The Infamous Linen Document

Disquisition on Semantic Markers in Fabric Exchanges among Middle- and Upper-Class Azanry Dolgorukij in the Late Years of the Presidence of First Judge Aelwiss Wharwit


The category of fabrics suitable for formal exchange between related or negotiating kin-groups is roughly classified into “seamed” fabric and “hemmed” fabric. These distinctions appear to be traditional in origin: in exchanges witnessed by or described to the author, it was evident that “seamed” fabric was frequently hemmed, and that that “hemmed” fabric could very well be “seamed.”

Only the rarest class of fabric exchanges of the “hemmed” variety are not in fact also “seamed.” Since the class descriptions are no longer mutually exclusive an additional descriptor is usually employed to emphasize the unseamed nature of the most impressive exchanges in the “hemmed” group. These highest-prestige gifts are usually described in conversation and folklore as “single-loom” hemmed items, as where in the famous story of Desular and Dyraine the hero lyrically instructs his female servants over the span of twenty-five stanzas that the gifts prepared for his beloved must include “eighteen sheets from eighteen looms, and never a seam among them; do not shame me in the presence of my beautiful bride, my beloved bird, my wife and my lover, Dyraine, of the Dyerstream.”

Fabric gifts that are recognized as such fall into one of several categories of exchange, which may be grouped into symmetrical pairs based upon the identities and sex of the exchanging parties. Gifts of fabric not recognized as such include bolts or lengths of cloth presented for the tailoring of clothing between middle- and lower-class Azanry Dolgorukij; anything exchanged between clergy and lay people, with specific exceptions discussed by the author; and completed garments or other items of any kind that do not fall within the strictly defined categories recognized (with a consistency ratio of 628:640, in Zibner’s classic historical study from Fordex Dnedni’s third year of Presidence) as hemmed or seamed.

These categories of fabric gift exchanges may be summarized as follows:

1) Fabric gifts made by a family to another family or representative member of another family when a male child of the first family is related to, or is pursuing a marital relationship with, a female child of the second family; including betrothal tokens, firstborn gifts, heir gifts, and bridal tokens for the betrothal of a female child of the subject relationship

2) Fabric gifts made by a family to another family or representative member of another family when a female child of the first family is related by marriage to, or is sought in marriage by, a male child of the second family; including dower funds, property deeded in trust toward the birth of the first male (increasingly, male or female) child, and bridal tokens for the betrothal of a male child of the subject relationship

The degree of relationship to which the family recognizes its responsibility toward children of the subject relationship varies according to the age and wealth of the family. For the average middle-class Aznir merchant lineage such fabric gifts are confined to the primary relationship. For an older or wealthier, upper-class or primarily farming lineage such gifts may be extended to the ninth generation without attenuation, until the property exchange begins to resemble the periodic exchange of usufruct of a piece of property essentially owned in common; as witness the legal ownership of the famous Zurplaskaya hunting lodge at Misurna.

3) Fabric gifts made by the mother of a young woman to the young man by whom she is being courted, or to the mother of the young man by whom she is being courted (the complementary relationship, fabric gifts made by the father of a young woman directly to the young man by whom she is being courted, or to the father of the young man by whom she is being courted, are now so rare as to be completely discounted as “simply not done,” despite a wealth of admittedly ambiguous evidence in the literature).

4) Fabric gifts made by the mother of a young man to the young woman who has taken an interest in him, or to the mother of the young woman who has taken an interest in him

5) Fabric gifts made by an unmarried man to an unmarried woman not within the proscribed degrees of relationship

6) Fabric gifts made by an unmarried woman to an unmarried man not within the proscribed degrees of relationship.

Internal evidence suggests that until fairly recent years there was a seventh/eighth category of fabric gifts, comprised of gifts from a family to an individual per se, male or female, outside of the defined range of gifts made to an individual as a marker of relationships between two families. No respondents volunteered this class of fabric gift as a category, however. It seems clear that the social signal thus presented is considered to be unnecessarily or gratuitously brutal, and that its functions have been absorbed into the range of gifts falling into categories three and four, gifts made by a female parent to a child’s suitor of the opposite sex.

The extreme social stigma attached to this unexpressed category of fabric gift exchange may be examined in the famous and very poignant tale of Slandered Rossola, and the sufferings she endures in the almost unbearable second part of the story as a result of her shamed inability to explain why she is in possession of the single-loom, hemmed fabric.

(Current analyses of this deeply valued tale indicate a fairly recent shift in the emotional impact of this second part from its earlier form, her inability to tell the truth because of her magnificently filial and delicate sense of shame, to a newer interpretation in which it is strongly implied that she simply would not have been believed because of the outrageous and undeserved cruelty of the gesture. K’ts’aleran has isolated what may be the intermediate variant of the story in a version told amongst certain Arakcheek dairy-workers’ child-care guilds, in which Slandered Rossola endures her terrible ordeals as a result of her unwillingness to present her own parents in a bad light through the social contamination they would inevitably suffer vicariously from her experience; a fascinating retreat from the purest form of the filial model toward a more practical, or more compassionate, social-interaction paradigm.)

It can easily be seen that fabric gifts are made from families to families (as represented by female parents and prospective marriage partners) or, in select instances, between individuals, always in a potentially contractual environment. These basic relationships are summarized on the sample data as follows, and are discussed fully in the text:

1) Tokens of interest, or desire for an affectionate relationship or esteem Such tokens are generally hemmed if male to female, seamed if female to male. A boy may give a girl a handkerchief under certain dimensions (hemmed goods of the smallest variety). A girl may give a boy a scarf, which must be longer than it is wide (seamed goods of the fringed variety). These gifts are considered to be appropriate as neutral exchanges even between family members.

2) Tokens of a flirtatious nature without serious overtones (also appropriate as tokens of sincere affection between siblings of a similar generational level)

Again, these tokens are generally hemmed if given by a boy/male to a girl/female, and seamed if from female to male. A boy may give a girl a kerchief for her bosom, or a headscarf (hemmed goods of the smaller variety). A girl may give a boy a fabric belt which may be embroidered, but which again must (of course) be longer than it is wide (seamed goods of the longer fringed variety).

3) Courting or pursuit tokens and their appropriate responses

If a young woman makes a present to a young man of fabric, whether seamed or hemmed, and it is not longer than it is wide, it is considered to be a reference to bedsheets and/or an infant’s body-clout, and is either more or less scandalous depending upon the relative size and squareness of the gift. Outerwear may safely be given as a socially respectable token of passionate, if restrained, desire; hence the decorated vests, over-long belts, figured spats, and so forth that make the native costumes so colorful, as compared to the Jurisdiction standard.

Clothing that may resemble more intimate apparel is almost never given, although an affianced bride, a female servant of advanced age, or a woman in possession of an aristocrat’s land-pledge may give a shirt as a gift (seamed goods of the ruffled kind, considered to be intimate apparel because of the close resemblance between shirts worn as daily dress and the almost ubiquitous Dolgorukij bedshirt encountered across every planet in the Combine).

The very important cultural resource of the comparison songs is briefly referenced, and the correspondence of categories within the classic “Whiter than my lover’s breast, finely wove with sorrow” song cycle is delineated with admirable restraint.

A nun, however, may give hemmed goods of any sort to a man whom she desires for her lover, or a priest seamed goods of any sort to a woman whom he desires for his lover, without stigma attaching to either party (although it is expected that if the recipient of the gift declines the offered privilege he or she will make an appropriate return of seamed or hemmed goods of the quill’s- track variety).

As a final note, headwear of any kind is never presented to a young man by a young woman except for the suitor’s cap traditionally brought to a young woman by her father for presentation to an approved and contracted suitor. Once the suitor’s cap has been presented the couple are considered to be legally married for all intents and purposes, and the suitor begins to assume the prerogatives of a husband at that time. This piece of headwear was once described as the fisherman’s bonnet, a sexual reference no longer in current use.

A young man wishing to ingratiate himself with a young woman may offer her the hemmed goods previously discussed, which, if accepted and worn in public upon three occasions within a single month, signals an invitation to proceed further if he wishes to do so. At this point a young man may present an additional kerchief (hemmed goods of the fraternal variety), indicating that he wishes the relationship to remain affectionate, but not potentially sexual or conjugal. Alternatively, he may present the girl’s mother, aunt, or other female guardian with an embroidered pillow- covering (seamed goods of the enveloping variety), a request to be considered as a potential member of the family (“born from the same pillow”). At the same time he will present the girl of his interest with a plain, unfigured apron, suitable for daily work and indistinguishable from any other apron (seamed goods of the domestic variety).

In some instances where a degree of intimacy not sanctioned by the girl’s parents may have already taken place it is sometimes possible to observe seamed goods of the domestic variety being presented with a pocket at the side, a very public declaration of intent to assume responsibility for an hypothesized child. When presented to a woman of “good family” not acknowledged as the guardian of a land-pledge this is an insult of a significant order, but as frequently serves amongst the lower classes as a very respectable demand for custody of the girl as bride from her parents on the part of the young man. In this capacity “seamed goods of the domestic variety” assumes the symbolic meaning as a love-match whose social meaning is clear enough to obviate a civil ceremony entirely. The author wisely defers discussion of exchange of such aprons with pockets between women of similar age for further intensive study.

When presented in the usual way (without pockets) it is, however, customary for the apron-strings of the garment to be unusually long, emphasizing that the token does not in any way approach to sheets or body-clouts. (An alternative explanation for the long strings in terms of the gifts usually given by girls to boys is discussed without conclusive rejection.) The girl may trim the apron-strings as closely as she wishes to indicate the degree of her enthusiasm for the relationship, at this point. In the case of an arranged marriage at the highest level of Dolgorukij society, as an extreme example, the girl will customarily embroider the trimmed ends of the apron strings and return them to the young man for his use as the decorative covers for the reins of his favorite mount, a gesture whose implications are too obvious to require further elucidation.

As the relationship proceeds the young man may begin to make gifts of table-linen, dish-clothes, and other such napery (hemmed goods of the ordinary variety). It becomes of utmost importance to ensure that any such gift of hemmed goods of the ordinary variety consist of more than one size of goods, to ensure that it is correctly interpreted as tableware, for instance. Presenting a gift of sheets to a young woman after the apron has been accepted (without pockets) is considered to be equivalent to a public claim of having consummated the relationship and having found it of too little interest or value to carry any further. The reader is reminded of the frightful Hindaische scandal, which – tragic though it was – is widely considered to have produced the landmark Familial Restrictions in the Karatschev Dueling Codes. These cultural expectations result in sometimes humorously paradoxical situations such as that witnessed by the author, in which the young woman displayed pleased and very public acceptance of what was clearly a set of bed-linen, without with slightest trace of embarrassment or discomfort, because the gift included all of the sheets, pillow coverings, coverlet coverings, and other such traditional necessities, and was therefore placed securely by the varying sizes of its components within the hemmed goods of the ordinary variety.

When the suitor’s cap has been presented the young man may, at that time, make presents of an explicitly intimate nature, which include (somewhat surprisingly) sets of hemmed linens of precisely the same dimensions as previously given to him by the young woman at the beginning of the relationship. (It is the height of boorish behavior, however, to include actual gifts of that nature in these nuptial sets.) It has not proved possible to discuss the relationship between these “hemmed goods of an intimate variety” and any other function which they may be imagined to perform with any of the informants interviewed for this study. Other intimate gifts of fabric made at this point may include bedding, if of the “single-loomed” or hemmed-and-unseamed variety, and “seamed goods of a maternal variety,” or clothing and other fabric related to infant children. If it has been a genuine love-match the young man may present his lover with a finely- worked linen shift for sleeping (seamed goods of the most affectionate variety), but the gesture is apparently in the process of becoming conventionalized.

4) Family tokens of willingness or unwillingness to sanction a contractual relationship.

Generally speaking “seamed” fabric is given as a gift by women to men in the early stages of relationship, during which time the appropriate return category is “hemmed” fabric. At a point of final commitment these exchange rules are sometimes modified to the extent that men give women “seamed” fabric and women give men “hemmed” fabric.

Note From Susan

There’s clearly much, much more to say about this subject, but I was exhausted.  I’m very much impressed with you for getting this far.