Victorian Britons were deeply culturally invested in the idea of mothers as “Angels In The Home,” providing a gentle moral example to their husbands and children. This fantasy proposed that women could act as agents of reform in the British Empire both despite and because of not having the right to own property or vote. Being deprived of legal and political rights excluded women from effective participation in the public sphere, the realm of all politics and business. But these public matters intruded into the private sphere of the household, and women’s concerns extended out of it. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan would be appalled by Victorian Britain, and it would be in awe of her. In her career in Barrayar’s empire, Cordelia is intimately familiar with the darkest depths of the overlapping portions of the Venn diagram of public and private.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s announcement of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen gave rise to both excitement and trepidation, the last coming from readers who wanted more space opera from their Vorkosigans and less romance than other recent volumes in the series have offered. With due respect to readers who prefer public stories to private ones, or space battles to smooching, for Vorkosigans the categories are inextricably intertwined. In space opera, our heroes go to war. In romance, we get to see them come home. In Cordelia’s case, the space opera has had dramatic personal impacts, and the idea of coming home raises complicated questions. Where is home? What does it mean to go there?