(urth) memory and Suzanne (offshot of Typhon's nature)

Gerry Quinn gerry at bindweed.com
Mon Oct 17 09:49:26 PDT 2011

From: Marc Aramini 

      --- On Mon, 10/17/11, Gerry Quinn <gerry at bindweed.com> wrote: > > I don’t agree that the name of the main character in Suzanne Delage is significant, or that it is about memory.  Sure, the name is apparently that of a minor character in Proust, and Wolfe is known to like Proust.  But nobody has ever, as far as I know, proposed any particular connection between the actual Proust character who bears the same name, and the character in Wolfe’s story.  If the story was called Mary Macdonald, I would read it exactly the same way as I do. 

            It does, in my opinion, require that the reader be familiar with one aspect of Western culture, the romantic love ideal, in which each person has a soulmate whom they will, it is hoped, marry and live Happily Ever After.  The One In A Million.  Wolfe’s story is an inversion of this trope.  It is a horror story of sorts, about a man who has lived in a small town along with his Perfect Woman, and by some malign conspiracy of fate, has never encountered her in person.  

            The scene is set at the start: “I lay recalling.. my life.  It HAS been a pleasant, though I fear a dull, and perhaps a lonely, one. ... I have twice been married, but both marriages were brief... my wives bored me ... and I bored them.”

            Then comes the bulk of the story, in which he describes how he might have met this mysterious presence in his life on so many occasions, but never did.

            Finally, he sees her daughter and instantly falls in love.  Note the sensual language of the passage describing her, used nowhere else in the story.  And then the other shoe is dropped: “She’s the very image of her mother at that age.”

            Perhaps readers would be less confused if the story had been, in fact, called Mary Macdonald.

      > You see, we disagree greatly on it because the premise of the story is, 
      > in italics, "that every man has had in the course of his life some 
      > extraordinary experience, SOME DISLOCATION OF ALL WE EXPECT 
      > FROM NATURE AND PROBABILITY, of such magnited that he might in 
      > his own person serve as a living proof of Hamlet's hackneyed precept - 
      > but that he has nearly always, been so conditioned to consider himself 
      > the most mundane of creatures, that,  finding no relationship to the 
      > remainder of his life in this extraordinary experience, HE HAS 
      > FORGOTTEN IT." (361-362, 1st print Endangered Species)

      That’s what the narrator *thinks* is the premise.  He tries to find a memory of an extraordinary experience in his life, and cannot.  Then he realises that there is one – his having lived in a small town with a girl whose name he often heard, but whom he never met.

      > We can accept this as true in which case the narrator DOESN'T 
      > remember or can't make the connection , which would tell us why 
      > pictures of Suzanne would be cut out for scrap booking and the 
      > creepiness  of possibly encountering his own daughter, or even of 
      > spreading small pox through the sheets when he and Suzanne got it
      > on on them, but the point is the EXTRAORDINARY EVENT CAN'T BE 
      > REMEMBERED BY THE NARRATOR, which is EXACTLY why the name 
      > of Suzanne Delage and Spanish Influenza and small pox quilts, all 
      > associated with forgotten or shameful memories, are present in the text.

      I don’t see textual evidence for any of these things.  Is smallpox mentioned anywhere at all?  We are told why some pictures of Suzanne were cut out like those of many others including the narrator.  The Spanish Influenza was mentioned, but it was probably a much later milder epidemic than that of 1918, and the narrator is unsure what it was anyway.

      > So we'll just disagree on our readings, but the text says the narrator 
      > can't be trusted to relate the extraordinary event and PUTS HIS MEMORY
      > IN QUESTION with those references.  millions of people died of Spanish
      > Influenze, and he isn't certain about what disease hit his town.  His 
      > memory is faulty.  He claims he has no idea what Suzanne looks like, 
      > then claims the daughter looks just like her.  This is not Wolfe being lazy 
      > with details.

      He is *told* the daughter looks just like her.  The important thing is the effect the daughter has on him. 

      There’s no real evidence that the narrator has misremembered or forgot anything IMO – it is his interpretation that is at fault.

      I don’t think Wolfe is being lazy about details.

      - Gerry Quinn


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