In the third part of Snuff, Vimes struggles to fit in around The Hall. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
So, the opening of the third split got me thinking about what sort of sounds I grew up with. I found the whole scene to be deeply relatable, but then I remembered that there’s a term for one specific thing I grew up with: The Hum. You can Google it if you want, but basically: Riverside has a low-level/frequency “hum” that only some people can hear in the city, and I was definitely one of those people. It was so distinct that it took months of adjusting to it after we first moved there in 1992. And every time I leave the city for any significant time and return? The noise feels louder to me. Now, there are a ton of industrial parks and areas around the city, and there are also two active military bases relatively close, so I’m sure there’s some sort of real-world explanation for it. But other than that? I grew up on a corner lot and behind a wildlife preserve. So we didn’t get late night traffic because we were relatively far out from any major streets, meaning that if we did hear cars, it was something that woke us up. Coyotes howling, though? Totally normal. Dogs barking? A sound for concern. Loud music? Oh, that was super, super common, especially during the summer.
Since then, I’ve mostly lived in large, urban environments that are incredibly noisy, so much so that when friends from more suburban locations come stay here in NYC, the noise is one of the first things they notice. How do you sleep? they ask me. But like Vimes, I adjusted. I know what the garbage trucks sound like and when they usually come; I know the local drunks and which neighbors like to get sad and play Mitski until one in the morning. (There were a few times this year where that was me LMAAAOOO.) I know which bars are going to be rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights, and which one actually has the loud night on Tuesday. So yeah, when I stay in remote places? It absolutely takes a while for me to adjust to silence. Silence is strange to me now! However, you know what’s not? PILLOW FORTS IN BEDS IN HOTELS. Oh my god, I love that hotels have like EIGHT THOUSAND pillows on their beds, and you better believe I sleep in them just like Vimes does. Except I tend to run super, super warm, so I crank up the A/C to ungodly frigid levels, and then I bundle up under all the pillows and blankets, and I AM VERY HAPPY LIKE THIS. Y’all, I just got back from Hawai’i, and I’m pretty sure my body is miserable because the bed/pillow/duvet combo in my hotel room there was 100%. It was so perfect that I slept soundlessly and restfully EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Ugh, I want to go back!
Anyway, now that I’ve yelled about sounds, cities, and sleeping, there’s a very particularly thing that I want to hone in on and discuss in relation to the chapter as a whole. This split sees the second time in which Vimes says that something the staff does is “demeaning.” Before, he said this when discussing how the Ramkins would throw hot coins at the gatekeepers. Here, Vimes discovers yet another bit of cultural strangeness. And it’s not the fattening (and delicious) breakfast in bed, or Sybil’s request that Vimes exhibit more “decorum,” or even all the balls (lmao) that they’ve been invited to within less than a day of arriving. No, it’s what all the maids are required to do whenever a man walks throughout The Hall: turn and face the wall, make no eye contact, and do not speak to the man. It is QUITE UNDERSTANDABLY one of the most disarming and confusing things that Vimes has ever experienced. And, since the maids aren’t supposed to talk, this makes the whole ordeal even more complicated, since they can’t even answer Vimes’s questions about what’s happening. And poor Hodges, who has to receive the brunt of Commander Sam Vimes! Even then, she only says a few words before escaping and another maid provides Vimes with context with some nodding and shrugging.
When Lady Sybil explains it all and responds to Vimes’s claim that it’s demeaning, she says something very fascinating:
“That’s because, technically speaking, they are demeaned. They spend a lot of time serving people who are a lot more important than they are. And you are right at the top of the list, dear.”
Which, unsurprisingly, infuriates Vimes! That’s not how he operates… except then I got to thinking about how he runs the Watch, and how there’s a hierarchy there on purpose. Right? Granted, I don’t think that’s perfectly analogous to the situation here, and I want to dissect what Lady Sybil says. And I have to start with the ending:
“You are mistaking value for worth, I think.”
Because that’s really the heart of what she’s talking about. I think it’s worth it to look at the statement with a critical eye, because can the same be said of every member of the Ramkin family? Remember, she says this as a justification for her servants and maids; so does that mean that those they’ve served in the past had more “value” than them? What exactly did they do that warranted such a value? I don’t know the answer to that question because I don’t know much about the Ramkin family. But I understand this argument in relation to Vimes. I can recognize his value to the Disc because of what he’s accomplished over the years. Can the same be said of the other people this implicitly includes?
Again, I don’t know. All this said, the actual reason for the “spinning housemaids” felt far more nuanced. It was instituted to protect women from men who had power, who weren’t reluctant to use it, and who could easily hurt others with it. Why? Because the maids “might have been slightly too compliant in the face of people whom they had come to think of as their betters.” And once that was spelled out, I got it. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, and certainly its application on Vimes is not necessary at all, but I agree with Lady Sybil. Her grandmother had good instincts and recognized the power dynamic at hand. So she arranged the structure of the housemaids’ behavior so that there’d be little to no chance of this sort of quiet exploitation happening.
I appreciate the nuance, though. It makes this book all the more fulfilling to read.
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