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From: adam louis stephanides <astephan@students.uiuc.edu>
Subject: (urth) Suzanne Delage
Date: Sun, 10 May 1998 13:17:57 

On Fri, 8 May 1998 Craig Christensen wrote:

> I read Suzanne Delange again last night and when nothing unmistakable   
> jumped out at me I reread it with the story's opening statement in mind.   
>  That is, the narrator was struck by the passage he had read which stated   
> that every person has probably had at least one event so momentous and so   
> inassimilable (somebody's making good use of his thesarus, huh?) that he   
> has wiped it from his memory.  I took that to mean that the narrator had   
> not only met Suzanne in his past, but that she was very important to him.   

I was lying in bed this morning and came to the conclusion that this was 
correct.  Based on it, I developed a reading of the story.  It explains 
the text; it is consistent with Wolfe's method in other works such as 
_Peace_ and _The Fifth Head of Cerberus_; and on this reading the story is
worthy of Wolfe.  My explanation will be a bit lengthy, but bear with me.

As in other works by Wolfe, the narrative seems ordinary on the surface, 
but when you study it carefully anomalies appear.  First of all, why is 
the narrator so obsessed with the "certain remark" he reads, to the point 
of lying awake trying to remember something extraordinary that happened to 
him that he has forgotten(!)?  And what he comes up with--never having met
Suzanne--is not, despite his claim, all that "strange--I might almost
say...incredible." (362; page references to the Tor hardcover, in which
the story runs from 361 to 367).  By implication, the town's population is
close to 100,000 (362), and the high school is a large one (364).  Later
in the story he states that if he had ever danced with Suzanne "the years
have so effectively sponged the event from my memory that no slightest
trace remains." (366)  Together, these suggest that something has indeed
happened to the narrator which he has not merely forgotten but repressed,
and that his non-meeting of Suzanne is what psychoanalysts call a "screen
memory": a false memory covering up a repressed event.

What might the narrator have repressed, and why?  There are two clues in
the narrator's retelling of "the idea that so forcibly struck" him.
The first is that the "extraordinary experience he refers to is not
necessarily supernatural, merely a "dislocation of all we expect from
nature and probability."  The second is that the person undergoing such an
experience forgets it because "he has ... been so conditioned to consider
himself the most mundane of creatures." (361)  This is significant because
the narrator does indeed "consider himself the most mundane of creatures."
He calls his life "dull" and is "afraid [he] bored" both his wives (362).
The latter is no surprise, for he is a boring narrator; compare him with
Weer in _Peace_.  The information that the narrator's life is "perhaps a
lonely" one, that he was briefly married twice (362), and that he now
lives alone (366) is also significant.

If the narrator is indeed repressing something, there should be traces of
it in the narration.  And there are.  He tells us that if he had met
Suzanne as a child, "I would no doubt have soon come to both love and
hate" her. (366)  This is certainly possible, but why does he say there is
"no doubt"?  Then, it's odd that he thinks he might have danced with a
girl as beautiful as Suzanne apparently was and casually forgotten about
it.  But it is the description of Suzanne's daughter that is the real
giveaway.  I won't quote it all, but read it over.  Firstly, we have this
sudden outburst of poesy in a narrative that has up till now been
completely prosaic.  Secondly, he claims to have observed in her "an air,
at once insouciant and shy, of vivacity coupled with an innocence and
intelligence that were hers alone."  But he only saw her for a few seconds
as she "walked quickly past" him!  How could he have possibly perceived
all that?  This passage is in reality not a description of the daughter,
but a repressed memory of Suzanne herself bubbling up, triggered by seeing
her daughter.

Confirmation comes with his friend's wife's reply: "'But of course you
know who she is, don't you?'" (367)  If he really did not know Suzanne,
why should his friend's wife assume he will recognize her daughter?  He
did know Suzanne well enough for the friend's wife, an acquaintance but
not a friend herself, to remember it, although he--consciously--does not.

To sum up: the narrator did know Suzanne, who may well have been as
extraordinary as he describes her daughter as being, and did "love and
hate" her. He later "sponged the event fron his memory": either because he
"considered himself so mundane," or because the end of the affair was too
traumatic, and he made himself "mundane" as a reaction.  Since then he has
led the "dull" life he describes.

>  I read the "Unable to be photographed" to mean that Suzanne was pregnant   
> then and that the young lady he saw was his own daughter.

The girl he sees isn't his own daughter--I can't see the narrator as being
in his early thirties--but it's possible that Suzanne was unable to be
photographed because she was pregnant.  Also, the narrator may have torn
the pages out of the sophomore yearbooks himself, either to get the
individual pictures of himself and Suzanne as he says or in the wake of
the break-up.

Well, that's my theory.  Do you agree?  (Even if you don't, I've learned a
lot about the story from this discussion, and I'd like to thank everyone
who's participated.)
> The vampire angle never occurred to me.  Neither have many other aspects   
> of Mr. Wolfe's writings revealed to me in the urth.list archives.

I have to admit, when I first read Mr. Westlake's post I thought he was
saying Suzanne was not a vampire but a fairy or something of the sort.  In
that case, I have some other objections.  "Her complexion [was] as pure as
milk" (367) does not, to my mind, describe a vampire's pallor; and the
entire description does not feel vampiric to me.  And the vampire theory
doesn't explain why the narrator never met Suzanne, or forgot meeting her,
since his wife's friend did not forget.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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