Friday, 28 June 2013

July schedule

I haven't managed to read the Lionel Shriver novels yet that I meant to review, so unfortunately I've had to move the post to next month. Here's the July schedule in full:

Friday 5th July: House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore


Friday 12th July: Farthest North and Farthest South #3: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Friday 19th July: The New Republic and Ordinary Decent Criminals by Lionel Shriver

Friday 26th July: Laura Rereading: The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

Monday, 24 June 2013

Laura Rereading: 'That - person - that - that - individual - "Lucy Snowe"'

Before re-reading: First published in 1853; I encountered it as a teenager back in 2004, and have re-read it at least once since then. It's the narrator, Lucy Snowe who makes this, Charlotte Bronte's most accomplished and most enjoyable novel, so brilliant, with her secretiveness and unreliability. The exploration of Lucy's selfhood makes this feel strikingly modern, and, on a less literary note, Paul Emanuel beats Mr Rochester any day (could Rochester cow a class of misbehaving French teenage girls? I think not). I also listed this as one of my top three classic novels in my very first blog post.

After re-reading: My opinion remains the same - although I'm even more impressed by the development of Lucy's psychology, especially her struggle with what appears to be clinical depression. What is most interesting about Lucy Snowe, of course, is that she cannot simply be pigeonholed as the shy, stoic person that she tries to pretend that she is - there is an element of slipperiness, of excessive diffidence, of, indeed, coldness about her that makes her name especially appropriate. (Charlotte Bronte originally wanted to call her Lucy Frost, but the change is apt; Lucy isn't sharp or sarcastic, but she manages to successfully chill most of her acquaintances all the same). And, given that she narrates the novel, she's remarkably hard to get a handle on. I remain as impressed as I was when I first read this book with its first few chapters, which feature Lucy as a narrator who hardly features at all; she is so much of an observer to the mild drama of their six-year-old house guest, Polly's, hero worship of her godmother's teenage son, Graham Bretton, that we don't even learn her name for some time. When we do get a glimpse of Lucy's inner world, we aren't surprised that she is quiet and self-controlled, but we are, continually, shocked at the iron self-discipline she exercises upon herself in the name of 'Reason', and how dark and cold her mental prospects are, if not her physical ones. Lucy is imprisoned within her own self, but it's not as clear as it is with Jane Eyre that she's simply a 'blazing heart', as she puts it to Paul Emanuel, trying to get out. Instead, Lucy has too successfully (and ironically, given her violent aversion to Roman Catholicism) mortified the flesh; the various layers of her selfhood can no longer be so easily separated.

Paul Emanuel's uncertain fate at the end of the novel was controversial when it was first published, and remains controversial today. Charlotte Bronte's response to the continued questioning (it it is impossible to read the ending of Villette and not understand what has happened, even if you don't want it to) is incredibly revealing about Lucy Snowe. Asked whether Paul dies in the shipwreck, or lives to marry Lucy, she wrote: 

'The merciful... will of course choose the former and milder doom - drown him to put him out of pain. The cruel-hearted will, on the contrary, pitilessly impale him on the second horn of the dilemma, marrying him without ruth or compunction to that - person - that - that - individual - "Lucy Snowe"'.

Given the obvious autobiographical element to Villette, there is something very dark in this, but putting Charlotte aside for the moment, I'd like to talk about Lucy. The tortured but shy woman that we feel we get to know in the pages of Villette does not initially seem to match this picture, and on a shallow reading, there seems to be something in the idea that Lucy is simply too cold and unsuitable for love, that she wouldn't be a fitting Victorian wife, a helpmeet, a 'angel in the house'. However, the strength of the words 'that - person - that - that - individual' seem to speak to something much more profound than Lucy's failure to fit the mould of nineteenth-century femininity, as personified by the grown-up Polly with her sweetness, tenderness and trust. There does seem to be something about at least one of the Lucy Snowes we encounter that is somewhat frightening, somehow undefinable, and while Lucy shares her inner struggles with us, there's a lot she isn't saying about her psyche; obviously, when she doesn't tell us she has re-encountered Graham Bretton for several chapters, and less obviously, when we cannot understand why she has built such a fortress for herself in her head.

In a rather odd mismatch, I re-read this novel alongside Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be?, another semi-autobiographical work, which takes a very postmodern approach to the questions of identity and meaning, and has been praised for deconstructing the 'nineteenth-century' idea of the singular, fixed self, taking a fragmented approach to the idea of selfhood. However - quite apart from the fact that Heti is hardly the first writer to play with ideas of multiple identity - I found myself questioning this binary between nineteenth-century solidity and twenty-first century dissolution as I read Villette. 'Sheila' in How Should A Person Be? is utterly self-centred and rather unlikeable, but I would guess that Lucy, in her quest to efface herself, is far more alien to a modern mindset - and hence reading Villette gives the reader much more radical ideas than Sheila's tinkering over yet another draft of her failed play. More than that, however, it is evident in Villette that Lucy is a construct; we get different versions of her at different times, find out information when she chooses to tell us, and occasionally are deliberately misled. Unlike Jane Eyre, where a repressed and ignored woman finally asserts her identity, Lucy continues to hide who she really is - in ostensible service to how she 'should' be - even as she faces the prospect of a happy ending (and for Lucy, I think 'face' is the right verb). Perhaps that's why this novel could not have been called Lucy Snowe.

Friday, 14 June 2013

6. 'I'll make her be good'

[Spoilers through A Feast for Crows.

A particular phrase that is associated with Sansa, and later, seems to transfer to Jeyne Poole, is the idea of being a ‘good girl’; a related idea seems to be that of having a ‘gentle heart.’ What is particularly interesting is that Sansa’s lupine alter ego, Lady, does not seem to be innately ‘good’, although she is characterised as ‘gentle.’ Septa Mordane is the first to note that Lady threatens Sansa’s ‘good girl’ status: ‘You’re a good girl, Sansa, but I do vow, when it comes to that creature [Lady] you’re as wilful as your sister Arya’. [GOT, 139]. When Sansa pleads for Lady’s life, she tells the king ‘No, not Lady, Lady didn’t bite anyone, she’s good... don’t let them hurt Lady, I’ll make her be good, I promise, I promise...’ [GOT, 157-8] The idea here is that Sansa, the ‘good girl’, will have to make Lady be a good wolf, even though she is hardly aggressive at the moment, as Ned reflects: ‘She was the smallest of the litter, the prettiest, the most gentle and trusting’. [GOT, 158] Unpicking the relationship between Sansa’s identity as a Stark, her relationship with Lady, and the significance of Lady’s death is torturous, with much of the evidence pointing in different directions, but here, at least, it seems that while Lady represents gentleness, sharp observational skills (see below) and strength, she doesn’t fit with Sansa’s image as a ‘good girl'.

The reasons for this become clear as Game progresses, and it becomes obvious that Sansa uses ‘good girl’ to refer to the ideal, obedient lady she is meant to be, a figure that stands in direct contrast to the rebellious Arya. When she sneaks off to tell Cersei of Ned’s plans, she thinks ‘She was the good girl, the obedient girl, but she had felt as wicked as Arya that morning, sneaking away from Septa Mordane, defying her lord father’ [GOT, 548]. Speaking up for Jeyne, she asks ‘Where are you sending her? She hasn’t done anything wrong, she’s a good girl.’[GOT, 546] and, when frightened by Cersei after being told Ned is a ‘traitor’, she protests ‘I’m not like Arya... She has the traitor’s blood, not me. I’m good, ask Septa Mordane, she’ll tell you’ [GOT, 549]. This refrain comes to be automatic for Sansa: ‘She woke murmuring, “Please, please, I’ll be good, I’ll be good, please don’t”’ [GOT, 742] and when she first puts on her ‘courtesy armour’, the ‘good girl’ language blends into that of the courtesy defence: ‘She was a good girl, and always remembered her courtesies.’ [GOT, 750]. The ‘good girl’, then, once Sansa’s aspiration, becomes her mask. While she realises the restrictions of being the ‘good girl’, and having no agency in her own life, she retains her ‘gentle heart.’ Catelyn reflects on Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion, Mother take mercy on her. She has a gentle soul’, and Lady Tanda tells Sansa, who is crying after Joffrey’s murder, ‘You have a good heart, my lady... Not every maid would weep so for a man who set her aside and wed her to a dwarf,” although Sansa, who is crying for quite different reasons, thinks ‘A good heart. I have a good heart. Hysterical laughter rose up her gullet...’ [SOS, 832]. Unlike the rigidity of the ‘good girl’ persona, Sansa’s ‘gentle heart’ becomes her strength, and her future may depend on whether or not she can retain it.
Both Catelyn and Arya’s character arcs indicate the danger of being ‘heartless’ or ‘hard-hearted.’ Catelyn reflects, after hearing of Bran and Rickon’s deaths, that ‘There is an empty place within me where my heart was once.’[COK, 572] This mirrors Arya’s reaction to Catelyn and Robb’s murders: ‘She could feel the hole inside her every morning when she woke... It was a hollow place, an emptiness where her heart had been’ [SOS, 883]. In the House of Black and White, she uses a similar image: ‘I have a hole where my heart should be, she thought, and nowhere else to go.’ [FFC, 394]. This imagery reflects Catelyn’s new identity – Lady Stoneheart – and links this idea of heartlessness to the pursuit of vengance. The Ghost of High Heart makes this point explicitly when she tells Arya ‘I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death... Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!” [SOS, 593] However, lest we should assume too neat a division between ‘gentle-hearted’ Sansa and ‘dark-hearted’ Arya, Martin plays with the reader by associating Sansa with Lady Stoneheart as well – in her alias, Alayne Stone. If Sansa allows her natural sympathy to be corrupted, he seems to be saying, she might well follow a path as dark as her sibling’s.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

5. 'She is of the north'

[Spoilers through A Feast for Crows.]

Ned’s statement that “She was a Stark of Winterfell... This [the crypts] is her place” [GOT, 43] refers to Lyanna, but it could just as easily relate to Lady, Sansa, Arya, or even, in some contexts, Catelyn. Arya’s links to the north are the most explicit, with her consistent use of wolf imagery, but Catelyn, too, seems to become more of a ‘Stark’ as the series goes on, without forsaking her Tully heritage. Catelyn’s first chapter in Game demonstrates her ‘otherness’ from the Starks [GOT, 24], but this is not a reading of the character that can be sustained throughout the novels. Catelyn adopts the Stark motto: “Because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.” [COK, 256] and becomes an increasingly ‘cold’ portent of doom as her sufferings increase, holding fast to Ned’s values and ideals even as she is willing to be more pragmatic than her husband.

When he is forced to kill Lady, Ned says, ‘She is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher’, and he insists that Lady’s bones are taken to Winterfell [GOT, 158-9]. Lady’s essential links to the north mirror Sansa’s; she continually draws strength from the north and from her Stark heritage.‘I am a Stark, yes, I can be brave,’ [SOS, 384] she reflects, and, later in Storm, thinks ‘If Lady was here, I would not be afraid.’ [SOS, 799] and ‘I must be brave, like Robb.’ [SOS, 802]. Sansa’s snow castle scene at the Eyrie has been much discussed, as it emphasises her links to Winterfell [SOS, 1100] but there are a series of less obvious links in the novels as well. When Ned is imprisoned in Game, his language prefigures Sansa’s castle: ‘He made plans to keep himself sane, built castles of hope in the dark’ [GOT, 629]. More subtly, Catelyn’s comments on Brienne‘There are walls around this one higher than Winterfell’s’ [COK, 409] – recall Sansa’s ‘icy’ courtesy armour and how she uses northern coldness as a defence, especially as we know Brienne can be as romantic and na├»ve as Sansa inside her walls. Another troubling note in Sansa’s Feast characterisation, indeed, is when she stops using Robb or other Starks as a model of bravery, and turns to Littlefinger instead: ‘Feeling near as bold as Petyr Baelish, Alayne Stone donned her smile...’ [FFC, 417] – although, perhaps it is crucial that the girl seeking courage here is Alayne, not Sansa Stark.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

4. 'You don't deserve the gift of mercy'



[Spoilers through A Dance with Dragons.]
On the other hand, justice and vengeance are predominantly associated with Catelyn and Arya. Catelyn’s relationship with the concept of justice is fascinating; in general, before she becomes Lady Stoneheart, she supports Ned’s idea of justice, and continually emphasises the importance of differentiating it from vengeance. Unlike Ned, however, she supports justice for pragmatic, rather than honourable reasons, recognising the essential futility of vengeance. When Edmure tells her “the Lannisters will pay, I swear it, you will have your vengeance,” after Ned’s execution, she asks him“Will that bring Ned back to me?” [GOT, 787]. She has similar exchanges with both Stannis and Renly in Clash:
[Renly] “My lady, I swear to you, I will see that the Lannisters answer for your husband’s murder,” the king [Renly] declared. “When I take King’s Landing, I’ll send you Cersei’s head.”
And will that bring my Ned back to me? she thought. “It will be enough to know that justice has been done, my lord.” [COK, 253]
[Stannis] “Still, I give you my word, you shall have justice for his murder.” How they loved to promise heads, these men who would be king. “Your brother promised me the same. But if truth be told, I would sooner have my daughters back, and leave justice to the gods.” [COK, 346]
She explains herself to Karstark with similar rationality when he tells her, that, by releasing Jaime, “You have robbed me of my vengeance”, noting that “Lord Rickard, the Kingslayer’s dying would not have bought life for your children. His living may buy life for mine.” [SOS, 191]
Catelyn also has two monologues on the foolishness of revenge that I think are two of the most powerful monologues in the series. Firstly, when Lord Karstark tells her that “You are the gentle sex... A man has a need for vengeance”, Catelyn replies “Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be... Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy... but I understand futility... I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods. I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.’ [GOT, 795]
Heartbreakingly, when she gives this monologue again, to her dying father, her list of ‘wants’ has moved from being a list of hopes to a list of losses, as she recognises what she cannot have and the ultimate failure of her earlier arguments: ‘Robb must fight the Greyjoys now as well as the Lannisters, and for what? For a gold hat and an iron chair? Surely the land has bled enough. I want my girls back, I want Robb to lay down his sword and pick some homely daughter of Walder Frey to make him happy and give him sons. I want Bran and Rickon back, I want...” Catelyn hung her head. “I want.”... Midnight has come, father, she thought, and I must do my duty. She let go of his hand. [COK, 576]
However, this second monologue is not merely Cat’s acceptance of her fate, as, of course, the ‘duty’ she tells Hoster she has to do is releasing Jaime. Indeed, her repetition of the same points becomes a justification for finally acting impulsively, for transgressing social norms and not doing the ‘duty’ that men have told her she must do, but taking the path forwards that she can see most clearly. And, as her first monologue indicated (‘Give me Cersei...’), Catelyn, unlike Ned, is not immune to the emotional attractions of vengeance, although she keeps herself under tight control. The reader is clearly meant to think that she might be intending to kill Jaime, not releasing him, and that is consistent with her previous thoughts of revenge. She tells Brienne: “I have no skill with swords, but that does not mean I do not dream of riding to King’s Landing and wrapping my hands around Cersei Lannister’s white throat and squeezing until her face turns black”, giving Brienne permission to take her revenge on Stannis, although Cat knows by this point that he has the lawful claim to the throne [COK, 410-11]. She tells Robb that his ‘first duty’ is ‘to defend your own people, win back Winterfell, and hang Theon in a crow’s cage to die slowly’, conflating duty and vengeance [SOS, 200]. Most strikingly, she reflects to Brienne after hearing of Bran and Rickon’s deaths, ‘Ned always said that the man who passes the sentence should swing the blade, though he never took any joy in the duty. But I would, oh yes.’ [COK, 574]
The ideas of justice, vengeance and mercy also seem crucial in Arya’s arc. Arya is a staunch defender of the innocent and weak, but her fierce belief in justice seems to exclude the possibility of her being truly merciful. For example, when she gives water to Stark men hanging in crow cages, she is keen to establish first that they are Robb’s men and deserve her help, although a truly merciful action would have been to give them water regardless, as they are dying [SOS, 397-8]. Like Sansa, Arya is involved in numerous trials, where she is often furious when justice is not done; she shouts ‘Liar!’ at Sansa’s unclear testimony, and is angry that the Brotherhood without Banners does not execute the Hound. This, however, is a score that she is able to settle, when she tells him: “You don’t deserve the gift of mercy... You shouldn’t have hit me with an axe... You should have saved my mother.” [SOS, 1038]. Arya’s concern for justice leads her to desperately seek a reason to murder the old man in Dance (‘He has lived too long... He has no courtesy... His face is hard and mean... He is an evil man... and he has a villain’s beard’) whereas the point of her training is that ‘it is not for you to judge him.’ She wants the kind of personal connection with her victim that Ned strove for, albeit in a twisted way: ‘When I kill him, he will look in my eyes and thank me’, but the kindly man is not interested in Stark justice: ‘It would be best if he took no note of you at all.’ [DWD, 837-8] Throughout Dance, the kindly man seems to be trying to tell Arya that she is no longer involved in the kind of ‘Stark of Winterfell’ justice that led her to murder Dareon, and that she has to put this aside if she is to join the Faceless Men and give ‘the gift of death’, which sounds akin to ‘the gift of mercy’ she denied the Hound.
While, as we have seen, Sansa is associated with mercy and pity, Catelyn is far more akin to Arya in this respect. When she pleads for peace, her reasons are pragmatic – saving her family – rather than truly forgiving. As Lady Stoneheart, she is also known as ‘Mother Merciless’, and while an argument can be made that her trials are fair, they are hardly merciful. Overall, Catelyn’s greater affinity with Arya may explain why, although both girls want to take their mother’s name as an alias when they go into hiding, it is only Arya who is allowed to retain it. And for Arya, ‘Cat’ is clearly not just a means to an end – as ‘Nan’, ‘Arry’ and ‘Squab’ were – but a valued identity. She uses ‘Cat’ to keep up her spirits during her isolation in Braavos, telling herself ‘I am a cat now, not a wolf. I am Cat of the Canals.’ [FFC, 627] and ‘Cats never weep, she told herself, no more than wolves do.’ [FFC, 628]. This second statement indicates that, unlike, for example, the mouse-like Nan, ‘Cat’ is an identity that Arya can reconcile with her Stark self, although she is different from the true Arya Stark. In contrast, Sansa plays Alayne Stone, who diverges ever further from the inward Sansa; even her physical resemblance to Catelyn is reduced when she dyes her hair.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

3. 'I must not pity him'

[Spoilers through A Feast for Crows]

To extend this discussion more broadly, I’m going to consider the themes of honour and mercy, on one hand, and justice and vengeance, on the other. Honour and mercy are predominantly associated with one character in A Song of Ice and Fire – Ned Stark – and for good reason. The most succinct statement of Ned’s philosophy and of its limitations comes when he rejects Littlefinger’s offer of help after Robert’s death: ‘He drew the dagger and laid it on the table between them; a length of dragonbone and Valyrian steel, as sharp as the difference between right and wrong, between true and false, between life and death.’ [GOT, 512-13]. Renly remembers, “he would not listen and he would not bend.” [COK, 257]. Sansa remembers that ‘My father always told the truth.’ [SOS, 85]. Robert’s desire for revenge on Rhaegar Targaryen is puzzling and disconcerting to Ned: ‘he found himself recalling Rhaegar Targaryen. Fifteen years dead, yet Robert hates him as much as ever. It was a disturbing notion...’ [GOT, 356]. He refuses to send assassins after Dany [GOT, 353-4] or to reject Stannis’s legitimate claim to the throne [GOT 635]. As this evidence suggests, honour and mercy, for Ned, go hand in hand with justice. He perceives no relationship between justice and vengeance, as he demonstrates in his discussion with Ser Loras: “Vengeance?... I thought we were speaking of justice. Burning Clegane’s fields and slaughtering his people will not restore the king’s peace, only your injured pride.” [GOT, 469]. Later in the same scene, he tells him that “we are about justice here, and what you seek is vengeance.” [GOT, 470]

Like Ned, Sansa is predominantly associated with mercy, yet her empathy and compassion are even more marked. We see her singing ‘Gentle Mother, font of mercy... teach us all a kinder way’ [COK, 595] and comforting the women in the Red Keep during the Battle of the Blackwater. She speaks kindly to Ser Lancel, a Lannister and her enemy, in Storm, and is one of the few people in King’s Landing to have any sympathy for Lollys. Before Marillion’s trial, where she bears false witness against him to save her own life, she has to tell herself ‘I must not pity him’ [FFC, 183], reminding herself that he tried to rape her and also stood by while Lysa threatened to murder her. Unlike Ned and Arya, however, she does not seem overly concerned with justice, possessing a more flexible definition of fairness, and indeed she is involved in at least two unjust trials (Joffrey/Lady, Marillion, and if her status as a key, if absent, witness in Tyrion’s trial is counted, a third). By definition, courtesy and kindness does not always involve telling the truth, as Sansa recognises when she thinks ‘A lie is not so bad if it is kindly meant’ [FFC, 182], but Sansa’s willingness to see the truth as a malleable instrument, rather than Ned’s image of it as an inflexible dagger, may yet lead her into danger.

Monday, 10 June 2013

2. 'Sometimes prayers are answered'


[Spoilers through the first half of Storm of Swords and Season 3 of the TV series; very slight spoilers for A Feast for Crows] This post uses some material from my earlier post on Arya and Cat, which has spoilers for all five books.

The similarities between Catelyn and Arya are obvious, although their different life stages obscure their essential likeness on a first reading. In brief, Catelyn has learnt to subdue her rebellious, impulsive nature, and in general, acts rationally, pragmatically, and not from the heart. However, when Catelyn does act emotionally, which happens a handful of times over the course of the novels, her kinship to Arya becomes clear. On the other hand, Arya is like Catelyn in a state of nature, having, for better or worse, not yet learnt to discipline her emotions and accept social norms. The major positive behaviour that both Catelyn and Arya share is an ability to think on their feet and react swiftly to perceived threats, whereas Sansa and Ned, in contrast, often flounder in a crisis and are unable to act. Catelyn demonstrates this ability in her response to Bran’s attacker [GOT, 133]; in her desperate arrest of Tyrion [GOT, 292]; and in her last-ditch attempt to save Robb’s life [SOS, 703]. Arya does the same in her escape from the Red Keep [GOT, 536]; her handling of the Jaqen situation [COK, 500]; and her escape from Harrenhal [COK, 661].

Both Catelyn and Arya are also naturally impatient with social norms, although Catelyn has learnt to conform to such regulations when it is necessary. Although often mischaracterised as a snobby noblewoman, Cat is actually uninterested in her own appearance, clothing, or courtesies, and seems to have no problem talking to smallfolk – she has clear memories of Masha Heddle, who in turn remembers her fondly, and rebukes Edmure when he misremembers the name of an old woman, Violet, who used to visit Riverrun [SOS, 36]. She also strikes up friendly conversation with Mya Stone, despite her unease over the memories of Jon that the girl provokes [GOT, 369] Indeed, Catelyn often shocks the men around her by her forthright behaviour, contravening expectations of what is considered ‘ladylike.’ She spares no thought for her nakedness in front of Maester Luwin when they receive Lysa’s letter, rightly stating that the political situation is more important than considerations of modesty in front of a man who has delivered all five of her children [GOT, 62]. When Ser Rodrik attempts to delicately summarise Petyr Baelish’s interest in Catelyn, Catelyn is ‘past delicacy’ and baldly sums up the situation [GOT, 167]. As already noted, she is willing to take Brienne into her service, and dismisses Renly’s and Stannis’s petty arguments over titles, pointing out that there are more important things to worry about than terms of address [COK, 253]. When Edmure doesn’t want to mention what he was up to last night in front of his sister, she again rejects ideas of female modesty: “You were whoring or wenching. Get on with the tale.” [COK, 414].
Arya, too, often rejects social norms, although the difference between her and Cat is that she is often unaware of why they are considered important in the first place, which can lead her into trouble. Like Catelyn, she is at ease with the smallfolk and commendably impatient with distinctions of rank, continually making the case that Mycah’s death matters, even though he was ‘only’ a butcher’s boy. However, her lack of understanding of the way society works can lead to problems, such as her failure to assess the danger posed by attacking the crown prince, and her inability to comprehend Gendry’s position [COK, 497]. This means that Arya often exhibits a lack of realism in situations where Sansa, for example, would be much more realistic, even though she is in many ways more pragmatic and sensible than her sister. A particularly interesting example is sexual behaviour. We know that Catelyn is realistic about men’s fidelity from her early thoughts on bastards [GOT, 65] but, in this context, Arya still retains a very romantic view of life. When the topic of Ned’s extra-marital relationships is raised, Arya refuses to listen: ‘he loved my lady mother... She was the only one he loved.’ [SOS, 598]. This stands in contrast to Sansa’s lack of reaction to hearing that Catelyn might have had pre-marital sex [FFC, 186] and to Lyanna’s realism about her marriage to Robert [GOT, 379]. As this indicates, both sisters are unrealistic and romantic in their own ways, while Catelyn, unsurprisingly given her twenty or more additional years of life experience, largely combines their strengths, although she can be shortsighted, as in her initial reaction to Brienne.
A final illuminating point of comparison between Arya and Cat is their recognition of the power of the gods, magic and prophecy. While Sansa is obviously enthralled by stories, she seems more interested in knightly valour and romantic deeds than in the supernatural. As early as Clash, she reacts suspiciously to Tyrion’s comment (about Ned’s execution) that ‘the gods are cruel’, thinking ‘It wasn’t the gods who’d been cruel, it was Joffrey.’ [COK, 37]. By Feast, she declares “Curses are only in songs and stories.” [FFC, 415] This lack of interest in magic is a quality that Sansa shares with Ned; however, it is Catelyn’s faith in superstition, rather than Ned’s realism, that is useful in the world of Westeros. When Catelyn sees the dead mother direwolf, her reaction is telling. Ned dismisses both the portent and Catelyn’s fears of the Others, and so ‘Dread coiled inside her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs.’ [GOT, 25-6] Later on, she is the one who tells Robb to listen to Grey Wind’s warnings, while Robb, taking after his father, ignores his direwolf until it is too late, and she is also rightfully suspicious of the cursed Harrenhal. Arya, too, seems willing to believe in signs and prophecies, certainly more so than Sansa, and this is a quality it seems will serve her well. However, the downside of Catelyn’s and Arya’s supersitious bent is when they seem to believe in ‘fate’ or ‘just deserts’, and blame themselves for events they have not control over. Catelyn thinks she is responsible for Bran’s fall, telling Jon in the infamous ‘It should have been you’ scene that “I wanted him to stay here with me... I prayed for it... He was my special boy... Sometimes prayers are answered.’ [GOT, 95]. Similarly, Arya is guilty over Mycah, although her arguments here have slightly more grounding in reality.“I asked Mycah to practise with me... I asked him. It was my fault, it was me...’ [GOT, 221] Arya's 'hit list' of names also darkly mirrors Catelyn's belief in the power of prayer.