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From: Damien Broderick <damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>
Subject: (urth) Suzanne Delage
Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 22:23:57 +0000

As I was reading this morning - reading the URTH list's digest on my
computer screen, I should explain - I was struck by the deluge of posts,
deliberately left unread until now, concerning the story `Suzanne Delage'.
It occurred to me to wonder about this thread.  Living all my life, as I
have, in a genre comprising less than a hundred thousand stories, I had not
even been dimly aware of this particular tale.  And yet it had plainly
excited the witty and astute vulpine readers here.  I went as soon as it
was convenient to my local library and found the copy of ENDANGERED SPECIES
that, hardly opened except to read `The Cat',  I had returned only a month
before, and there belatedly met for the first time the enigmatic absence of
Suzanne Delage.  Or so it seemed, until, with a strange frisson, my first
for the day, I noticed that this story had originally appeared in a
collection entitled EDGES (Pocket Books, 1980), edited by Mr Wolfe's agent,
Virgina Kidd, and her other most notable client, Ursula Le Guin.  This was
striking enough as a coincidence, for at that time I too was a client of Ms
Kidd.  Stranger yet was the fact that this volume, in which I had never
previously encounted Mr Wolfe's story, opens with a novella that I believe
Mr Wolfe might enjoy, entitled `The Ballad of Bowspit Bear's Stead'.  As it
chanced, I had writtten that story.

I turned for clues to Ms Kidd's introduction to the story.  It proved
immediately unreliable in a small way, not perhaps a startling discovery in
a paperback original which had printed the closing sentences of my own
story not on its last page but at the head of the italicized introduction
to the next, Carol Emshwiller's `Omens'.  We are misinformed that Mr Wolfe
had been `working extensively on his tetralogy (*The Rock of the New
Sun*)'.   Nevertheless, it is worth attending to Ms Kidd's insiderly comment:

`His short story hereunder is a den of iniquities; no one else could have
written it.'

I think this is likely.  It is less a madeleine than a reverse veronica, a
kind of Turin test.  Here are some incidental, glancing reflections:

Suzanne is not a vampire, I think, nor is she her own daughter and mother,
not quite.  I do think she might have no use for men.  Is it implausible
that those exhausting trips taken by Madame Delage and Mother, so eagerly
repeated, were spent as often under the quilt as on it?  Was it Mother who
later scissored out the photos of the young woman who (perhaps) - like
daughter, like mother, like grandmother, faithful mirror of the flesh - so
resembled her lost lover?  Why did the bitter old neighbor widow so detest
Mrs Delage?  Had she been displaced in the beautiful friend's affections
(or those of someone looking quite similar - wait, wait for it) by other,
younger women, Mother being merely the latest?

Why should this be the occasion of retrograde amnesia?  The conjecture
above might be the root of a complex Oedipal agony of (as it were) biblical
proportions.  As Adam noted of this confessedly (or avowedly) dull
small-town dog:

<  "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 provenance of the luscious 15 year old daughter of the absent Suzanne?
Mantis provided the key allusion to Proust, a writer for whom sexual
evasions and masks were not unknown.  But here's another possible layering
(if we are prepared to accept that Gene Wolfe is vatic as well as gnomic,
the necessary premise for many of this list's entertainingly
over-interpretative hi-jinks). You all know, of course, that Ives Delage
(1854-1920) was the French zoologist who (as the EB tells us) `developed a
method for culturing sea urchins following artificial fertilization of the
eggs with chemicals'.  This might be irrelevant in the work of anyone with
less interest in cloning and reduplication than Mr Wolfe.

Having mused on this matter for a time, I let it slip my mind and opened my
mail from the Taxation Department of the Australian Commonwealth.  It is a
truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good
IQ, is quite often as thick as a brick when faced by normal tasks routinely
handled with dispatch by the village halfwit.  Horrified by what I found
there, I pedalled at once to gladiolus-rich Moonee Ponds [sic], Melbourne
seat of the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation, suburb apostophised so
lovingly by our laureate Dame Edna Everage for its lower-middle class
*niceness*, in order to set right, if I could, a lamentable lapse of
memory.  In a fit of near-Alzheimerish muddle I had written not long ago to
the Deputy Commissioner or his lackey a brief message deploring his request
for a certain penalty that I believed wrongly had been forgiven following
an earlier round of correspondence.  Or rather, that amount having indeed
been remitted,demurring at the more substantial amount now requested with
menaces, which proved to relate to another year entirely.  How time flies
and so on.  

Since I could find no method of electronic payment, and no other that did
not involve a hefty excess for the service, I bicycled, as I say, to cloudy
autumn Moonee Ponds and there withdrew from the local bank branch - after
first admitting my inability to drive a car and producing what I regarded
as an excessive number of documents showing my face and my signature - an
amount of folding cash equal to 68 times the sum paid me by Deakin
University Press for my book about deconstructive theory.  

Soon I entered the vast building in nearby Gladstone Street and was
directed to a bullet-proof glass-fronted cashiers' counter where a small
frisson greeted me, my second or third for the day.  Waiting to take and
count my bank notes were two burly chaps, apparently there from central
casting in the role of smash-and-grab men or perhaps undercover drug cops
working a dangerous biker detail, in louche wrinkled garments revealing
rather an expanse of beefy forearm.  The thug who took my money and spent a
surprisingly long time counting it, putting it into small piles and moving
these back and forth, was shaven-skulled in a stubbled 5 o'clock shadow
way, with a long plaited queue rising from the back of his head in the
place where my male pattern tonsure, sadly, meets the equally bald portions
at the front.  I found this entire scene extremely gratifying, at once a
metonymy of the process and evidence of a new and refreshing relaxation of
out-moded shibboleths.  If the rules had been as sensible when I was a
young lout, who knows but that I might now be approaching the close of a
well-remunerated working life in the Public Service.

Damien Broderick

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

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