12 thoughts on ““The Three Dancers of Gizari” by Tamara Vardomskaya”

  1. The fantasy elements in this story are few; the setting, as the author’s note makes clear, could perfectly well be our own Gilded Age, and so the only thing fantastical is the emotion-influencing allatir stone. What do you think this element contributes to the story?

    1. Cool question.

      When I read, I hadn’t even realized the Dancers were an allatir sculpture! It seemed well established that it was their *expressions* radiating joy; I didn’t need any justifications for effect beyond that. Artificial emotions could give this story an intriguing edge, but it never really goes into that as a theme.

      One thing that strikes me is this line: "To work in allatir required exquisitely refined empathy." That adds a significant layer on to Estorges’s character – he’s not just a contrary genius artist; he’s a person with great empathy. We mostly see him being kind to Bethenica and contrary to Nahemiah , but this is effectively a character witness of a broader kind. Compare most starkly to Nahemiah, who "had never carved allatir stone."

      Another point is that the joy and delight of the dancers seems "borrowed" from its models. A lot of the story is about *Bethenica* trapped in a gilded cage; a girl who once ran off with the circus now accountant to an uncaring master, unappreciated. "Even before he spoke, I realized what it was they emanated, and why it drew me so much" — experiencing other people’s sincere delight, combined with Estorges’s empathy and celebration of joy, is a great change from Bethenica’s everyday life.

  2. Straightforward; enjoyable. A little single-minded on a constant theme, though, with more emotion than depth. It’s kind of an eff-you to an imaginary entitled rich person.

    Positioning Bethenica as privileged, but only at her master’s whim, making the comforts and company hollow, was well-done.

    The constant price estimations were somewhere between good character demonstrations, and a gimmick, but that might just be me being jaded 😛 It certainly does a service in demonstrating proportions, particularly compared to Bethenica’s 30ts a week, and her 1211.37ts net worth.

  3. This is a very bitter story indeed. The reason it ends without revealing what choice Bethenica made, to sign the paper or not, is that it doesn’t matter very much: all her options are bad ones. Her future is as darkened as the paper blotted by ink.

    She may have the habit of noting the price of everything she looks at (a trait which I don’t think is overused in the story, by the way), but she has always thought she was in charge of whether she herself was sold. She says, "…the price she named, 20ts. a week with room and board and raises yearly, was one I was willing to sell myself for. Or rather, not for the money itself, but for the chance to be part of a theater far grander than any in Dies Incanti, of a drama greater and more real than any theater could give, and where, again, I was the god behind the footlights, knowing all the cues." But in one afternoon, Estorges proved to her that there’s no pleasure that’s not a transaction, that sex and art are only bargaining chips, and that she may be able to choose who she sells herself to but it’s always her nature to be bought.

    Estorges is only the most subtle among the cast of haughty people who buy whatever they fancy. The fact that Nahemiah is an outspoken feminist is nothing in her favor: feminism does not make her the slightest bit aware of issues of class, nor does the fact that Izida is a lesbian prevent her from thoroughly disregarding Bethenica, the lower-class woman who shares her bed.

    I think one significance of allatir stone is that it makes emotion into an artistic material (and art can be bought). If joy is captured in a sculpture, the viewer experiences that joy differently according to circumstances, for example whether they own that statue (Izida’s panther, which channels the emotion of feeling wealthy and superior, always has the paradoxical effect on Bethenica of sharply reminding her of not meriting that).

    Someone who can work with allatir, like Estorges, has to be very aware of emotions. The relationship between stone and human goes two ways: allatir both shapes emotion and is shaped by it. So the sculptor has to be supremely in control, in order to get the exact effect desired. Estorges is a master manipulator, of people as well as stone. And I do not think he has any genuine kindness. He may have wanted to create a joyful sculpture but that was art. He knew exactly what he was doing when he set out to break Bethenica. I suppose he must take pleasure in his work, but manipulating people provides the same sort of pleasure. Did working with allatir lead him to see people and emotions that way, or was it his personality that suited him to the art?

    1. That’s a very interesting take. I hadn’t read it that way, but I can definitely see where you’re drawing from. It also clears up a few lines at the end that I didn’t quite know what to make of, like "I had no doubt that yesterday’s seduction was part of the contract, part of the offset price."

      I’m having a little trouble making it gel, though, because I don’t get the sense that Bethenica is being purchased for another gilded cage. "He also offered me my heart’s desire" — which is not to become subject to another snob. "Come with me to Halispell, Bethenica." — this sounds like he actually wants *her*, or else how do you interpret this plus the seduction? The lease doesn’t bind Bethenica to Estorges; she can go her own way now.

      One interpretation could be: Bethenica *does* get her freedom, but she knows that was only a chance side effect of Estorges humiliating Nahemiah. Her freedom is tainted by knowing how miserable the world is; controlled by a rarefied, petty aristocracy.

      I do feel, though, that if this is the direction intended, I wish there had been a little more emphasis on it. I feel like we’re puzzling out snippets trying to find a deeper interpretation. I really like what you’re saying about Nahemiah’s feminism and Izida’s sexuality, but those are such *minor* points in the text, so hardly touched on, and the two characters presented as so unpleasant, that it’s hard for me to see those as central to the story.

      Similarly, I could see the ending you’re describing, the contract as a poisoned chalice – and yet all the weight is on Bethenica’s desire to be free of Nahemiah. To Estorges, her emotional reaction is curtailed, muted — the mention of her body as part of the "offset price"; " He’d lied to everyone, including me, in the aim of humiliating Nahemiah… yet he also offered me my heart’s desire"; and the image of Bethenica as "a little god," "the only one beside the author with the script." Contrast that with her immense awareness of her patron’s unthinking assumptions of victory, which she is poised to frustrate.

      Maybe I’m asking to be spoon-fed; I don’t know. I just feel like if that’s the desired effect, then I feel like it’s missing focus.

    2. You’re right, maybe I’m the one missing something. It’s true that Estorges’s main aim was humiliating Nehemiah. But Bethenica thought, in hindsight, that his seducing her had something coldly calculated about it; if that perception is true, I can’t see any motivation besides humiliating her by making her break her rule of not sleeping with people who pay her. He wants her to know that he’s her superior, who can give her the sculpture that’s her heart’s desire in a whim, and that she’s buyable. If, in future, she chooses to work for him, she won’t get overly lofty ideas. It’s true that going to Halispell would be a better life than she has now. But it would be somewhat poisoned. $he also is accepting once and for all that her role is to be a manager for artists rather than an artist herself, which is a loss of her early dream.

      I only mentioned that Nehemiah and Izida are in some sense social underdogs, minorities, in order to note that this does not automatically make them sympathetic characters. The author is not that naive. Not when the story is seen through the eyes of Bethenica’s constant awareness of class and wealth and the power differences it creates. And even though Izida broke with her father, Schellerbide, in order to have a career in art, she’s still all aristocrat. (The fact that Izida’s still angry at her father, and Nehemiah feels like she put one over on the count by hiring Izida, explains why Estorges knew he’d get a reaction out of them by claiming to sell to Schellerbide.)

    3. > "But Bethenica thought, in hindsight, that his seducing her had something coldly calculated about it; if that perception is true, I can’t see any motivation besides humiliating her by making her break her rule of not sleeping with people who pay her."

      I think there’s something unclear in this precise bit. Effectively, Estorges being manipulative towards Bethenica is told-but-not-shown!

      …but it’s so crucial a piece, and the story wasn’t very clear on its significance, that here we are trying to make sense of it…

    4. I could see Estorges’s manipulation being *aimed* at humiliating Nehemiah, simply using Bethenica as his tool. "I just knew what rival would shatter Nahemiah and Izida the most. Until I saw an even better one."

      He needn’t even realize that Bethenica knows she’s been manipulated – he might think she’s still seduced by him.

      I really don’t see Bethenica being manipulated into his control, because the story just hasn’t established any such control. I certainly don’t think Estorges meant to humiliate her. Merely that he may not have been sincere in his affections — a betrayal of falsehood, not of ill-will.

  4. Is Estorges meant to be Izida’s father?
    At the very end, when he brings out the contract, the story says:

    "victory registered on Nahemiah’s face. Only Izida was biting her lips as she leaned forward; she still knew her father better than anyone, and she felt something was wrong."

    –but I’m not seeing that mentioned anywhere else. There’s another brief mention, that Iziida prides the art she’s collected — "I and not my father". But otherwise I’m not seeing any such indication, which seems weird.

    What am I missing here?

    1. Ah! I’d missed that. That makes a couple of things fall into place.

      I see now that that’s mentioned *before* we know Schellerbide in any story-related context. Then there are allusions back to it, but none of them are explicit. I can see why I missed it.

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