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The chapter that follows, “Transitions,” opens with Brashen waking aboard the Paragon and considering the events of the previous night, and his situation. Realizing his straitened finances, he makes to head out and look for work. The ship greets him and advises him of where Althea has gone and warns him of some of the concerns in the work he purposes to do. The ship also turns to morbid talk of suicide and killing before Brashen leaves.
Meanwhile, Althea tries to pawn her jewelry in Bingtown, finding some success in addition to the increasing demands of daily living on one’s own. The shift in economics strikes her strongly, as does her withdrawal from Bingtown society. And she startles herself to arrive in Amber’s shop, at which she marvels before startling again to find Amber ensconced therein. The two speak of the Vivacia and slavery, with Amber speaking cryptically of a nine-fingered slave boy. She also gives Althea the gift of an intricately wrought bead in exchange for the chance to assist her later on.
Aboard the Vivacia, Wintrow works under the unkind tutelage of his father’s crew and considers his circumstances. Kyle summons him to his cabin to talk, and he does more to talk at him than with him. When Kyle offers an earring in token of an offer of early command, Wintrow refuses, citing his religious convictions; Kyle is angered by the refusal, and when Wintrow asks why Althea not be given the opportunity, Kyle angrily retorts that her sex makes her unfit. Wintrow argues against the sexism from Bingtown history, and Kyle replies from his own family background before dismissing Wintrow from his cabin. The second mate, Torg, returns him to his berth and locks him in, and Wintrow finds sleep amid despair.
In the night, Ronica calls on the Vivacia. Ronica tries to reach her husband through the ship, to no avail. She also learns that Althea has visited several times and leaves a message for her with the ship.
Once again, I find myself reading affectively as I reread the present chapter. It is not because of Kyle’s continued misogyny, the assertion that women somehow need to be protected from the concerns of working life, that they need to be kept happy and pampered; I know that I am in part the product of my upbringing in a part of the world that still does not do terribly well with issues of gender parity, and I know that I still have biases on which I am working, but I hope I am not the kind of tyrant Captain Haven is. Nor is it because of the foreshadowing of foresight coming from Amber, whose identity is known to Hobb’s readers at this point but which I will not make much of at the moment. No, it is because of Wintrow.
Wintrow, both as depicted and as he regards himself in the present chapter, excels in the environment of the monastery. Aboard the Vivacia, however, he is “Nothing remarkable….An indifferent ship’s boy, a clumsy sailor. Not even worth mentioning.” And while some of the attitude can be put down to adolescent angst and the upset at being utterly displaced, the shock is one I have seen described by those leaving academe, as well as one I have felt myself as I have done so. The university system as it has been in the United States and other places in the world is one that emerges from the monastery, and there is much of the monastic still about it in popular conception and, indeed, in the minds of some of the powerful within it (as witness some comments by a notable medievalist in May 2019, with which many disagree vociferously). So a monkish character might well invite identification from a bookish reader–and, as someone who spent twelve years in college earning three degrees in English (and focusing on medieval/ist literatures, no less!), I qualify as such a reader.
I did well in school, perhaps not as well as Wintrow in the monastery, but still enough to think that I was somehow special; life outside academe, though it goes well for me now, has disabused me of that notion. And I had my shift, my change well into my 30s; how much worse it would have to be for an adolescent…
Again, I read affectively, something I should know better than to do, given my academic background and formal training. But I still do it, which may be why I could not find a permanent place in the professoriate to which I trained.
2 thoughts on “A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 114: Ship of Magic, Chapter 13”
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