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From: "William H. Ansley" <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) Suzanne Delage: yet another theory
Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 01:59:54 

You know, maybe we need a separate Suzanne Delage mailing list. <g>

I came up with my own theory about this story, almost against my will,
since I was originally going to post a message saying "enough with the
Suzanne Delage already". I doubt very much that my theory is what Wolfe had
in mind (if he really had anything more in mind than a nod to Proust) but
it does have the signal advantage of making the quilt-hunting significant.

But first a comment: it is very hard to tell when the "present" is for the
narrator. On page 363 of the _Endangered Species_ (paperback) he says,
"There are a number of pages missing from the class picture section of the
earlier book and I seem to recall that these were torn out and cut up to
obtain the individual photographs many decades ago."

Assuming he is right about the time frame, this "many decades" poses
problems. I would think that at a minimum it would have to be three
decades, though many usually means more than this. Three is no problem. It
would mean that (if the pages were torn out of the sophomore yearbook right
away) that the narrator could be 44 (14 + 30) and that Suzanne would have
had her daughter at the age of 28 (44 - 16). Of course, if the pages were
torn out of the sophomore yearbook "n" years after it was taken home, we
have to add n to the above ages.

If "many" is four, we have Suzanne giving birth at the age of 38; if five,
48. And many could certainly be a higher number than these!

And now, my theory. I say the narrator did know Suzanne as a child and as a
teenager. They fell in love and, perhaps, planned to marry. But the
narrator's mother did find a "American Revolution times" quilt or
embroidered blanket at some time before the narrator's senior year and
probably after his sophomore year, in high school. It was infected with
smallpox. It had been preserved because some colonists intended to use it
to infect Indians. (I have read that colonists did this. I don't know if it
is true but it seems plausible. Certainly many, many Indians died of
smallpox and they almost certainly caught it from European settlers.)
Perhaps a smallpox epidemic breaks out. Even if all the inhabitants of the
town were vaccinated, it is likely that some would still be susceptible to
the virus to some degree. But certainly Suzanne get the disease and is
dreadfully scarred. Other people who come down with it get milder cases and
are not scarred noticeably. (This is consistent with what the _Encyclopedia
Brittanica_ has to say about smallpox.) The source of the disease is
discovered. The quilt/blanket is destroyed. Suzanne blames the narrator and
his family and hates him. The narrator, horrified by Suzanne's appearance,
no longer loves her. Or, perhaps, she is not so badly scarred, but he finds
that he cannot love her now that she is no longer "perfect" and she hates
him for this.

Suzanne can't be photographed because she is sick with smallpox or she
refuses to be because of her scars. The narrator destroys the pages of the
sophomore yearbook because he can't look at her old "pure as milk"
complexion without being guilt stricken. (The description of Suzanne's
daughter, under my theory, is to let us know what a beauty Suzanne was,
pre-smallpox.) Perhaps his picture is missing because of endearments
written on it by Suzanne, that he could no longer bear to read. He forgets
all about the smallpox outbreak and so does the town. Suzanne becomes a
recluse and so doesn't serve as a reminder. This also explains why he never
saw her after high school.

In this context, the fact that the narrator (falsely) remembers a Spanish
Influenza epidemic is significant because it was a pandemic disease
outbreak that was totally forgotten in a relatively short time. See one of
Craig Christensen's posting for details on this. This may be a hint that
the town could forget it own epidemic.

The sentence: "On the other hand we are neither of us invalids, nor are we
blind." also takes on new significance and perhaps some poignancy, since
blindness is a common result of scarlet fever and invalidism could be
caused by rheumatic fever or polio. Some part of the narrator that
remembers is saying "It could have been worse, couldn't it?"

This could also explain Suzanne having a child quite late in life (see my
comment way above). She finally finds someone to love and marry despite her
reclusiveness and disfigurement.

Now this is certainly not a supernatural explanation of the story, but I
don't think that is required. It is certainly against all probability and
the survival of variola (smallpox) virus for hundreds of years might be
considered a dislocation of nature.

I am aware there are a lot of problem with this idea; perhaps someone else
can refine or build on it. Perhaps the fact that I find it at all
convincing just demonstrates that I should get more sleep and do less email

But for now I say, "Enough with the smallpox theory already!"

William Ansley

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

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