In The Shadow of the Torturer, the main character Severian goes to a brothel with his friend and fellow torturer Roche. This brothel is called "House Azure". Some strange things happen here; Severian meets the androgyne who runs the brothel, and a prostitute who looks like Severian's old lover/prisoner Thecla.

We learn the nature of some of these things later. In The Citadel of the Autarch, though, we find this line:

Ever since the night I had first seen him, when Roche had brought me to the House Azure (whose odd name I was now, perhaps, beginning to grasp)

What did Severian grasp about the odd name "House Azure"? It resembles "House Absolute", to which it is somewhat connected, but Severian knew that already by this point. Is there something more here?

There's also this quote from The Urth of the New Sun:

As was to be expected, his first thought was that the man was arrayed for a masque, of which there are always several in one part or another of the House Absolute on any given night. Yet he knew none was to take place in our Hypogeum Apotropaic, neither Father Inire nor the then Autarch having much fondness for those diversions.” I smiled, recalling the House Azure.

The reason Severian smiles is obviously that the House Azure is a brothel run by certain people in the House Absolute without the knowledge of the populace; still, might this quote be relevant for my question as well?

  • As a mundane explanation, "House Azure" could allude to the fact that the proprietor and prostitutes are either "blue blooded people" themselves or represent "blue blooded people". But I like the accepted answer as well. Aug 2, 2022 at 13:49

1 Answer 1


House Azure is named after the color the sky would be if the the sun was not dying.

Miriam-Webster defines "azure" as

the blue color of the clear sky.

Now, of course, that means the color of the clear sky on our earth in the real word.

In Severian's time the sky is not azure. After the feast of Holy Katherine drunken Severian dreams that he is in the ruined chapel but it is whole and new and there is a mosaic behind the altar (or possibly it is just a window) that he interprets to be the color of the sky when the sun is healthy; he is

struck by how much lighter it [is] than the true sky, whose blue is nearly black even on the brightest day.

The sky in Severian's time is so dark that stars can be seen even in the day time. He tells little Severian in Sword of the Lictor that

pictures painted in the ancient days, when our sun was brighter, appear to show that the stars could not be seen at all until twilight.

If you accept that the proprietor of House Azure really is the old autarch, one possible reason the old autarch chooses to spend his time there is as a base of operations near the citadel for keeping an eye on Severian who is being groomed to become the autarch who will bring the new sun. If such a theory is true the name "House Azure" is an ironic nod to that goal.

  • Can you offer any quotes or references to back this up. It seems a bit guesswork-y at the moment
    – Valorum
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:31
  • It is a fact that the brothel is named after the color of the sky when the sun is not dying. That is what "azure" means and in Severian's time it is "nearly black" which is not azure. I offer speculation about why it would have that name. I mean if you can put no speculation in StackOverflow then no one can answer any nontrivial questions about Gene Wolfe's work
    – jwezorek
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:33
  • Much improved. Have an upvote.
    – Valorum
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:43
  • Sounds very plausible indeed, thank you!
    – tobiasvl
    Sep 26, 2021 at 21:13

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