Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Chapter 6

This week, Jole and Cordelia take off on what Bridget Jones might have described as a weekend mini-break. There’s a vast range of reading experiences between the Bridget Jones books and this one, but they DO have some things in common, most notably a connection with the works of Jane Austen. Gentleman Jole is, in some ways, Persuasion with a sexually adventurous backstory. Like, if you took the scene in chapter 20 of Persuasion where Anne Elliot talks to her cousin about Italian love songs, and rendered all the Italian love songs literally and with a carefully curated collection of sex toys, then Gentleman Jole *is* Persuasion.

The most important similarity between the two stories is the progression of the protagonists from friends to lovers. Jole and Cordelia have flown (via lightflyer, no roads) away from what passes for civilization on Sergyar, to a sort-of-kind-of rustic retreat. They’re camping, but there’s a cabin with a roof, a bed, and a door that shuts. There are also boats, a dock on the lake, dry towels, food, Cordelia’s armsman, and the Penneys, who own the facility and see to the catering. This is a very grown-up camping trip.

Jole and Cordelia start the weekend with the wholesome sail on the lake, the activity they’ve been looking forward to for three chapters now. Please note: On a planet that is part of the Barrayaran Empire, the cultural attaché to the Cetagandan consul got to go on a date before Jole and Cordelia did. I know I mentioned this last week. I believe I also mentioned it the week before. When I do it, it’s like beating a dead horse. When Bujold does it, it’s the next chapter of a new adventure in the life of Lt. Kaya Vorinnis, and it makes the pace of the Cordelia/Jole romance seem relatively measured even though, objectively, this is chapter 6. It is not actually taking Jole and Cordelia *that* long to hop into bed together (again). And yet, it feels like the careful unfurling of a flower.

Cordelia prolongs the moment before they become lovers by being completely obtuse about what Jole is trying to tell her. Long-time readers may recall that, when she met Aral and they traded confessions in the long, dark, Sergyaran night when he was almost delirious with fever and they could have been eaten by as-yet-undiscovered scatagators at any moment, Aral confessed to three homicides, and Cordelia confessed to being socially inept. If you had forgotten, Bujold reminds you of it here and makes it feel like a new revelation about Cordelia’s Betan career. It sounds sort of new because Jole is making his own Sergyaran wilderness confessions here: He used to have devastating crushes on his teachers, and he had a brief fling with Bel Thorne. I’m so excited that Bel is part of Jole’s romantic history! Bel was removed from their command with the Dendarii because they caved in to their desire to create a better, more just universe. Bel deserves all the good things. As a personal side note, using “they” pronouns for Bel feels much easier and more natural now that I’m also using they/their for one of my children. I should have made a more significant commitment to they pronouns years ago, and I’m no longer interested in being polite about this issue.

Cordelia thinks Jole is trying to avail himself of her matchmaking services, or, if not quite that, her helpful suggestions. No Barrayaran in the history of ever has wanted to avail themselves of Cordelia’s matchmaking services. She’s very well-intentioned, but she cannot give to others social skills that she does not herself possess. Cordelia has managed not to notice that Jole—a man who rented an entire lakeside resort so that he could have a weekend alone with her “to go sailing”—is romantically interested in her. She’s pondering his kink for authority and the pool of potential lovers, mostly men, and she probably would go on for quite some time, but he kisses her and she says “Blerf.

Yeah.

She says Blerf.

I’m concerned that the last few paragraphs might sound like I’m annoyed with Cordelia. I’m not. I’m deeply in love with Cordelia. It’s why I try so hard to pay attention to who she is. Her early story, from the long walk to Aral’s supply cache, was about how badly she wanted romance, and how embarrassed she was that she wanted it, while simultaneously being devastated to have been denied it. And while the life she shared with Aral was an amazing adventure, filled with a love so incredible and so deep that it sustained both of them through long periods of alienation from their families of origin, it was not that romance that Cordelia yearned for. She’s in her seventies now, and I think she had, in many ways, come to terms with her yearning. I don’t think she’s spent the past 40 years mooning around the Barrayaran Empire wishing for a simple life with someone who would write her poetry. Clearly, she found some projects and put herself to work. But now that she’s taking on life on her own, and on her own terms, the simple romantic thing has arrived. And after a brief discussion of what they are about to do and how much they both want to do it (and a moment for Cordelia to tell her staff to hold her calls), they move to the bed and get it done.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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