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Somewhat about the Vorkosigans - opinion of the psychologist

Anna Hodosh

Translated by Alexander Balabchenkov (c) 2001 March


The series of novels by Lois M. Bujold are usually called "The Vorkosigan Saga". The members of this family take the central place in all of these books. The writer describes her favorite heroes so trustworthy that it is hard to keep oneself from a temptation to do a small psychological analysis of their personalities and biographies as if one dealt with the real people.

"The perfect warrior" Aral Vorkosigan

An old and grown wise with experience man once said: "Some men I know, their children have been a great trouble to them. Ezar. Piotr" [Barrayar]. Yes, indeed. Count Piotr Vorkosigan had an awfully lot of troubles with his unpredictable son whose brilliant career raises were routinely changed by rapid falls.

Why? Is there any psychological basement under contradictory actions of Aral Vorkosigan?

In his childhood he was the younger and less favorite son of his father ("If my brother had lived, he would have been perfect. You thought so; I thought so; Emperor Yuri thought so, too." [Barrayar]) The mention of this fact wounds and infuriates him even after decades have past. He was not tall or attractive - another demerit for a barrayaran man.

But from his youth he was passionately captured by the idea to prove his father that he wasn't worse than his lost brother, that he could achieve the same glory as the famous General Vorkosigan achieved. The similar feelings overwhelm his son Miles almost a half-century later ("I'll make you take back that apology! I am all right, damn it! I'll make you see it. I'll stuff you so full of pride in me there'll be no room left for your precious guilt! I swear by my word as Vorkosigan. I swear it, Father. Grandfather. Somehow, I don't know how..." [the Warrior's Apprentice] and "But there is, nevertheless, a secret fantasy of mine, where just once, in some history somewhere, Aral Vorkosigan gets introduced as being principally important because he was Miles Naismith Vorkosigan's father." [Komarr]). But Miles' pride is greatly sustained by his father's sincere faith and love, and young Aral hasn't even got it. That's why his life has turned into an aspiration to prove, therefore he perceives especially painful all his mistakes or unworthy behavior - according to his unusually keen comprehension of the honor.

No doubt, in the beginning he does his best at being a correct, dutiful son. His views completely coincide with his father's ones. ("When he was young he was a real conservative-if you wanted to know what Aral thought about anything, all you had to do was ask Count Piotr, and multiply by two." or "The first person Aral fools with that prosey-stone-soldier routine is himself. It's the sort of man he always wanted to be, I think. Like his father." [Barrayar]) He enters the Military Academy, graduates from it successfully, marries his own cousin, a young Vorrutier girl at his father's choice, makes a military career, and...

...A grandiose scandal happens! Adultery! Duel! Death of his wife!.. Aral, the only heir to the Count, should be charged and executed, and a common delusion, that it's like the lovers of his wife has killed each other... Well, perhaps it was a wonderful accident but rather old intriguer Ezar knew all about it, but has decided to keep the useful man for himself (as the most important among his potential heirs, besides, who was tied from childhood by participation in bloody massacre over emperor Yuri).

Everybody charges Aral in murder of his wife, but he secretly thinks that his adorable father is involved in her death (This is the conversation between Miles and his father: "But did you... um, you didn't really, um... -- Murder her? No. Or only with words... Though I was never one hundred percent sure your grandfather hadn't. He'd arranged the marriage; I know he felt responsible. -- Remembering Gran'da, that does seem faintly and horribly possible. Did you ever ask him? -- No. What, after all, would I have done if he'd said yes?" [A Civil Campaign] ). Therefore, in his twenty-old Aral is deeply convinced that he is a murderer and a coward, because he did not confess in his crime, and his father was forced to undertake dishonorable actions correcting his own mistakes...

Besides, from the story, which has happened to him, he makes a fatal conclusion: no one can entrust his honor to a woman. From now on more than twenty years, until he meets Cordelia – "a soldier in skirt", Aral avoids women, despite his father's demands to marry and to bear an heir.

So, firstly Aral heavily drinks (as he describes it "a suicidal loon with nothing to lose, staggering around in a drunken, hostile haze" [A Civil Campaign] and than...

Aral has cousin Ges Vorrutier of the same age, old pal from the times of the Academy, and close enough relative (they are related to each other as Miles and Ivan are, through a common great grandfather. Xav Vorbarra for Miles and Ivan, Pierre Vorrutier for Ges and Aral). The friend Ges was the one who discovered before his eyes dishonorable behavior of his wife, and according to hints he was the one who inspired Aral with the idea about the duel. Ges Vorrutier has unordinary enough tastes concerning sphere of intimate relationships, but... Life is over; there is nothing to lose anymore! And the shame of "a great secret scandal" is a subliminally desired punishment for his dishonor, which he deserved for his deed, as Aral believes. The secret scandal mentioned above becomes so public, that a generation later a hypertrophied gossip spread even among ignorant highlanders of the Dendarii ("Everyone knows the Count's son is a mutant... Some said it was... a disease from, um, corrupt practices in his youth among his brother-officers" [The Mountains of Mourning].

It is easy to imagine the horror, in which his father was because of all that was happening with his son. But some miracle has happened and Aral overcomes this stage of his life, breaks his relations with Ges and starts to make a military career: the field captain, the commodore in General Headquarters, the youngest admiral for the whole history of Barrayar, the genius strategist who has planned the most important barrayran conquest of the century – the capture of Komarr. "He's been all over the place. Every brushfire in the last twenty-five years seems to have his name in it someplace." [Barrayar]. So Barrayar wins "the ideal war"... But the hero of Komarr is under military tribunal for the murder of Political Officer. It was good that the case has ended up with nothing but degradation down to captain!

The braking of his word is another dishonor, which ends up for him with five month of unrestrained habitual at Kyril island. ("I can't remember much. I was drunk most of the time." [Vor Game]) and four years of doleful shippatrol with a dreadful crew. Than Emperor Ezar's offer to become a viceroy of Escobar follows (made, of course, with completely different underlying purpose, but nevertheless it was an indirect evidence of fact that Aral returns to active duty) which he rejected. Than Aral arranges classically correct retreat during the war with Escobar (as Tung said enviously "I've always felt it should be a companion volume - defensive strategy next to offensive - get the other half of his thinking." [The Warrior's Apprentice]), deserves the rank of admiral again and retires. After that, a couple of months of literally suicidal hard drinking follow.

What was the reason of these regular terrible frustrations filled with alcoholic self-stunning and other kinds of destructive behavior? Let's refer to the words of Aral himself: In his small lecture "about honor and reputation" he says that the most horrible thing in the life is nothing but dishonor, breaking one's own internal moral standards ("Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself... There is no more hollow feeling than to stand with your honor shattered at your feet while soaring public reputation wraps you in rewards. That's soul-destroying." [A Civil Campaign]). Apparently he loses his temper every time he committed a real dishonorable action in his own eyes – either breaking the law and getting cold feet, or sending his friends to the certain death, or being unable to keep the given word (and every time it has irreversible consequences – a somebody's death).

As it would be said by a psychologist, an unattainable superior object he set before himself leads to an acute sensitivity to his own failures and to a complex of guilt. Is it possible for Aral to be just a neurotic? It is known, that people can be divided into two categories: a man from the first category inclined to direct his aggression outside in an unpleasant situation, and a man from the second one directs it inside. A potential suicides belong to this second category, and Aral, of course, belongs to it too. The higher his anger, the lower his voice.

However, in the following books we can see absolutely different Aral Vorkosigan. He is even-tempered, cool-headed, sometimes too much, and never loosing his temper on public (as every normal human he can relax when he is alone or with his family, though. Miles remembers "I have seen him weep till his nose ran, more dead drunk than you were yesterday, Ahn, the night we got the word Major Duvallier was executed for espionage." [Vor Game]). Why has such changes happened?

Is it possible that the reason lies in a high social position he fills? He is actually the ruler of the Empire – Lord Regent firstly, Prime Minister later. Is it possible that he has no right for a nervous frustration, because a lot of people are dependent on him? Yes, of course, the call of duty is a great power, but it is hardly possible to remain just on the duty about three decades without going mad at last. No, the other thing saved Aral.

Cordelia appeared in his life – the only person, in whose love he had never doubt, who shall never censure him ("I can love you. I can grieve for you, or with you. I can share your pain. But I cannot judge you." [Shards of Honor]), who shall never betray him, with whose opinion he agrees without reserve ("Later - much later - when I also had too much to lose, I had acquired your mother. Her good opinion was the only one I needed." [A Civil Campaign]). She was the one who became the firm reference point for Aral, regarding which he was building his further life. ("My home is not a place. It is a person." Barrayar])

And not in vain Cordelia says about his husband: "Aral is a great man. I, a Betan, say this; but I don't confuse greatness with perfection. To be great anyhow is... the highter achievement" [Mirror Dance].

"The Peaceful Woman" Cordelia Naismith

The story of the first novel from the Vorkosigan Saga ("Shards of Honor") seems typical enough: He and She meet each other, He is a noble warrior from the cruel Barrayar and she is a peaceful explorer from the democratic Beta Colony. Misunderstanding... conflict of cultures... disputes of social organization growing to love.

Cordelia constantly underlines the difference between them by calling barrayarans in indignation "damned militarists" and "hired assassins", but she claims about her colleagues that they are "a scientific party, non-combatants".

But there is some oddity with the "peaceful scientist" Cordelia Naismith. Technically being an astrocartographer – it sounds like something harmless, something about geography at space scales – she is amazingly good acquainted with various kinds of weaponry.

She is well informed to a nicety about armament of battle spaceships including restricted information ("I've seen the secret reports on the General cruisers. You're out-gunned, out-armored, and out-manned, but you've got at least twice the legs." [Shards of Honor]). She is brilliant at knowing in the modern arms: "It was a Class Four sonic grenade, probably air-tube launched... Haven't you ever heard one go off?" (...where could she ever hear it herself?) or "You want me to give you a precise resonance reflection amplitude calculation for that sealed passenger cabin, Simon?"..(Mentally? In a moment? It requires well enough skill to do such sums...) - all from [Barrayar]. And she shoots "with a wild berserker accuracy" – she is alone able to stun on the spot three soldiers armed with nervedisruptors. And finally, she perfectly knows particular qualities of archaic types of cold steel (though she had never fond of history or culture of Barrayar as an example of archaic planet). The episode of buying swordstick at Sigling shop confirms this completely.

Her physical training arouse sincere admiration: she stands exhausting four-day march through the wild forest in fifty kilometers per day along with Vorkosigan being half-starved, after concussion of the brain, carrying a wounded on her neck... It is well-known to us how barrayaran cadets are driven for stamina from their youth by marches of hundred kilometers, but where did a peaceful woman form a comfortable planet get such skills?

The calm woman Cordelia Naismith, Lady and Countess Vorkosigan later, is much more inclined to risky escapades than the most militaristic barrayarans. From the youth of twenty-two she is occupied with playing hide-and-seek with death blind-jumping into newly discovered wormholes ("Before the war, she had an eleven-year career in their Astronomical Survey... All spacers are a little strange, but wormhole wildcatters are supposed to be the craziest of the crazy." [Komarr]), and at her thirty she volunteered to command dangerous by one hundred percent operation of delivering new weaponry to Escobar with the risk of being captured at least. Frenzied Cordelia is simply dangerous for people around her, when "her rage escapes helplessly in all directions" it is better to stay off her way even for her friends.

She perfectly wields all types of weapon, she is marvelously trained, she is rough, and she is inclined to risk and unadvisedly brave. Old Vortala has the reasons gallantly call her "the Betan Penthesileia", which can be replaced unless with more prosaic synonym but awkward term "the Lady Commando". Being extremely exceptional and highly gifted person in herself, Cordelia reinforces advantages of her position by perfect and apparently intentional training.

The comfortable, boring, preferring equality to individuality, highly developed Beta Colony appeared cramped for the bright personality of Cordelia Naismith. And finally it became clear that at her thirty-three "she had more practice for Barrayar than it seemed" [Komarr]

"The Chance Brothers" Junior Vorkosigans.

The charming maniac Miles.

Miles has explicit Cordelia's temperament. If in his youth Miles were mistaken that he inherits his inclination to risk from his warlike barrayaran ancestors ("I must have inherited the stiff-neck from my father, not from my mother." [The Warrior Apprentice]) than with the years he reasonably revised this point of view considering that he has got "an adrenaline dependence" from his mother. As for her, obstacles on his way merely gives him energy and rage (As Ivan notices "I never saw you face a wall that, if you couldn't go over it, you'd not try to find some way around, through, or under, or blow it up with sapper's charges. Or just bang your head against it till it fell down." [Memory]).

His rarely effective skill to manipulate people making them subliminally to take decisions which he wants to reach himself ("Miles does strategy and tactics, and inveigling people into doing what he wants" [A Civil Campaign]) Miles adopted from his mother too. And Admiral Naismith follows obviously betan, approval, and benevolent style of command.

But his talent to surround himself with unordinary bright personalities he has got undoubtedly from his father ("And the better he got to know Tsipis, the more Mark thought that might be a talent Miles had inherited from his – their – father." [A Civil Campaign]). And he tries to build his career from the very beginning with his father's career as a sample ("I only wanted to serve Barrayar, as my father before me." [The Warrior Apprentice] or "Ship duty. Eventually, command, like my father, his father, his, his..." ["The Vor Game"]).

In the worst of all moments for Miles as at his seventeen as at thirty he is ready to discuss them with his father, but he is rather afraid of talking openly with his mother. And there is a reasonable explanation to the fact: a "typically american" psychoanalytic Cordelia's approach to the discussion of problems of life could not be completely shared by the barrayaran man, who unconsciously adheres cultural taboo of affecting certain themes during conversation between a man and a woman (the notorious "rules" of Cordelia). Whereas Aral is not inclined to ask near people with ticklish questions if the answers as he believes could destroy their relationship.

It is obvious that Miles has his father's and absolutely barrayaran attitude to the values of life such as esprit de corps, social conventionalities, vor institution and even estimation of woman's attraction ("Miles's father shared an archaic Barrayaran ideal of feminine beauty that included the capacity to survive minor famines; Miles admitted a susceptibility to that style himself." [A Civil Campaign]). Probably that is why in the most critical moment of his life his mother could not guess right how he was going to act in spite of all her awesome astuteness sincerely thinking that he was going to prefer "the little admiral" in the moment of the crisis.

It seems Miles has his mother's character: her optimism, artistry, adaptability, ability to handle with people and impetuous temperament, but in spite of this he apparently has his father's set of values.

"The unexpected Vorkosigan" Mark.

We don't know much about Mark yet since he appears as a character just in three books and in the one of them ("Brothers in Arms") he represents merely a copy of another person. But it is easy to notice that Mark did not become quite Miles in spite of the fact he industriously studied to copy his clone-brother during the most important stage of his youth. He has tried to build his personality "of contraries" instead, when he has got the freedom (although Cordelia said that "just not-being Miles is no more than the inverse of being an imitation Miles" [Mirror Dance].

Mark's attitude to the life and his moral values are "liberal" and in this he is similar to Cordelia, who was a child of another planet as himself and who was forced to submit with Barrayar full of limitations. He shares her attitude to personal freedom, sex, and openness. He has no special sympathy of military men and he has no common for barrayarans reverential dread of almighty ImpSec. There is something common with personal attitude of Cordelia to Simon Illyan in it; she is feel free at tearing him to pieces if she consider that he is wrong... He is absolutely confident of superiority of galactic education. And finally he tastefully picks up her favorite swear "barrayarans!.." pronounced in a special tone.

Certainly, Cordelia obtruded him the role of being "the one of the Vorkosigans" and his place in this odd family from the very beginning along with the uniform of the younger Lord of the House and the unflinching confidence that she is always ready to help him. That is why in this family Mark is "Coredelia's son" in the first place. Every time he is in trouble he hurries for her help because she understands him, she is congenial and the careful mother gives her poor junior son the most powerful support she is able to maintain.

But Mark does not feel a filial love to Aral Vorkosigan. His feeling could be described as respect partly mixed with fear. And most likely, it is not just a consequence of former psychological programming intended to make of Mark a perfectly lethal weapon for the assassination of Count Vorkosigan.

It is more important that he is similar to his father (if remember Aral in his youth) in the pattern of the deepest psychological complexes and it is being shown in spite of the fact Mark has got known his parents for the first time almost in the adultery.

A feeling of blame for both of them flows out into depression and subconscious pursuit for "desirable punishment". But if true barrayaran Aral used knockout dose of alcohol, Mark prefers in the same situation glut himself with food beyond all measure.

Both in their youth hesitate of their sexuality.

Both are inflexibly stubborn. Vorkosigans parents comparing their sons to each other say about Mark the following: "He'll never be able to duplicate Miles's native ability to dance through that particular minefield. He seems more inclined to plow through it". ([Mirror Dance]). And this is Cordelia mentally commenting when she is observing confrontation between Aral and his father: "One day only: The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object." [Barrayar]). Though, of course, this innate ability of Count Vorkosigan softens with the years by the wisdom of life.

Mark tries and fears at the same time to see "the dark sides of his soul" in Aral. Apparently, if Mark consciously shares Coredlia's worldviews completely he is more similar to his father by the type of personality and by subliminal behavioral motivations.

May 2000