papers and presentations I got were good ones, if perhaps not the most adventurous. (I note that many students took a “safe” route in their final two major assignments, but with as many as were in their first session at DeVry, if not in college, generally, I cannot be justly annoyed at it.) It is the kind of thing I continue to hope to see when I take on a new set of students, and I am particularly happy to have gotten it this time around.

The thing is, the fact of having good students does not do much to help me further develop my skills as a teacher. Working with good students is easy; they do most of the work, needing only limited guidance. In the kind of lock-step curriculum in place at DeVry, there is not the flexibility to challenge further those students who show themselves able to do more, and while I have worked to reward those who have done that more, there is only so much I can do within the constraints within which I must operate to keep working. The same offers have been and will continue to be open to any students who seek to avail themselves thereof, but I am still not sure how to get more students to take me up on them. It is something I clearly need to continue to work on.

As ever, I am glad to have had another opportunity to put to work those skills I spent years developing. I am less happy that the September 2019 session does not have me teaching–but I look forward to future sessions that will.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 27: Royal Assassin, Chapter 2

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “The Homecoming,” reflects briefly on the founding of Buckkeep before moving to gloss the progress made by Fitz, Burrich, and the stableboy Hands from the Mountain Kingdom back to Buckkeep. It is a wintry journey and slower than might be hoped, the more so because Fitz’s condition impedes their travel. Too, when they lay over in an inland town, Burrich and Hands hear much of the disgruntlement about the continuing threat of the Raiders and the appreciation the people seem to have for Regal; Burrich takes the opportunity to caution Fitz that his uncle still hates him and will have him killed if he can.

Buckkeep at night by Winterkeep
Buckkeep at Night, by Winterkeep on DeviantArt.com, used for commentary

At length, Fitz and his party return to Buckkeep, where they are challenged by the gate guard. After a bit of banter, they are recognized and admitted, and Burrich has to caution Fitz again about returning to his subordinate place as a bastard princeling in a place where people care about such things. Fitz accedes to the wisdom, if with difficulty, as well as to the wisdom of allowing others to do for him what his condition prevents him from doing well. And after, when Fitz makes to report to King Shrewd and King-in-Waiting Verity, he is turned away by both and muses on the changes that have occurred while he was away and with the arrival of others before him.

The device of using rumors heard in passing through a town to gloss over events is a good one; exposition is often a difficult thing to do well, though it is also necessary, so any adept handling of it is good to see. But it is not as good as the depiction of the strange tensions of adolescence that Hobb depicts in Fitz; I am not so old that I do not recall the awkwardness of my own teenage years, though they were far less eventful for me than Fitz’s are for him, and I find myself reading affectively again as I sympathize utterly with a young man who, having had a taste of being something more, chafes at being returned to older, more constraining patterns. And I sympathize, too, with the desire to be open with someone, only to have that openness set aside–gently, perhaps, as Burrich does with Fitz, but still put aside. I have a person with whom I can be so open now, and I revel in it, but I recall not being able to do so. Again, though, it’s an affective reading, and something I ought to know better than to do.

Except that the idea that any would “know better” than to allow themselves to be moved by a character in a story is a strange one. To do the work of literary study, it is necessary to be able to remove reader from text to some degree, just as a physician must be able to look at the flesh of a patient as a thing apart from a person to some degree. Yet the physician who does not engage the patient’s humanity is decried, and rightly; no scholar, no practitioner, does well to separate the humane wholly. Acknowledging it is needed, yes, but ignoring it is certainly not.

Support the labor of doing this on this Labor Day.