Restfulness And Restlessness In The High Vor Class Of Bujold’s A Civil Campaign

About twenty years ago or so, the late religious scholar Samuele Bacchiochi wrote a book titled Divine Rest For Human Restlessness [*]. This book, one of several he wrote on the subject of the Sabbath, deals with the importance of the Sabbath rest not only for the Jews or the people of ancient Israel, but for all of humanity. Specifically, the Sabbath rest has roots in creation, redemption, service, and belonging. Among the most expressive passages in scripture relating to the wide scope of the Sabbath as it is discussed in the Bible is that found in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, which reads: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Of particular note is that the Sabbath rest commanded by God is commanded for everyone. Restfulness is not an ideal only enjoyed and demanded by the highest elites, but is commanded for all to enjoy, even animals. Contrary to writers who would insist on the leisure class being something only the elites can enter into, or the example of most of the ancient (and modern) world where presidents and Congressmen have short work weeks but ordinary workers are expected to work 40, 50, even 70 hours a week to make ends meet, the rest of the Sabbath, with all that it entails (including debt forgiveness) is a blessing accessible to all. This is not to say that the egalitarian ideals of the biblical Sabbath (expressed as well in its setting for many of Jesus’ miracles, giving freedom to those who were ill by giving them rest from their sicknesses) were often well understood or fairly enforced, but the law at least provided an equal and level playing field so that its enforcement may follow upon a recognition that restfulness was not a class prerogative, but was designed for all creation.

In Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, part of her Vorkosigan saga (mainly based around the exploits of the heroic and restless Miles Vorkosigan, a member of the High Vor class [1]), a significant part of the plot revolves around the elite politics of the Council of Counts, where the Count (or voting Deputy) of the 60 top noble families of the fictional planet of Barrayar vote on various matters. Within this context, it is striking to note how often the High Vor speak to each other about the desirability of restfulness, or its contrary quality, such as busy. Let us look, not entirely at random, at three passages that show the High Vor view towards restfulness and business on the part of other members of their class, and then let us comment upon what conclusions can be drawn from these passages.

The first passage occurs during a dinner party for the elites where Ivan Vorpatril is trying to persuade one of his close relatives and the head of his family to vote a particular way, to which the count and a head of another count decide to go elsewhere:

“Falco said to Voralas, “If you’re not going to Vorsmythe’s, why don’t you come back with me to Vorpatril House? Were we can at least drink sitting down. I’ve been meaning to have a quiet talk with you about that watershed project.”

“Thank you, Falco. That sounds considerably more restful. Nothing like the prospect of vast sums of money changing hands to generate rather wearing excitement among our colleagues [2].””

The second passage contains several references to restfulness (and its opposite), and also occurs in the context of politicking later that same night, where Ivan Vorpotril and Lord Dono Vorrutyer have gone to seek the support of another Count, the impoverished Count Vorfolse, at his residence:

“Good evening, Count Vorfolse,” Dono said smoothly into the com. “I’m Lord Dono Vorrutyer.” He gestured at his companions. “I believe you know Ivan Vorpatril, and my senior Armsman, Szabo. Miss Olivia Koudelka. I stopped by to talk to you about tomorrow’s vote on my District’s Countship.”

“It’s too late,” said the voice.

Szabo rolled his eyes.

“I have no wish to disturb your rest,” Dono pressed on.

“Good. Go away.”

Dono sighed. “Certainly, sir. But before we depart, may I at least be permitted to know how you intend to vote on the issue tomorrow?”

“I don’t care which Vorrutyer gets the District. The whole family’s deranged. A plague on both of your parties.”

Dono took a breath, and kept smiling. “Yes, sir, but consider the consequences. If you abstain, and the vote falls short of a decision, it will simply have to be done over again. And over and over, until a majority is finally reached. I would also point out that you would find my cousin Richars a most unrestful colleague–short tempered, and much given to factionalism and strife.”

Such a long silence issued from the intercom, Ivan began to wonder if Volfolse had gone to bed.

Olivia leaned into the scan pickup to say brightly, “Count Vorfolse, sir. If you vote for Lord Dono, you won’t regret it. He’ll give diligent service to both the Vorrutyer’s District and to the Imperium.”

The voice replied after a moment, “Eh, you’re one of Commodore Koudelka’s girls, aren’t you? Does Aral Vorkosigan support this nonsense, then?”

“Lord Miles Vorkosigan, who is acting as his father’s voting deputy, supports me fully,” Dono returned.

“Unrestful. Eh! There’s unrestful for you.”

“No doubt,” said Dono agreeably. “I have noticed that myself. But how do you intend to vote?”

Another pause. “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

“Thank you, sir.” Dono motioned them all to decamp; his little retinue followed him back toward the lift tubes [3].”

The third passage takes place the following day, when Emperor Gregor Vorbarra is interrupted from voting by the attempts of an in-law of Madame Vorsoisson to deprive her of the custody of her son Nikki:

“Gregor tapped his lips. “And was this your own idea, or did Alexi suggest it?”

“I…” Vassily hesitated. “Actually, Alexi did suggest it.”

“I see.” Gregor glanced up at his liveried man, standing waiting by the wall, and said in a crisper tone, “Gerard, take a note. This is the third time this month that the busy Lieutenant Vormoncrief has come to my negative attention in matters touching political concerns. Remind Us to find him a post somewhere in the Empire where he may be less busy.”

“Yes, Sire,” murmured Gerard. He didn’t write anything down, but Ekaterin doubted he needed to. It didn’t take a memory chip to remember the things that Gregor said; you just did [4].”

All of these passages share a consistent approach. In all cases, restfulness is good, and business or unrestfullness is bad, when the High Vor are thinking about themselves. Moreover, restfullness is attached to a variety of other concepts. Drinking while sitting down, or enjoying pleasant conversation, is restful. Being given more work or having to deal with strife and toil is not restful. And the High Vor (namely, the Counts and their families) appreciate their rest. Even someone like Miles, who is not really combative, is just a bit too driven and intense (for his own personal reasons) to be restful enough to really fit in with his peers. Since his restlessness is focused on service, though, it is generally channeled to productive ends by his cousin the Emperor, rather than landing him in more serious trouble, as is the case for others.

It is striking to note, though, that the High Vor do not themselves respect the restfulness of others. In stark contrast to the egalitarian ideal of restfulness found in the Bible (as expressed in Deuteronomy 5:12-15), we find that while the highest elites of Barrayar seek rest for themselves, they are not so charitable about providing rest for others. Two examples of this should suffice. The first is the example of Dul Galeni, the bright ImpSec (short for Imperial Security) officer of Komarran heritage (Komar being an imperial conquest of Barrayar, and therefore a subject people), whose restfulness has been entirely neglected by his boss:

“”Yes. Illyan told Allegre. Allegre told me. I wish I had someone to tell…I was still pulling in informants’ reports and cross-checks as of midnight last night, thank you very much, my lord. I wasn’t able to calculate anything like a decent reliability score until late yesterday.”

“Oh. Oh, no. Allegre didn’t put you on this…slander matter personally, did he? Sit, sit.” Miles waved Galeni to a chair, which the Komarran pulled up around the corner of the table from Miles.

“Of course he did. I was an eyewitness to your ghastly dinner party, which seems to have launched the whole thing, and more to the point, I’m already in the need-to-know pool regarding the Komar case.” Galeni seated himself with a tired grunt; his eye automatically began to scan the document sideways. “There was no way Allegre would add another man to the pool if he could possibly avoid it.”

“Mm, makes sense, I guess. But I’d hardly think you’d have time.”

“I didn’t,” said Galeni bitterly. “I’ve been putting in an extra half shift after dinner nearly every day since I was promoted to head of Komarran Affairs. This came out of my sleep cycle. I’m considering abandoning meals and just hanging a food tube over my desk, which I could suck on now and then.”

“I’d think Delia would put her foot down, after a while.”

“Yes, and that’s another thing,” Galeni added, in an aggrevated tone.

Miles waited a beat, but Duv did not elaborate. And well, did he really need to? Miles sighed. “Sorry,” he offered [5].

The second example also shows how the household of a High Vor did not respect the need of its people to rest, in a matter of security where most of the family’s retainers were off on official business:

“Martya said urgently to the maid, “Where’s Pym?”

“Gone with Lord Vorkosigan, miss.”

“Jankowski?”

“Him, too.”

“Anyone?”

“All the rest are gone with m’lord and m’lady.”

“Damn! What about Roic?”

“He’s sleeping, Miss.”

“Fetch him down here.”

“He won’t like being waked up off duty, miss…” the maid said nervously.

“Fetch him!”

Reluctantly, the maid started to drag herself out [6].”

In both of these examples, we see that it was common among the High Vor or their associates not to respect the need of others to rest. Galeni’s rest is not as important as keeping the people privileged to a secret small, and Roic’s rest is not as important as preventing Martya’s romantic interest from being recovered by those seeking to restore him to prison. Miles, it should be noted, at least respects Galeni’s rest, but that is because Miles views Galeni as a friend and as an equal, not as a subordinate or a lesser class. Also of note is that Matrya herself is not High Vor either, but has adopted the viewpoints of someone in high rank and status anyway.

This leaves us at an interesting place. In stark contrast to the biblical egalitarian nature of rest and its desirability, we see that the elites highly valued rest for themselves but did not always place a sufficient value on the need for rest of others when their own convenience or interests were at stake. We see that the people of Barrayar are not heroic in this sense, but for the most part are ordinary human beings when it comes to how they view power and prestige–they take it for granted that their own interests are worth protecting but do not think about the needs and concerns of others when those needs and concerns conflict with self interest.

Yet it remains a question as to why there are so many references to rest, restfulness, and their opposites in a small section of writing about Barrayar when the concept of rest and its implications is not explored, to my knowledge, elsewhere in the Vorkosigan saga, certainly not with the same degree of focus. Where was it that Bujold got the ideal for leisure among the High Vor class, and why make them so hypocritical about it? Bujold, at any rate, is not in the business of writing critical and literary essays about her own work, except in forwards and afterwords to her collections and novels, and so we must leave it to at least some degree of uncertainty as to why the subject of restfulness is so important, but to see so many references in such a narrow span of pages suggests that the references were not accidental. With that inference, we can then say that restfulness is a cultural ideal for the High Vor, that this rest involves personal pleasure and benefit, and does not appear to be something that is always respected in lesser orders of society. Obviously, therefore, the ideal of restfulness in Bujold’s works falls short of the universal biblical applicability of the Sabbath rest as a curb on human restlessness, even if it has implications about the desirability of the Sabbath rest even in the realm of science fiction and fantasy literature.

[*] After writing this entry, I received and reviewed that very book for a Sabbath writing project of mine:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/book-review-divine-rest-for-human-restlessness/

[1] In the Vorkosigan saga, the society of Barrayar, the home planet of the main characters, has an aristocratic society developed through centuries of isolation where the emperor is in charge of a small elite of counts (60, including the emperor himself) with a larger elite of lesser nobles, all of whom have surnames with the honorific vor at the beginning, which functions like the German von. So, we have Miles Vorkosigan, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, Ivan Vorpatril, and Ekaterin Vorsoisson, among many others. The vast majority of the main characters of the series of novels from Barrayar spring from this small class of privileged elites. This particular quality gives us the ability to see how these elites view their own class and how they behave to others given the third person narration of the series as a whole.

[2] Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles In Love (Riverdale, NY: Baen Books, 2008), 713.

[3] ibid, 717-718.

[4] ibid, 747.

[5] ibid, 636.

[6] ibid, 740.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Restfulness And Restlessness In The High Vor Class Of Bujold’s A Civil Campaign

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