In the second part of Snuff, Vimes makes the journey to Sybil’s childhood home. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Oh, this is already so much fun. As I remarked on video, this whole split felt so exciting to me because of how it provided a glimpse into Sybil Ramkin’s past. I don’t know a whole lot of her upbringing from past books, so I’m hoping there’s more of what we get here in the rest of the book. Sybil has long been a fascinating character because she comes from wealth and privilege, and yet she doesn’t look or behave like virtually any of the other privileged characters we’ve met along the way. Indeed, she often appears to deliberately do this, to be kind and gracious and charitable to the world around her. There’s also that air of unimportance to her, in the sense that when she first started seeing Vimes, it was virtually unimportant to her that she had money. This was not what she thought of as the best of who she is!
So it’s intriguing to me to see Sybil in this specific setting, since it’s a first in the entire series. The Hall isn’t just her childhood home, though that emotional importance is everywhere in this split. We can see how wealth and privilege touched Sybil’s life and how she chose to deal with it vastly differently than her predecessors. Of course, this is all filtered through Sam Vimes, who has zero interest in or time for ANY of these shenanigans, but goes along with this because he loves Sybil. He gives it all a good try! And it’s through this that the first instance of privilege rears its head: Sybil’s family used to tip the staff with LITERAL BURNING HOT COINS. And why? Just for their enjoyment. That is it! They did it because it was funny, and hidden beneath that is such an insidious and gross outlook on the staff on the part of the Ramkins. They knew this money was life-changing—or at least significant—to the staff. So why not dangle a carrot before them? Why not turn money—something the Ramkins had so much of—into a game for those who have comparatively little?
And yet, I deeply understood this exchange:
“My father put a stop to it. My mother complained. So did the gatekeepers.”
“I should think so!”
“No, Sam, they complained when the custom was stopped.”
“But it’s demeaning!”
Sybil sighed. “Yes, I know, Sam, but it was also free money, you see.”
As Sybil further explained this to Vimes, I appreciated that Sybil was willing to empathize with the gatekeepers, to see their side of this. She’s aware of the value of a penny, but in an entirely different context: she doesn’t see the recipient of it as less than her. Her relatives? They all absolutely believed that anyone not in their social class was beneath them. I’m wondering, then, what all of y’all thought about Mr. Coffin’s reaction to Vimes was about. My gut reaction was that Mr. Coffin was frightened of what Vimes was going to do to him. But he was also breaking tradition, wasn’t he? We see this later when Vimes shakes the hand of the gardener first and how quickly he earns the ire of others because he didn’t do what he was supposed to do. However, I am curious. Did Mr. Coffin shrink away from Vimes because he thought he was going to hurt him? Was that an instinctual reaction because he’d been harmed in the past when someone gout out of their carriage?
I realize that’s conjecture, since Sybil doesn’t say anything about Mr. Coffin otherwise, and I do believe that most of the staff is reacting in horror to Vimes’s inability to just do what he’s supposed to do. But I did not expect anything less of Vimes. This isn’t his world! He doesn’t know what’s expected of him in this position. He had the polar opposite upbringing when compared to his wife. (There’s that great line about how he spent his childhood just hoping to survive.) So I totally get why he’d greet the first and most familiar-ish person to him. He’s just being polite! There’s no protocol hardwired into his brain, so from Vimes’s point of view, there’s been no faux pas committed. Awkward, maybe, but he probably expects to be that.
So Vimes does his best, and I do think he recovers a bit after insulting the butlers. Like by speaking “candidly” about Silver from the smoking room! But this home is full of so many rules—one of which Willikins brings up near the end of the split—and it’s because the place is situated so high up the social ladder. It’s respectability politics mixed in with some ridiculous social standards, and honestly? If half the book was just Vimes trying to figure out what all this stuff is, I’d be pleased. And given the opening stuff about goblins, I feel like this setting—in a place drowning in privilege—is intentional. Pratchett wants us to be thinking of social and financial hierarchies, of what behaviors are acceptable where and when and by whom, and it makes me wonder what Vimes is going to discover in The Hall.
Mark Links Stuff
– The paperback edition of my debut, ANGER IS A GIFT, is now OUT! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.