On the interpretation of Gene Wolfe’s short story ‘Suzanne Delage’ as inversion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
- The Story
- External Evidence
- External Links
Short story “Suzanne Delage” (SD) by the SF author Gene Wolfe, is as opaque as some of his famous novels. SD is an extreme example because it is short (~63 sentences of 2,200 words), written in a straightforward fashion, where nothing about it seems complex & it packs many concrete details into the narrative, none of which seem confusing—yet we are left completely flummoxed, and many readers have questioned if there is even a mystery to be solved!
Explanations range from lesbianism to cloning to vampirism to shaggy-dog/non-story meta-explanations, none of which I find to simultaneously satisfactorily account for the details, provide a meaningful story, and match the external descriptions like the editor’s summary of “Suzanne Delage” as “a den of iniquities; no one else could have written it.”
Based on the hint from its original publication that the secret of the story is the irrevocable loss of a lover with memory-loss, I identify SD as, specifically, a Wolfe-style homage to the greatest vampire novel: Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Specifically, SD records an inversion of Dracula, if Dracula had gone to New England rather than England: it is the outcome of a successful vampiric invasion where the narrator loses his fiancee to the vampire and is hypnotized into forgetting everything.
This interpretation matches all external descriptions, is thoroughly Wolfean, explains most details (including cases where SD would appear to contradict a vampire interpretation—but it turns out Stoker’s novel differs from later vampire fiction), and provides a satisfying narrative for SD, finally unlocking the puzzlebox.
This is the story as it appears in the Endangered Species anthology, which reprints it from Edges (ed. Ursula K. Le Guin & Virginia Kidd 1980); I have further corrected it against a scan of Edges, which differs primarily in having more paragraph breaks.
Italics are preserved from the original, links & footnote commentary added:
As I was reading last night—reading a book, I should explain, which was otherwise merely commonplace; one of those somewhat political, somewhat philosophical, somewhat historical books which can now be bought by the pound each month—I was struck by a certain remark of the author’s. It seemed to me at the time an interesting, if almost self-evident, idea; and afterward, when I had turned the page, and many other pages, and was half through a new chapter bearing very little relation to what had gone before, this idea found its way back into my consciousness and there acted as a sort of filter between my mind and the book until I put it down and, still thinking, went up to bed.
The idea which had so forcibly struck me was simply this: 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 magnitude that he might in his own person serve as a living proof of Hamlet’s hackneyed precept1—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.2
It seemed to me (considering the immense extent of the universe of the senses and the minute size of that area of it we think of as “everyday”) that this must certainly be correct. Yet if it were true of every man it ought also to be true of me—and try as I might I could remember no such extraordinary circumstance.
When I had switched off the light I lay recalling, very pleasantly on the whole, my life. It has been a pleasant life, though I fear a dull, and perhaps a lonely, one. I live now not five miles from the hospital in which I was born, and have lived nowhere else. Here I grew up, learned a profession, practiced, and, much sooner than most men, retired. I have twice been married, but both marriages were brief, and both ended in friendly separations; the truth is that my wives (both of them) bored me—and I am very much afraid I bored them as well.
As I lay in bed, then, thinking of times when my grandfather had taken me fishing and of skating parties with friends, and about our high school team (on which I was a substitute quarterback, but one so much inferior to the firststring occupant of that position that I almost never got into a game unless we were several touchdowns ahead, which was not often), it at last occurred to me that there has, in fact, been one thread of the strange—I might almost say the incredible, though not the supernatural—in my own history.
It is simply this: living all my life, as I have, in a town of less than a hundred thousand population, I have been dimly aware of the existence of a certain woman without ever meeting her or gaining any sure idea of her appearance.
But even this is not, perhaps, as extraordinary as it may sound. I have never made an effort to meet this woman, and I doubt that she has ever attempted to meet me, if, indeed, she is aware that I exist. On the other hand we are neither of us invalids, nor are we blind. This woman—her name is Suzanne (though I fear most of us here have always pronounced it “Susan”) Delage—lives, or at least so I have always vaguely supposed, on the eastern edge of our little city; I live on the western. I doubt that we, as children, attended the same elementary school, but I know that we were, for four years, at the same high school. I was able to ascertain this as a matter of certainty through my yearbooks, which my mother, with that more or less formalized sentimentality characteristic of her, saved for me in the attic of this tall, silent frame house (itself saved for me as well).
Actually, of the four volumes which must originally have existed, only two remain—those for my sophomore and senior years. 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. My own face is among those missing, as well as Suzanne Delage’s; but in another section, one devoted to social activities, a girl’s club (it was called, I think, the Pie Club3) is shown, and one of the names given in the caption is Suzanne’s. Unfortunately the girls in the picture are so loosely grouped—around a stove and work table—that it is not possible to be certain in every case which name should be attached to which young lady; besides, a number of them have their backs to the camera.
The senior book should have told me more—at least so I thought when I, at last, came across it at the end of an hour or so of rummaging. It is whole and undamaged, and I, thanks largely to football, have no less than four pictures in various parts of it. Suzanne Delage has none. On one of the closing pages a woebegone4 roll of names reminds me of something I had forgotten for many years—that there was an epidemic of some kind (I think Spanish influenza) just at the time the pictures for the annual were to be taken. Suzanne is listed as one of those “unable to be photographed.”
I should explain that ours was one of those overgrown schools found in the vicinity of small towns, a school repeatedly expanded because the growth of the town itself had been slow (though always faster, so it seemed in retrospect, than anyone had anticipated) and the taxpayers had not wanted to authorize a new one. It was large enough, in short, that only a few leading students—the star athletes, the class officers, the few really promiscuous girls and the dazzlingly beautiful ones whom we, in those naive times, called “queens”5—were known to everyone.
The rest of us, if we moved socially at all, went by classes and cliques. A student might know the others in his English and algebra rooms; the cliques—at least the ones I remember—were the football players and their girls, the children of the rich, the boys and girls whose families attended a certain fundamentalist church on the outskirts of town6; and certain racial minorities7, the chess and debating society types, and the toughs. It sounds, I suppose, as though there were a group for everyone, and at the time (since I was fairly well entrenched among the athletes) I believe I thought myself (if I thought about the matter at all) that there was. I now realize that all these little coteries embraced no more than a third of the school, but whether Suzanne Delage had entry to one or more of them I do not know.
I should, however, have made her acquaintance long before I entered high school, since Mrs. Delage, Suzanne’s mother, was one of my own mother’s close friends. They had met, I think at about the time I was eight, through a shared passion (much more widespread in our area, I think, than in the country as a whole, and more ardently pursued in the past than it is now) for collecting antique fabrics; in other words, for embroidered tablecloths, for quilts, crocheting of all kinds, afghans, crewel work, hand-hooked rugs, and the like. If my mother or her friends could discover a sampler, or a bedspread or “comfortable” made in the earlier part of the nineteenth century (it was their enduring hope, I think never well satisfied, to find a piece from what they called “American Revolution times”8—by which they meant the eighteenth, even such dates as 1790 or 1799), a piece well made and decorated—the more the better—in the unschooled, traditional ways of the old farm families, then their joy and their pride knew no bounds. If, in addition, the work was that of some notable woman—or to be more precise, of some woman relation of some notable man; the sister, say, of a lieutenant governor—and could be authenticated, the home of the finder became a sort of shrine to which visitors were brought, and to which solitary pilgrims from other towns came (ringing our bell—for we possessed, as a result of Mother’s efforts, a vast appliquéd quilt9 which had been the civil-wartime employment of the wife of a major in a fencible Zouave regiment—usually at about ten-thirty in the morning and offering, in introduction, a complicated recitation of friendships and cousincies linking themselves to our own family) bearing homage like cookies on a plate and eager to hear, for the better direction of their own future strategies, a circumstantial description of the inquiries and overheard clues, the offers made and rejected and made again, which had led to the acquisition of that precious object which would, as terminator of the interview, at last be brought forth in a glory of moth crystals, and spread sparkling clean (for of course these collected pieces were never used) over the living room sofa to be admired.
Mrs. Delage, who became my mother’s friend, possessed pieces of her own as valuable as the major’s wife’s quilt (which was, as my mother never tired of pointing out, entirely handsewn) and a collection, too, of lesser treasures ranking, as my mother herself admitted, with our own hoard. Together they scoured the countryside for more, and made trips (trips so exhausting that I was, as a boy, always surprised to see how very willing, in a few weeks, my mother was to go again) to view the riches of neighboring counties—and even, once or twice, by rail, of neighboring states. It would therefore have been entirely logical for Mrs. Delage to have been our frequent guest, at least for tea; and for her to have brought, occasionally, her little daughter Suzanne, whom I would no doubt have soon come to both love and hate.
This would doubtless have occurred but for a circumstance of a kind peculiar, I think, to towns exactly the size of ours, and incomprehensible not only to the residents of cities, but to truly rural people as well. There lived, directly across the brick-paved street from us, a bitter old woman, a widow, who for some reason never explained to me, detested Mrs. Delage. It was lawful for my mother to be friendly with Suzanne’s, but if (women in small towns somehow know these things) she had gone so far as to invite Mrs. Delage to our house this widow would at once have become her enemy for life. The invitation was never given, and I believe my mother’s friend died while I was at college.
Thus while I was still small I was hardly aware of Suzanne Delage, though my mother often mentioned hers10; in high school, as I indicated, though I was in much closer proximity to the girl herself this was hardly altered. I heard of her vaguely, in connection perhaps with some friend of a friend. I must surely have seen her in the corridors hundreds of times—if one can be said to see, in a crowd, people one does not know. I must sometimes have shared classrooms with her, and certainly we were together at assembly and in the vast study hall. She would have attended many of the same dances I did, and it is even possible that I danced with her—but I do not really believe that, and if, indeed, it happened, the years have so effectively sponged the event from my mind that no slightest trace remains.
And in fact I think I would never have recalled the name of Suzanne Delage at all, as I lay in bed last night listening to the creaking of this empty house in the autumn wind and searching the recesses of my memory for some extraordinary incident with which to attest the author’s thesis, if it had not been for something that took place a few days ago.
I had been shopping, and happened to meet, on the sidewalk in front of one of the larger stores, a woman of my own age whom I have known all my life and who is now the wife of a friend. We stood chatting for a moment—she, after the usual half teasing reproaches about my (supposed) gay bachelor life, gossiping about her husband and children. As she turned to leave a girl of fifteen or so came out of the store and, smiling but intent upon her own concerns, walked quickly past us and down the street. Her hair was of a lustrous black, and her complexion as pure as milk; but it was not these that for a moment enchanted me, nor the virginal breasts half afraid to press the soft angora of her sweater, nor the little waist I might have circled with my two hands. Rather it was an air, at once insouciant and shy, of vivacity coupled with an innocence and intelligence that were hers alone. To the woman beside me I said: “What a charming child. Who is she?”
“Her name?” My friend’s wife frowned and snapped her fingers. “I can’t think of it. But of course you know whose she is, don’t you? She’s the very image of her mother at that age—Suzanne Delage.”
SD comes with minimal external evidence, as Gene Wolfe has never discussed it publicly as far as I am aware. The principal evidence comes from Edges, where it is very briefly described by the two book editors, Ursula K. Le Guin and Virginia Kidd, and by anonymous book cover text blurbs likely written by Virginia Kidd.
In her anthology preface describing the theme of the collection, Le Guin briefly describes SD as one of three similar stories, about lives lived ‘over the edge’ of ‘hope’:
…Some—Engh, Mitchison, Sanders, Dorman—write of existences at the limits of civilization/the comprehensible/the known, that gleaming uneasy ground where two kinds or cultures meet, or fail to meet: the boundary, no man’s or woman’s land. Wolfe, and Pei, and Emshwiller tell of lives lived on the edge of hope, or a little over the edge.
(As the descriptions suggest, most of the stories involve things going badly.)
In the introduction to SD, Kidd provides a capsule biography of Wolfe, and then a cryptic single-sentence description of SD:
His short story hereunder is a den of iniquities; no one else could have written it.
Virginia Kidd was, in addition to editing this anthology at the height of her career, a notable American science-fiction literary agent, highly active in editing & writing and science-fiction activities in general, and represented Gene Wolfe for decades (who would memorialize her as a character in a 1990 novel before her retirement).
Thus, her description of SD is absolutely reliable.
Finally, the Edges book covers include blurb summaries of each story, which are different from the story introductions—which mean that the blurb for SD provides a third description of it!11
These blurbs have probably gone unnoticed because they do not specify the story, and so one must match them all up to be certain. The Edges table of contents lists 13 stories:
- “Introduction”, Ursula K. Le Guin
- “The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear’s Stead”, Damien Broderick
- “Omens”, Carol Emshwiller
- “Touch the Earth”, Scott Sanders
- “The Other Magus”, Avram Davidson
- “Peek-a-Boom”, Sonya Dorman
- “Suzanne Delage”, Gene Wolfe
- “The Finger”, Naomi Mitchison
- “Barranca King of the Tree Streets”, Lowry Pei
- “Thomas in Yahvestan”, George P. Elliott
- “The Vengeance of Hera”, Thomas M. Disch
- “Falling”, Raylyn Moore
- “Father Returns from the Mountain”, Luis Urrea
- “The Oracle”, M. J. Engh
The back cover blurbs are easy because they all list the author, and so we can immediately rule out 4:
- Tom Disch: on the Vengeance of Hera in White Plains, New York [“The Vengeance of Hera”]
- Naomi Mitchison’s dark tale of magic in modern-day Africa [“The Finger”]
- Avram Davidson’s: lament for a misplaced magus [“The Other Magus”]
- M. J. Engh’s: poignant, moving novella of love, revolution, and the dragon at the bottom of the world [“The Oracle”]
A dozen [sic] dazzling journeys that hurtle you across the vast landscape of the imagination to its furthest… EDGES
The blurbs on the book front cover are a bit more of a challenge, but if we read the remaining story introductions (and then sometimes story), we can infer each one:
of disaster too great to believe
[“Falling” by Raylyn Moore]
of a captured quantum creature
[“Peek-a-Boom” by Sonya Dorman]
of a lover never known
[This is not SD, but Emshwiller’s “Omens”, as the story introduction makes clear: “There are reputed to be a limited number of possible story situations, anyhow, of which boy meets girl is one. Boy almost meets girl is another.” The story then confirms this.]
of a sweetheart forever lost
[There are only 2 possible candidates for this (as Urrea’s “Father Returns from the Mountain” is the only other unlisted story and doesn’t match): “Suzanne Delage” by Gene Wolfe; and “Barranca King of the Tree Streets” by Lowry Pei.]
to the last days of a dying empire
[“The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear’s Stead” by Damien Broderick]
to the land of lust and lost gods
[“Thomas in Yahvestan” by George P. Elliott]
to an awesome world of earth and sky
[“Touch the Earth” by Scott Sanders]
Apparently omitted from both front & back cover blurbs is one final story, “Father Returns from the Mountain” by Luis Urrea, which is experimental & difficult to describe (“Urrea climbs to the farthest edge of all and the nearest, the line, what line, between life and death”), but clearly does not match “a sweetheart forever lost”.12 (While Edges does not hint at this anywhere, Urrea’s story turns out to not really be a short story, but rather an autobiographical essay about the murder of his father written for a college class that Le Guin liked.)
Pei’s “Barranca King of the The Tree Streets” very clearly matches the description of “a sweetheart forever lost”, and “a lover never known” even more clearly matches Emshwiller’s “Omens”. This is a little puzzling as, at face-value, SD would appear to be like Emshwiller in telling about how the narrator never encounter Suzanne Delage, yet Le Guin groups SD with Pei in her introduction—which implies they both match the same blurb, ie. “a sweetheart forever lost”.
So in addition to Kidd’s assurance that SD is a uniquely Wolfean story about multiple iniquities, Edges seems to imply that SD is about “a sweetheart forever lost”. As the narrator doesn’t remember any sweethearts being lost, that further implies that SD’s core story involves memory loss.
At first, this very short story seems poor. It’s not hard to find dismissive ratings of it. It’s boring. It ends with a cheap gimmick of ‘like mother, like daughter’. It’s unworthy of a master writer like Wolfe. It certainly isn’t worthy of being printed in two different anthologies.
Peter Wright’s Attending Daedalus argues that it is a prank on the reader—how long can Gene write an ‘uncanny tale’ before the reader realizes that there’s nothing actually uncanny there?
For example, in “Suzanne Delage”—which has provoked substantial discussion on the Internet—Wolfe leads the reader to believe that the text is an uncanny tale by imitating the initial narrative stages of such stories. If the reader is acquainted with supernatural fiction, he or she recalls its conventions and may begin to accept Wolfe’s text as an example of the genre when, in fact, the story actually subverts rather than reproduces the form. Riffaterre remarks that, ‘In a response rendered compulsive, and facilitated by the familiar model, as soon as the reader notices a possible substitutability, he or she automatically yields to the temptation to actualise it.’ In the case of “Suzanne Delage”, the ‘familiar model’ is the weird tale. The reader accepts the story as such because he or she sees a ‘possible substitutability’ and subsequently actualises that substitution only to discover his or her expectations undercut.13
That’s [‘that every man has had in the course of his life some extraordinary experience’] 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…In fact, what happens in the story is not so very far from this: certainly there is a dislocation of probability, and the narrator had forgotten it until he thought about it. And at the end he still does not, perhaps, recognise the implications and how important it has been for him: that might also be considered a kind of forgetting.
Just because it is in a fantasy collection doesn’t mean there have to be ghosts or vampires…The title is explained well enough by it being the name of a girl the narrator should have met but never did, just like the girl in Proust. And I don’t think the story sucks at all—in fact, I like it a lot. The best fantasy is often that which is closest to reality.
Dan’l Danehy-Oakes has a similar view:
A couple of the short pieces, OTOH, just leave me going, “Huh?” I suspect that in a couple of cases, what’s going on is just what’s going on. I remember all the speculation here about “Suzanne Delage”; on rereading that story a month or two ago, I came away firmly convinced that it was just about what it says it’s about, the circumstances surrounding an event that the narrator simply cannot remember because it fails to fit into the context of his life. Because he can’t remember it, he can’t really tell us anything about it, and so we cannot know what it is. End of story. (If anyone wants to say that this makes the story pointless I won’t argue; I find it entertaining on its own terms.)
Some posters avoided explaining the anomalies, saying there’s nothing there except Proustian melancholy, stop looking for clones or vampires already!14
If you need horror, the waste of a man’s life be horror enough. Gerry Quinn ably describes this interpretation15:
This man’s life is empty and blighted. Why? Because by some perverse operation of chance, he has never met his other half, the woman he is made to love…
At the end after “the usual half teasing reproaches about my (supposed) gay bachelor life” he sees and is enchanted by Suzanne’s daughter, who is (we are told) the image of Suzanne at the age when he should have met her. There is no auctorial duplicity here. She is indeed the daughter, not Suzanne, and she is indeed the image of Suzanne. The description is deliberately sensuous in regard to her body “the virginal breasts half afraid to press the soft angora of her sweater, nor the little waist I might have circled with my two hands”, and also refers to her spirit “vivacity coupled with an innocence and intelligence that were hers alone”. There is no doubt here—this is the image of the woman he would have loved. If only he had met her.
By some perverse conspiracy of chance or fate he did not, and his life has been wasted.
This interpretation may not seem to satisfy some of the more notable problems, but it has been argued that the ‘conspiracy of chance or fate’ (possibly supernatural16) is extraordinary enough to fulfill the narrator’s promise of a remarkable point to his story17.
We can also note that this interpretation violates the external evidence: there was in fact a story in Edges which is about precisely this plot—the tragedy of missed connections—but it is described separately, implying that whatever SD is, it’s not that, because that would be redundant and anthology editors like Virginia Kidd typically strive to avoid redundancy or similarity in anthologies.
Of all the theories, I reject most strongly the shaggy-dog non-story interpretation.
Firstly, reading through it, what makes us suspicious? After all, not every Wolfe story is a multi-layered confection.18
Well, the narrator promises very early on to tell us about something astounding: “…some extraordinary experience, some dislocation of all we expect from nature and probability…” But prima facie, there is no such payoff! As one Urth.net user writes:
I really would like an explanation for this story. The best I’ve been able to do is: if Suzanne’s daughter had really been as strikingly beautiful as the story’s next-to-last paragraph describes, then the narrator would certainly have noticed Suzanne. Ergo, the daughter is really not so remarkable, and the flowery prose of the description reflects the sentimentality of a lonely middle-aged man. But if that’s all there is to it, it’s not much of a story. And the way Wolfe writes it, it feels to me that there should be some greater payoff.
Secondly, the body of the story belies the introduction; Marc:
…the narrator opens by saying I have no idea what Suzanne looks like or who she hung out with19, then proceeds to describe her daughter in detail on the last page obsessively, with someone saying she looks exactly like her mother and even describes exactly which clubs she partook in from his yearbook, where her pictures are cut out. But this seems like suppression and eradication rather than deliberate conscious lying.
Wolfe’s non-multilayered stories tend to be better than that. So we are made suspicious. Fortunately, we don’t need to appeal to just internal evidence. We have a pretty reliable attestation that there is something below the surface—Damien Broderick (1998) went to the original collection in which SD was published, and he found a damning summary, the previously discussed Kidd introduction:
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
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 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.
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 Influenza, 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 her20. This is not Wolfe being lazy with details…What sways it to the supernatural interpretation for me is just the strangeness of her attraction, the decimation of the town, and the premise that an explicitly “supernatural” event that embodies “there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” would be completely forgotten if it occurred … which would be more like Proust’s involuntary/suppressed juvenile memories than the section with Suzanne’s name in it.
So I still think the reference could go either way. The very idea of completely forgetting something mentioned in the text just screams of elision (and yes, I understand the circumstance of the quote, but it does say that in the text, like Chekhov’s gun, supernatural events will be forgotten).
There are quite a few theories as to what’s going on; the evidence is ambiguous, and a lot depends on how much weight one gives to things like the daughter’s complexion and the extended interlude about textiles. Here are a few criteria for SD theories:
Be consistent with the external evidence:
- explain how “no one else could have written it”
- explain why SD is “a den of iniquities”
- explain how it is about “lives lived on the edge of hope, or a little over the edge”
- explain how it is about “a sweetheart forever lost”
Be a Wolfean story, in using his tools of allusions, revising classic mythology or stories (often with idiosyncratic twists or engineer-like attention to detail), favored tropes like unreliable narrators or insects or clones or obsolete vocabulary, crossovers with genre fiction like fantasy or horror or detective fiction etc
Satisfy the promissory note of describing
some extraordinary experience, some dislocation of all we expect from nature and probability, of such magnitude that he might in his own person serve as a living proof of Hamlet’s hackneyed precept
Explain the various Chekhov-guns littered through the story:
the relevance of the rather explicit Proust & Chesterton & Hamlet allusions
his knowledge of her name pronounced “Susan”
the narrator’s cut-out photographs & yearbooks mysteriously lacking any apparent photos of her
the role of a ‘Spanish Influenza’ and multiple students ‘unable to be photographed’
mysterious old neighbor woman who hates Suzanne Delage’s mother
the relationship between the narrator’s mother & Delage’s mother
- the role of antiquing for textiles, particularly ones associated with old notable American families, which are ‘so exhausting’ it takes weeks to go again
- the fate of Delage’s mother, who the narrator vaguely supposes died somehow while he was ‘at college’
the role of Delage’s daughter:
- her pale skin & black hair and sexualized description; why she looks identical to her mother
- her nature, if somehow odd—how is she out in daylight, or apparently well-known by sight to an ordinary woman, but also her name can’t be recalled easily
The following are drawn from my search of the Urth mailing list discussions, and may be incomplete.
Michael Andre-Driussi identified the name “Suzanne Delage” as being taken directly from Marcel Proust; the Wolfe Wiki covers this—a girl the young Proust was supposed to meet but did not. Driussi recounts:
It sounded familiar only because I’d already read Wolfe’s story. Suzanne Delage is a minor character who is mentioned in Le Côté de Guermantes, the third book in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. The context is the funny part: the context of my reading a book at random (but it is known that Gene Wolfe really likes Proust) and seeing an unsuspected link to a Wolfe story; the context of Suzanne Delage within Proust’s monumental work, wherein she is only a name, only mentioned in one part! She has far less impact than a number of unnamed background characters.
Anyway, I realised that Wolfe had named his character after Proust’s and mentioned my discovery to others when we were discussing the story. Well, it took on a life of its own. It started on GEnie; it came up on the Urth List, years later; Damien Broderick wrote an essay about it for The New York Review of Science Fiction (where, if I recall, he gave me credit for my discovery—yay!); Robert Borski wrote an essay about it in The Long and the Short of It; and now there’s even an entry on it in the WolfeWiki which doesn’t mention me (understandable), nor Broderick, nor Borski (both of whom really should be mentioned).21
In Proust’s narrative, however, neither the girl nor the fact of him not meeting her seem to be of any particular importance.
While interesting and pointing to forgetting & memory, the Proust connection yields no overall theory.
Robert Borski argues in 2 emails in 1998 (1, 2), and in his 2006 The Long and the Short of It (which relevant section is the same as the first email with some more quotes), that the esoteric story of SD is actually “Snow White”, just as many other Wolfe or Neil Gaiman works are parodies, homages, inversions, or retellings of other classic works (eg. An Evil Guest heavily references H. P. Lovecraft & appears to be related to “The Call of Cthulhu”). His points:
- the daughter’s appearance is almost exactly that of Disney’s Snow White
- ‘Suzanne’ etymologically goes back to ‘lily’ (as in white)22
- the naming of the girls ‘queens’
- the old neighbor woman is the wicked witch
- the mutilation of the yearbooks is the destruction of the magic mirror
- the pie club is meant to evoke apples, like the poisoned apple in SW
- Spanish Influenza has sometimes been called ‘sleeping sickness’
And the Wolfean inversion is that the narrator was not manly enough, too interested in sex, not noble & princely enough to be Suzanne’s prince, which is why he never again saw her.
The name ‘Suzanne Delage’ seems to be completely explained as a Proust reference, but the surname Delage has an interesting possible additional connection:
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.23
David Stockhoff25 argues for cloning being the skeleton key to the story:
2. [Ives Delage’s] Artificial fertilization of urchins: There are no coincidences, or rather none that go unexploited, in Wolfe. 3. The Snow White correspondence: We know Wolfe works this way, as commented in the entry.
Without having thought much about the story, I propose that the story is basically a Proustian memory anecdote draped on a Snow White frame, with cloning as a mechanism to connect the two. The rest is noise.
Stockhoff’s theory isn’t fleshed out enough to really critique.
Suzanne doesn’t exist; there’s just her mother, rejuvenating herself. We meet her at the end, posing as her own daughter. The narrator never met her as a child because he only saw Suzanne’s mother, and she couldn’t appear twice in the same place. This would work with the vampire theory as well26, or could perhaps be a cloning story akin to Fifth Head of Cerberus. How the narrator would know it is the same woman (and hence appreciate her uniqueness) is unclear.
On reflection, one striking part of the story is
On one of the closing pages a woebegone roll of names reminds me of something I had forgotten for many years—that there was an epidemic of some kind (I think Spanish influenza) just at the time the pictures for the annual were to be taken. Suzanne is listed as one of those ‘unable to be photographed.’
The first time through, one probably focuses on the unable-to-be-photographed part. Suspicious! But perhaps what should alarm us is the influenza. He forgot it for many years? It was an epidemic of some kind? The Spanish Influenza was a pandemic that killed half its victims and resulted in up to 100 million deaths. Yes, 100 million. To forget about such a thing would be like forgetting about World War II, or the Black Plague, or the Civil War. It’s not even plausible without very strange going ons27. Gerry Quinn suggests that perhaps it was a parental coverup or actually a reference to a later & milder flu epidemic28, and Jerry Friedman that the Spanish Influenza is commonly described as “the forgotten epidemic” with multiple waves, some not very lethal at all.
The mention of Spanish Influenza also serves to date the highschool years of Suzanne and the narrator to within World War I; the recreations described are consistent with that period29.
Ives Delage, incidentally, died in 1920—not long after the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.
This theory incurs many problems: it is not particularly remarkable, the claim that the Spanish Influenza was unforgettable is in fact historically false (it was rapidly forgotten and interest in it was revived mostly in the 1990s as the ‘forgotten pandemic’), it fails to explain most of the story like the destroyed documents or old neighbor etc.
In this version, we’re being lied to (like we are in so many Wolfe works). The narrator did not lead a charmed life, and did meet Suzanne. She was beautiful, as we know from the ending, and the two often met. He fell in love with her and she with him, but something went wrong. The relationship ended in acrimony. He was so embittered by this that he expunged all traces of Suzanne from his life and even managed to somehow erase his own memory, and only allowed himself to slightly remember it decades later when he runs into her daughter. (Presumably she grew up and eventually married someone else.)
This explains the lack of photos in the narrator’s possession, the dating, why the friend expects him to recognize the girl, and even the detailed description of the girl30.
But this theory is unsatisfying in some respects:
- There’s nothing particularly astounding about this timeline
- It doesn’t explain the quilt interlude
- It doesn’t explain the peculiar Pie Club photograph
- It doesn’t explain the ‘unable to be photographed’ listing
- The Spanish Influenza anomaly goes unexplained
This variant attempts to fix problems 3 & 4 by expanding the hidden story a bit more. In this version, the narrator had a relationship with Suzanne, the two teenagers fooled around too much, and she got pregnant31. This improves on the above as now we have a solid explanation for the odd Pie Club photo: the girls are loosely grouped around something so Suzanne’s bulging belly could be hidden. She wasn’t photographed for a similar reason—in the 1910s, when the story is set, teenage pregnancy would be extremely shameful.
But this has problems. First, teen pregnancy was so shameful that usually a pregnant teenager would not be at school at all, much less permitting herself to be photographed, once the ‘pregnancy bump’ got large enough to not be obscured by clothing; they usually would be kept at home or sent away entirely—so this suggestion is extremely historically unrealistic. Second, The narrator says he has learned and practiced a profession, been married twice, and retired. Further, the highschool photos missing from his yearbooks were removed ‘many decades ago’. The daughter at the end is surely in her teens—the narrator guesses 15, and couldn’t be too badly wrong (a 25 year old looks quite different from a 15 year old, and a 15 year old looks even more different from a 5 year old). So how could the daughter at the end be the baby Suzanne was pregnant with many decades ago? The daughter should be in her 30s or 40s, and surely at least her 20s.
They have an affair in high school, and a kid. The daughter then grows up, and is 20 or so; this puts the narrator at ~35 (15 + 20), and the daughter has a daughter; the granddaughter needs 15 years or so to become the attractive teenager at the end, which puts the narrator at ~50 (35 + 15). This might work with the early retirement, since the traditional retirement age was ~60–7032.
But if the daughter at the end isn’t Suzanne & the narrator’s daughter, then who is she? This theory solves the issue of the photos, but it introduces several new entities—whomever Suzanne marries and her offspring by him, or if the sighting is of Suzanne and the narrator’s granddaughter, whom their daughter married.
(Note that this theory still suffers from problems #1, 2, and 5.)
The expeditions of Suzanne’s mother and the narrator’s mother turn up a blanket—such textiles being the professed point. The blanket goes to Suzanne’s mother perhaps. But amazingly, it is one of the infamous blankets used by smallpox victims and given to the Indians. Or perhaps it was just an infected blanket. Regardless, the miracle the narrator alludes to is how the bacteria have managed to survive 2 centuries or more to infect someone.
Further supposing that the children of the town were no longer being variolated or vaccinated and so are vulnerable, smallpox famously scars victims; Suzanne’s beauty would be utterly marred. Perhaps she would even be made hideous. Regardless, the narrator would feel guilty about his family’s responsibility in making such a poisonous gift.
The scarring also explains the lack of photos, and the old photos pre-scarring are destroyed out of guilt and shame. That smallpox could return and the narrator forget about it for many decades might strike us as unlikely, but the Spanish Influenza mentions remind us that the narrator has already done exactly that33—forgotten a hideous disease that killed untold millions.
This theory works out pretty well. One might quibble about smallpox survival being all that amazing, and point out that the enmity of the old lady is still unexplained, and we still need to assume that at a very late date Suzanne married and had a child, but this theory initially seems as solid as the vampirism one.
Dan’l Danehy Oakes writes:
the smallpox bit won’t wash, not in a quilt from American Revolution times. While the idea of leprosy coming through infected items might have occurred to some colonists (via the Biblical precepts thereon), it’s unlikely that anyone would have tried to pass smallpox on through germ warfare in those pre-van-Leeuwenhoek days.
But, I was motivated to find where I had read that this had happened and, fortunately, it wasn’t hard. It is on p. 251 of Plagues and Peoples:
The ravages of smallpox among Indians may in fact have been assisted by deliberate efforts at germ warfare. In 1763, for instance, Lord Jeffery Amherst ordered that blankets infected with smallpox be distributed among enemy tribes, and the order was acted on. Whether the result was as expected seems not recorded.
Actually the smallpox is possible. I’ve read several accounts of European colonists and/or soldiers giving clothes/bedclothes from smallpox victims to Native Americans specifically in the hope that they would catch the disease.
The two mothers were having a lesbian affair. The old bitter neighbor is a discarded lover of Suzanne’s mother; the beautiful young thing (presumably Suzanne’s mother would be as beautiful as her granddaughter) jilts her for the narrator’s mother. Their trips to the countryside are exhausting, as they are the occasion to pack in as much marathon lesbian sex as possible before they must return; the mother becomes eager to go as her libido builds up again.34 Eventually the narrator’s mother is herself jilted, and in revenge she removes the photographs of Suzanne from the yearbook—she too painfully resembles her mother. Delage’s mother then dies off ordinarily, or perhaps commits suicide. In any event, the narrator then forgets because it’s all too sexually convoluted for his tender Edwardian teenage sensibilities.
This salacious theory doesn’t explain many important points, though (non-photographs, astounding event, the daughter, etc.)
The Hamlet allusion, which was in a ghostly context, has already been mentioned; the Americana setting also makes one think of Peace, with its narrator who is a ghost but unaware of it as he reviews memories of his life, much like the narrator of SD. The WolfeWiki article speculates about an allusion to a Henry James story, “The Way It Came”, about two friends who are prevented by peculiar chance from meeting while alive; there is no direct allusion in SD, however, so the connection would rely on first having already interpreted SD as a missed-connections story.
In some way, the Spanish Influenza, the daughter, and Suzanne come together, but Adam Stephanides is none too clear about how exactly this explanation works; he’s not alone in saying it feels ghostly, though.
In this theory, the incredible thing is that vampires are real and that the narrator has been fed on by them. This theory works well:
the daughter, and Suzanne’s mother, are all Suzanne herself; classic female vampires don’t age and can appear flawlessly beautiful. (That she appears ‘virginal’ only heightens the deception.)
We never see nor hear of any implication that they ever appear together, only separately. The idea that immortals (not just vampires) might conceal their immortality by posing as descendants is a common one, and the idea of such a shell game is also a rather Wolfean trick.
the emphasis on the whiteness of her skin is explained
the reason she would not be photographed is explained: classic vampires either can’t be photographed or photograph in all their undead horror.
Presumably Suzanne removed or had the narrator removed the other photographs, and erased the memories of that along with everything else.
the ‘exhausting’ nature of the trips to the country is due to blood loss when his mother is fed upon35, and her eagerness to return is due to the addictiveness or mental thralldom vampire victims are often ascribed.
Vampires are common characters in Wolfe’s fiction36—they’ve appeared in multiple stories and novels—and so are highly plausible to appear.
The “bitter old woman” who is the enemy might know the truth because she has watched the Delages not age & play their shell game, and loathe the Delages as an unholy abomination. And why the emphasis on the key sin being an invitation?
It was lawful for my mother to be friendly with Suzanne’s, but if (women in small towns somehow know these things) she had gone so far as to invite Mrs. Delage to our house this widow would at once have become her enemy for life. The invitation was never given
Because, of course, many fiction vampires require an invitation into the threshold of a dwelling before they can enter freely.
What are the objections?
the color of her skin is like ‘milk’, not cadaverous or just pale. The description doesn’t seem very vampiric.37
- How is the daughter out in broad daylight?
if Suzanne made the narrator forget with vampiric powers, then why does the friend know exactly who the daughter & Suzanne are, and expect the narrator to?
the photographs don’t quite work out—we aren’t told that the picture of the Pie Club, which claims to show Suzanne, shows 1 too few girls, nor does Suzanne being unphotographable jibe with the fact that there apparently were pictures of her & the rest of her class in the narrator’s early yearbook, and which had been torn out previously.
- One possibly resolution is that the Pie Club photographs were safe because they do not purport to be a visual census that depicts the whole Pie Club, or show the girls recognizably from the front, and so Suzanne’s absence proves nothing: perhaps she simply wasn’t there that day or was off-camera in those photos. The class photographs, however, might be dangerous if they show a single empty spot in the middle of the class where Suzanne would have been—class photographs do not simply leave an empty spot for a student who was absent, and thus the photos would be permanent evidence of her vampiric nature for those who might know enough to check for her specifically, like the narrator. (This would suggest that she is invisible in photographs, rather than appearing like a corpse or monster: otherwise the yearbook would not have used those photos or been printed at all.)
the female friend appears to know both Suzanne and her daughter reasonably well & often (and expects to know the daughter’s name immediately, as shown by how frustrated she is by her temporary lapse in memory), if she knows exactly what Suzanne looked like at a particular age and instantly recognizes the daughter in a random street encounter; if they were the same immortal vampire, how do the logistics work?
How did Suzanne avoid ever appearing simultaneously with her ‘daughter’? How did the ‘daughter’ and ‘Suzanne’ both age up appropriately? (Makeup & clothing can do a lot, and may be able to make a 15-year-old highschool girl look like a respectable middle-aged housewife, but it cannot make her look like an infant or toddler.)
What is the overall story here? How do all the other parts fit in?
Most of the desiderata are left vague or unsatisfied, and many of the details come off as arbitrary—there are many kinds of vampires, how do we know this kind can do any form of memory loss?
How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.
Dracula (preface, by Jonathan Harker)
…I took the papers from the safe where they had been ever since our return so long ago. We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later note-books of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.
Dracula (end note, by Jonathan Harker)
The objections to the vampire theory were mostly formulated in absence of the external evidence, in particular, the description of a “sweetheart forever lost”. If we take that as axiomatic, that implies memory-loss, and that this is part of the ‘den of iniquities’ which has left the narrator past hope of repairing his life. If we then further ask, what vampires involve young women and tampering with memories, and which Gene Wolfe could have been referencing38 in writing a story eventually published in 1980 (before such hugely popular vampires as Interview with the Vampire or Twilight), part of his long-standing interest which would include Wolfe’s novel The Land Across (2013) set in Transylvania & featuring vampires & hypnosis39—one and only one vampire comes to mind:
And suddenly, as soon as one recalls the plot of Dracula—a vampire stealing a nubile young woman from her clerkish husband (who is the narrator of the novel) to add to his harem of lethally-seductive Brides of Dracula while concealing his depredations using, among other powers, hypnosis and mind-control—everything about SD snaps into place.
This is a Gothic story40, filled with decaying old houses & documents & archives & heirlooms & attics41, family lineages, frame narratives and disconnected or convoluted internal stories, widows, and an uncanny sense of a supernatural past lurking, haunting the present—particularly haunting a mundane narrator thrust into events beyond their initial comprehension.
SD is a Gothic vampire story which inverts Dracula by depicting a successful vampiric invasion of an unsuspecting American small town! It further inverts Dracula by changing the form: where Dracula was composed purely of ‘contemporary documents’, explicitly so as to avoid the unreliability of memory “so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact”[^Dracula-documentation], SD is composed of only recollections of past things ‘wherein memory may err’, many years later where the surviving contemporary documents have been edited or are irrelevant and the ‘history at variance with later-day belief’ is completely hidden.
Lacking any Catholic expert like Doctor Abraham Van Helsing42 (only a Protestant fundamentalist church is briefly mentioned) to lead the fight against the vampire and hunt him with the power of modern civilization like a mastery of railroad timetables43, the vampire is able to avoid detection & exploit American technologies like railroads to successfully invade the town, and even decades later, the narrator remains clueless as to how his life has been radically altered by supernatural evil, despite meeting the vampires in person. Analogies:
- Narrator : Jonathan Harker
- Tampered-with original documents : true copied documents
- Suzanne Delage : Mina Harker
- Narrator’s female friend : Lucy Westenra (?)
- Narrator & Suzanne Delage’s mothers : Lucy’s mother (“Mrs. Westenra”)
- Suzanne Delage’s husband : Dracula
- Suzanne Delage’s daughter : Suzanne Delage (or Jonathan & Mina Harker’s son?)
- Dr Van Helsing : N/A (key to inversion & defeat)
- Defeat : victory
- Rail : ship
- New England : England
- Fundamentalist church : Catholicism
- American Revolutionary & Civil Wars : Hungarian wars
So, I think this interpretation resolves SD. It explains all of the external evidence and fits the internal evidence demands of an extraordinary forgotten event. It fits into how we know Wolfe liked to refashion, invert, & allude to sources; it is a truly Wolfean reading in a way that the suggestions about cloning or ghosts have been unable to provide, and it explains why the overt allusions haven’t led to any satisfying interpretations (the covert Dracula allusions are all carefully hidden under vague descriptions like ‘invitation’, and the overt ones to non-Dracula works are the red herrings). The parallels like the destruction of documentation or the Brides of Dracula44 or mind-control/hypnosis or Mina Harkness being cursed or the mention of just 1 trip by train are striking (and unexplained by all other theories). And it provides a satisfyingly-horrifying narrative of a small town being stalked and controlled by a den of vampires.
My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.
Gene Wolfe (2002)
With Dracula in mind, we can reconstruct the true plot:
The narrator is a mundane man, like Jonathan Harker, with nothing extraordinary about his life—until a distant Dracula impinges upon it, and gradually forces a disbelieving Jonathan Harker into acknowledging the widespread existence of things in heaven & earth like supernatural evil. The narrator & Suzanne Delage were indeed early acquaintances due to their mothers’ shared passion for antique-hunting, and grew to be sweethearts in highschool. They lived a normal healthy life, enjoying sports and daylight activities like fishing or skating. Unfortunately, the mothers, or perhaps just Delage’s mother at first, eventually delved too deep, and woke a nameless horror—somewhere out in the rural areas, while hunting down old (Lovecraftian) New England families of prestigious lineage, she stumbled across a vampire45, and become its thrall, regularly returning home drained of blood. (Dracula is noted to prefer women.) The bitter old woman who hates Suzanne Delage’s mother presumably is superstitious and (correctly) believes that she is enthralled or a vampire, and is watching carefully to see if Delage’s mother is ever ‘invited’ in46—indicating that the narrator’s mother is now one of the enemy rather than merely endangered. Unfortunately, in the brave new world of a 1910s WASP New England town, there are no Catholics like Van Helsing, and no one believes in vampires, and her warnings go unheeded as old wives’ tales (a Cassandra-figure is required by horror genre conventions).
Eventually, one or both mothers falls into darkness. The mother uses the railroads to transport their master & coffins of native blood-soaked soil (magically required by Stokerian vampires) into the new town—further ironically inverting the plot of Dracula, where the railroads are a critical tool in the war against Dracula (railroads are an aspect of Dracula almost always omitted from other later vampire fiction).47 Here the vampire strikes, and begins vampirizing not just Suzanne Delage, but then he & she begin attacking other students as well.48 The body count is then ascribed to an ‘epidemic’: a sudden outbreak of cases of exhaustion, anemia, and possibly death, concentrated in the youth (because Dracula prefers beautiful young women like Mina Harker), masked by the fact that the real Spanish Influenza preferentially killed young people.
The old woman disappears for suspiciously unmentioned reasons, but is probably among the first victims; paralleling Lucy & Lucy’s mother in Dracula, Delage is likely vampirized & Delage’s mother likely dies at some point during the initial vampire attacks.49 The local “fundamentalist” church is powerless against the vampire, as it is Protestant and not Catholic, and in Dracula, only Catholic rites like the Eucharist have power over vampires.50 The narrator mentions that he did not play much football and was relegated to a backup position because he was not good, for no mentioned reason; this hints that he has been physically weakened—either because he is forced to miss practices or go without sleep due to nights spent investigating vampires, or because he is being vampirized by this point. The narrator himself eventually becomes a victim: possibly he realized the change in his sweetheart, and tried to save her (like Jonathan Harker saved Mina Harker), but failed (perhaps succeeding only in killing Delage’s mother?).
Defeated, the narrator was then hypnotized51 by the vampire into forgetting everything, including Suzanne Delage herself. He, or Delage, or the vampire, then goes and destroys all documentation he has of Suzanne Delage, particularly photographs of her appearance pre-vampirization or revealing her absence post-vampirization—paralleling how Dracula initially attempts to use fraudulent letters to cover up his planned murder of Jonathan Harker, controls a sleepwalking Lucy to destroy her diary recording his attack, and uses his thrall Renfield to try to destroy all documents about himself before he flees England.52 This completes the mopping-up operation, and the narrator is spared; the more bodies, the more questions that will be asked, and above all, Dracula prizes secrecy, as no matter how powerful he is personally, he knows he can be easily defeated by a human population aware of his nature & weaknesses. Delage, now a Bride of Dracula, “purity [turned] to voluptuous wantonness”, then settles in a vampiric routine, eg. hunting for prey at Pie Club53 & school dances, with victims either recovering54 or their deaths blamed on pandemics or other factors; after a decorous period post-graduation, she marries her implied-but-completely-omitted husband, Dracula.
The narrator then goes on to live a severed, mutilated, clerkish life devoid of his true love in a town parasitized by at least 2 vampires, and unable to develop meaningful relationships or have children55; he is perhaps trapped there by their influence (thematically similar to Jonathan Harker being trapped in Dracula’s castle), lest he ever leave and regain his memories. (If we read SD with the theme of progress from Dracula in mind, the growth of England (with the bustling metropolis of London offering unlimited hunting for a vampire) contrasted with the stagnant backwaters of Eastern Europe, where the population is not merely not growing but some regions are depopulated, we will note hints that the town itself may be stagnant and almost ‘undead’.56)
Decades later, he chances to run into Suzanne Delage herself, undead, preserved in her virginal teenage beauty at precisely the moment of her ‘turning’, eerily sexual as a Bride of Dracula, and just slightly mocking (“insouciant”) “smiling” at the humans around her. (“O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!”) She is met in broad daylight, but that is not a problem for her, because Stoker’s vampires (like most pre-Stokerian vampires) are not harmed by daylight (they merely lose their supernatural powers), and the woman who identifies her as Delage’s daughter shows signs not of a mere brief forgetfulness but of mental confusion & fog—consistent with having been hypnotized as part of Delage’s cover-story. The direct encounter brings back the buried memories just enough that the narrator can finally observe the peculiar absence in his apparently-boring life; but tragically, it is still not enough to break the hypnosis and reveal the full horror to the narrator.
That is left to the reader, likewise so many decades later.
The quote from the 5th scene of the 1st act—“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” said by Hamlet to Horatio while waiting for the ghost of Hamlet’s father to arrive from Hell, who then reveals his murder by his usurping brother Claudius & Queen Gertrude’s infidelity, and charges Hamlet to remember his message and wreak vengeance.
The ghost is also referenced in Dracula repeatedly: “It was by this time close on morning, and we went to bed. (Memo, this diary seems horribly like the beginning of the ‘Arabian Nights’, for everything has to break off at cockcrow—or like the ghost of Hamlet’s father.)”
Later, Harker writes that “I begin to get new lights on certain things which have puzzled me.” and misquotes Hamlet, after Hamlet has talked to the ghost and learned of his mother’s (Queen Gertrude) infidelity & corruption by usurper Claudius (Act 1 Scene 5), where the full quote runs: “…O most pernicious woman! / O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! / My tables,—meet it is I set it down, / That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Even more strikingly, the ghost asks Hamlet to remember him, and Hamlet says he will, erasing other things from his memory: “Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.” / “Remember thee? / Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted globe. Remember thee? / Yea, from the table of my memory / I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, / That youth and observation copied there, / And thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter.”
Van Helsing criticizes the closed-minded modern English:
“You are clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is bold; but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see thing that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplate by men’s eyes, because they know—or think they know—some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young—like the fine ladies at the opera. I suppose now you do not believe in corporeal transference. No? Nor in materialisation. No? Nor in astral bodies. No? Nor in the reading of thought. No? Nor in hypnotism——
…Then tell me—for I am student of the brain—how you accept the hypnotism and reject the thought reading. Let me tell you, my friend, that there are things done to-day in electrical science which would have been deemed unholy by the very men who discovered electricity—who would themselves not so long before have been burned as wizards. There are always mysteries in life. Why was it that Methuselah lived nine hundred years, and ‘Old Parr’ one hundred and sixty-nine, and yet that poor Lucy, with four men’s blood in her poor veins, could not live even one day? For, had she live one more day, we could have save her. Do you know all the mystery of life and death? Do you know the altogether of comparative anatomy and can say wherefore the qualities of brutes are in some men, and not in others? Can you tell me why, when other spiders die small and soon, that one great spider lived for centuries in the tower of the old Spanish church and grew and grew, till, on descending, he could drink the oil of all the church lamps? Can you tell me why in the Pampas, ay and elsewhere, there are bats that come at night and open the veins of cattle and horses and suck dry their veins; how in some islands of the Western seas there are bats which hang on the trees all day, and those who have seen describe as like giant nuts or pods, and that when the sailors sleep on the deck, because that it is hot, flit down on them, and then—and then in the morning are found dead men, white as even Miss Lucy was?
…Can you tell me why the tortoise lives more long than generations of men; why the elephant goes on and on till he have seen dynasties; and why the parrot never die only of bite of cat or dog or other complaint? Can you tell me why men believe in all ages and places that there are some few who live on always if they be permit; that there are men and women who cannot die? We all know—because science has vouched for the fact—that there have been toads shut up in rocks for thousands of years, shut in one so small hole that only hold him since the youth of the world. Can you tell me how the Indian fakir can make himself to die and have been buried, and his grave sealed and corn sowed on it, and the corn reaped and be cut and sown and reaped and cut again, and then men come and take the unbroken seal and that there lie the Indian fakir, not dead, but that rise up and walk amongst them as before?
…My thesis is this: I want you to believe.”
“To believe what?”
“To believe in things that you cannot.”
The fiancee Lucy, before succumbing to full vampirization & dying (having never wed), compares herself to the dead Ophelia.
Memory loss comes up repeatedly in Hamlet: Ophelia goes mad and forgets being in love with Hamlet, while Hamlet feigns madness & forgetting to fool his uncle, and Hamlet appears to have forgotten about the court jester Yorick until seeing his skull & grave.↩︎
A thing can sometimes be too extraordinary to be remembered. If it is clean out of the course of things, and has apparently no causes and no consequences, subsequent events do not recall it, and it remains only a subconscious thing, to be stirred by some accident long after.
It is puzzling that the narrator struggles to recall the name of a club about which he just examined closely, suggesting that the name is both important and unreliable. I’m unaware of any bit of Americana which might correspond to something named ‘pie club’, and searching Google Books 1800–1950 shows nothing useful.
It’s possible that Wolfe is satirizing Home Demonstration Clubs or cooking/home economics clubs by the narrator misremembering it as ‘pie club’ (which would skew exclusively female & doubtless could be often devoted to baking sweets like pies, as pies used to be a huge staple of the American housewife repertoire); it is also possible that it supposed to sound like the real club name, but I can’t think what.↩︎
“Woebegone” may be a reference to Lake Wobegon/Garrison Keillor: the first mention of “Lake Wobegon” was in 1977 (although A Prairie Home Companion’s popularity did not really take off until the mid-1980s, well after SD’s publication).
The simpler interpretation is that Wolfe is employing this word as one of many he chooses for their Gothic connotations (of the Old English “woe”).↩︎
Given the previous Hamlet allusion, this is likely a reference to Queen Gertrude, who the naive Hamlet believes innocent & beautiful but after speaking with the Ghost, denounces as a ‘smiling villain’. Other suggestions include a reference to “drag queens” or vampires (by analogy to ‘king of the night’ + ‘Brides of Dracula’).↩︎
The narrator is deliberately obscure and cryptic here about the ‘certain’ church and ‘certain’ racial minorities, implying their identities are important. No SD theories other than the Dracula interpretation attempt to explain why these references are so oblique or their real identities.
Under the Dracula interpretation, the church is a Protestant one. Such a town would, of course, have doens of churches, which the narrator, being a respectable sort, would have been a member of; so why does the narrator mention only, for little reason, an unnamed ‘fundamentalist’ church he had nothing to do with?
Well, in this time & place, the churches would have been largely Methodist, Anglican, and mainstream milquetoast Protestant sects of that sort—often infected by liberalizing trends like agnosticism, Unitarianism, and even outright atheists. Such churches would deny any rank ‘supernaturalism’ like vampires (particularly in New England, ashamed of past incidents like the Salem witch trials). Only a ‘fundamentalist’ Protestant church might take a vampire seriously enough to try to fight it.
Which fundamentalist Protestant sect, exactly? That is unimportant other than to establish that it is not a Catholic one. Catholic churches are the only sort of church that believe in doing exorcisms or tracking miracles, and have sacred powers that can defeat Dracula—and as the town appears to have no Catholic churches, that means the town is defenceless.↩︎
Under the Dracula interpretation, the ‘racial minorities’ are the two racial minorities which are prominent in the novel: Jews & Romani (Gypsies), who assist Dracula & oppose the English heroes.
It is tempting to read this as referring to African-Americans; however, SD is clearly set in either New England or perhaps around Ohio, where there would have been, in the 1910s, even fewer than there are now, and it’s unclear what the other ‘racial minorities’ would be. However, the Jews & Romani arrived in large numbers from England & Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, and were notable in the early 1900s.↩︎
The emphasis on the American Revolution & Civil War has a thematic parallel in Dracula: the longest speech Dracula makes to Harker is a monologue about Hungarian nationalism—the martial glory of his ancestors (and himself) in fighting off foreign invaders and preserving the nation (Chapter 3), for which the Revolution & Civil War are the American analogues:
I have had a long talk with the Count. I asked him a few questions on Transylvania history, and he warmed up to the subject wonderfully. In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all. This he afterwards explained by saying that to a boyar the pride of his house and name is his own pride, that their glory is his glory, that their fate is his fate. Whenever he spoke of his house he always said, “we,” and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking. I wish I could put down all he said exactly as he said it, for to me it was most fascinating. It seemed to have in it a whole history of the country. He grew excited as he spoke, and walked about the room pulling his great white moustache and grasping anything on which he laid his hands as though he would crush it by main strength. One thing he said which I shall put down as nearly as I can; for it tells in its way the story of his race:—
“We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the were wolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race; that we were proud; that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherland he found us here when he reached the frontier; that the Honfoglalas was completed there? And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Szekelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkey-land; ay, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for, as the Turks say, ‘water sleeps, and enemy is sleepless.’ Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations [apparently the Széklers, Saxons, Magyars & Wallachs] received the ‘bloody sword’, or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent? Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph! They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! what good are peasants without a leader? Where ends the war without a brain and heart to conduct it? Again, when, after the battle of Mohács, we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. Ah, young sir, the Szekelys—and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”
…“That treasure has been hidden”, he went on, “in the region through which you came last night, there can be but little doubt; for it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders. In old days there were stirring times, when the Austrian and the Hungarian came up in hordes, and the patriots went out to meet them—men and women, the aged and the children too… When the invader was triumphant he found but little, for whatever there was had been sheltered in the friendly soil.” [see again 1885]
The long commentary on antique textiles has a thematic parallel in Dracula: Jonathan Harker, while imprisoned in Dracula’s castle, notes, as evidence of his host’s wealth & ancient aristocratic background, the luxurious, well-preserved, ancient textiles in the castle (Chapter 2), particularly noting that they are not ‘moth-eaten’:
I set to and enjoyed a hearty meal. When I had done, I looked for a bell, so that I might let the servants know I had finished but I could not find one. There are certainly odd deficiencies in the house, considering the extraordinary evidences of wealth which are round me. The table service is of gold, and so beautifully wrought that it must be of immense value. The curtains and upholstery of the chairs and sofas and the hangings of my bed are of the costliest and most beautiful fabrics, and must have been of fabulous value when they were made, for they are centuries old, though in excellent order. I saw something like them in Hampton Court, but there they were worn and frayed and moth-eaten. But still in none of the rooms is there a mirror.
This does not seem to be a typo for “her” as it is pluralized in the scan & every e-book edition of Endangered Species I have checked, as well as the original Edges print. Presumably Wolfe is eliding here for style and means “though my mother often mentioned Suzanne Delage’s mother”. That is, the narrator heard many stories from his mother about Delage’s homemaker mother, but few or none about Delage herself via her mother.↩︎
And this description will be reliable, because these blurbs were presumably written (or at least approved) by editor Virginia Kidd; Edges appears to have been a very low budget affair with few people involved, and it is unlikely that the now-famous multi-Hugo/Nebula-Award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin would have been doing such scutwork, even if her name is listed first on the cover. Wolfe notes in a 1988 interview that he likes working with small presses (such as Basic Books?) because there are so few people involved that it’s easy to identify who is responsible.↩︎
It is possible that it was omitted because they couldn’t think of a good blurb, but I suspect that Urrea’s story was a late addition to the collection, because the back cover speaks of a “dozen” stories rather than 13, while the front consistently says “thirteen”, suggesting that the covers were edited partway.
The cheap paperback book was clearly produced in a hurry by the publisher “Basic Books”, never republished, and participant Damien Broderick would complain decades later about the poor proofreading.↩︎
pg 46 of Attending Daedalus↩︎
For example in Endangered Species, “The Detective of Dreams” is straightforward once you realize the dreams are Gospel stories.↩︎
And how does he know that everyone pronounces her name “Susan”?↩︎
…Not so weird even if it was the 1918 epidemic. Parents probably tried to protect their children from learning too much about it. But it could have been a later, milder flu epidemic. Maybe people overreacted to flu for a bit.
Consider the usual retirement ages for programs like Social Security.↩︎
Wolfe has named Bram Stoker at least twice as one of the writers who most influenced him in youth, in 1980 (2007):
Melissa Mia Hall: What have been some of the major influences on your writing?
Gene Wolfe: Obviously, some things are more important than others. Probably the earliest influences I had that were of any significance, were the Oz books and the two Alice books which I read as a child. G. K. Chesterton has undoubtedly been a major influence. So has Borges, who was also influenced by Chesterton. So has Dickens … H. G. Wells … Bram Stoker … Mervyn Peake. Modern writers. R. A. Lafferty, Ursula K. Le Guin. Damon Knight has influenced me, not so much as a writer, but as an editor. I think Knight is probably as good as editors ever get.
and 1988 (2007):
Lawrence Person: Let’s jump back a bit. Who were some of the writers who influenced you in your youth?
Gene Wolfe: Vance was certainly one. G. K. Chesterton. Much earlier than either of those, L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the Oz books, they certainly influenced me. The first science fiction story I ever read was by Theodore Sturgeon, and that I think has been a major influence. I read Alice in Wonderland, and at least tried to be influenced by it. Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker. I remember reading all those guys.
As well The Land Across explicitly invoking Dracula, his 2005 short story “The Vampire Kiss” (a frequent Stokerian conceit) can be described as a Dickensian vampire story, and in “The Doctor of Death Island”, a character is compared to Dracula.
We might also mention that Wolfe has repeatedly used the format of Dracula, the document-based or epistolary novel, in The Sorcerer’s House and The Wizard Knight and “Seven American Nights” (and Pirate Freedom & Fifth Head of Cerberus & The Land Across to some degree).↩︎
The usual implicit assumption of readers of SD is that when the narrator writes that he was:
reading a book, I should explain, which was otherwise merely commonplace; one of those somewhat political, somewhat philosophical, somewhat historical books which can now be bought by the pound each month
Is that it was some sort of nonfiction work, or to ignore it entirely.
However, genre fiction is often dismissed as “bought by the pound”, one could easily describe Gothic fiction works specifically as “somewhat political/philosophical/historical”, and it is a convention of embarassed genre fiction readers (especially Gothic fiction or horror) to dismiss them as merely entertainment or commonplace.↩︎
eg. “creaking of this empty house in the autumn wind”; “silent frame house”; “ringing our bell”; “glory of moth crystals”; “solitary pilgrims”; “complicated recitation of friendships and cousincies”; “woebegone”; “detested”; “lawful”; “forbidden”; “enemy”; “silent”; “still”; “vast”; “recesses of my memory”; “dislocation”; “extraordinary”; “switch off”; “recess”; “sepulcher”; “never well satisfied”; “enduring”; “traditional”; “unschooled”; “darkened”; “gloom”; “sepulchral”; “lustrous”; “insouciant”; “virginal”; “allure”; “enchanted”; “all at once”; “suddenly” etc.↩︎
Dracula repeatedly emphasizes the power of Catholicism over Dracula, and conversely, the weakness of Protestantism/Anglicanism.
In England, Dracula freely haunts graveyards and abbeys and chapels, while elsewhere, Catholic objects deter him; for example, in Chapter 1, before Jonathan Harker has so much as left his hotel to go meet Dracula:
“It is the eve of St. George’s Day. [see 1885] Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?” She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. It was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman [member of the Church of England], I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, “For your mother’s sake,” and went out of the room. I am writing up this part of the diary whilst I am waiting for the coach, which is, of course, late; and the crucifix is still round my neck. Whether it is the old lady’s fear, or the many ghostly traditions of this place, or the crucifix itself, I do not know, but I am not feeling nearly as easy in my mind as usual. If this book should ever reach Mina before I do, let it bring my good-bye. Here comes the coach!
And the crucifix saves his life:
…I saw that the cut had bled a little, and the blood was trickling over my chin. I laid down the razor, turning as I did so half round to look for some sticking plaster. When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there…Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! for it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it. It is odd that a thing which I have been taught to regard with disfavour and as idolatrous should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help.
Finally, when he escapes Dracula’s castle, he is cared for by nuns.↩︎
For more on the technophilia of Dracula and the surprisingly large role of greenhouses, railroads, timetables, timezones, calendars etc in it, see: “Killing Time: Dracula and Social Discoordination”, 2014; “Turning Back the Economic Clock: The real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, 2022; and “Bram Stoker, Dracula, and Progress Studies”, 2022.
Just as Dracula is able to exploit the Victorian world system to acquire a large English library to study & prepare, and purchase an expensive mansion thousands of miles away sight unseen, and preserve & transmit his capital, the protagonists exploit their ability to obtain fresh garlic out of season from advanced Dutch greenhouses shipped daily or use railroads to catch up to Dracula.
Interestingly, Dracula himself is a modernizer: in Chapter 23, Van Helsing explains how Dracula has been experimenting with his powers, for the first time in centuries, and slowly discovering better ways to enter houses by exploiting thralls or hide his coffins in physically-inaccessible places, and that if not stopped by the heroes then, within days might have improved his powers to become unstoppable.↩︎
Presumably if one is the Bride of Dracula, one is thus an aristocrat: one might say ‘queens’, by analogy to ‘king of the night’.↩︎
Where did this vampire come from? Might it not be Dracula himself? It would be more parsimonious.
This is possible if we take seriously SD-as-retelling: the plot of Dracula begins with Dracula trying to escape Transylvania, where he appears to be locked into a stalemate with the local Catholic population, for the friendlier climes of the Anglosphere. He chooses to sail to London, where he has purchased a befitting mansion and can enjoy the security of English property rights far away from hotbeds of papery… but this logic would apply equally well to, say, the seaport of Boston in America. (The narrator would then have no chance of having read Dracula & learning the nature of his foe because the events, having never happened, could not be published as a ‘true account’.)
So SD could be a ‘point of divergence’-style retelling of Dracula where Dracula chooses Boston instead of London. Perhaps if Bram Stoker had visited New England harbors instead of English ones, we would have had a rather different Dracula!↩︎
Stokerian vampires must be invited in, after which they have free entry (such as at night). The inability to cross many boundaries is a repeated plot point in Dracula.↩︎
Dracula appears to prefer ships & carriages for bulk transport when necessary, but of course those would not be options here.↩︎
The “Pie Club” reminds Borski of apple pies, and thus apples, and thus Snow White; but pies in the context of a beautiful young woman with black hair & pale white skin makes me think of raspberries & strawberries and sticky red substances on mouths, and more concerningly, meat pies (like Sweeney Todd).↩︎
The narrator guesses she died while he was away in college, because she wasn’t present when he returned, but given his memory-loss, this terminus ante quem means she could have died while he was in highschool.
In the Dracula inversion, this parallels Mina Harker’s friend Lucy Westenra and Lucy’s mother, who are, early in Dracula, Dracula’s first victims in England after landing. Lucy’s mother is well-intentioned but repeatedly sabotages Dr Van Helsing’s defense of Lucy. She eventually dies of fright of a wolf, while tearing off Lucy’s garlic protection in her terror, and Dracula then turns Lucy into a vampire; Dr Van Helsing infers this, and stakes & kills the Lucy vampire, at which point the war against Dracula begins & Dracula attacks Mina Harker. In the inversion, it might be the case that the narrator’s mother dies of fright as a side-effect, while Delage’s mother is staked & killed as the opening move, but Dracula wins & so Delage (unlike Lucy) survives.↩︎
Wolfe famously converted as an adult to Catholicism (mostly due to his wife), and could be a bit of a jerk about it. (Doubtless he, like many other Catholic readers, enjoyed the starring role of Catholicism in Dracula.)↩︎
In Dracula, Dracula has powerful mind-altering abilities including hypnosis, and even Dr Van Helsing is able to use hypnosis to fight back; one of the most classic hypnotist stunts is to command the hypnotized person to forget everything.↩︎
Conversely, the heroes are constantly sharing, copying, compiling, sealing, or making documents in all sorts of forms: shorthand as well as longhand text, telegraphs, typewritten clean copies, wax phonograph cylinders, newspapers & gazettes… and reviewing the documents & correcting each other. With the heroes’ collabration in mind, it is suspicious that the narrator of SD consults only his own documents and refers to no one else’s documents.↩︎
The choice of “Pie Club” here then begins to sound like a grim Wolfean irony: the members of Pie Club are not feasting on delicious desserts they have made, they are the feast!
Perhaps the girls are turned away from the camera less by accident or because Delage is trying to hide her presence, and more because they are Delage’s food, the most delicious dessert, if you will, for a vampire (attractive young girls). They are ‘suffering from the pandemic’ ie. are being vampirized by Delage, and so they are visibly pale, unhealthy, anemic, and with marks on their necks.↩︎
Being vampirized doesn’t necessarily turn one into a vampire; victims may recover entirely, apparently, particularly if the vampire is a new, weak vampire. As Van Helsing puts it of the vampire Lucy, who is a few weeks old and has been lightly vampirizing children:
When they become such, there comes with the change the curse of immortality; they cannot die, but must go on age after age adding new victims and multiplying the evils of the world; for all that die from the preying of the Un-Dead becomes themselves Un-Dead, and prey on their kind. And so the circle goes on ever widening, like as the ripples from a stone thrown in the water. Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die; or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern Europe, and would all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have fill us with horror. The career of this so unhappy dear lady is but just begun. Those children whose blood she suck are not as yet so much the worse; but if she live on, Un-Dead, more and more they lose their blood and by her power over them they come to her; and so she draw their blood with that so wicked mouth. But if she die in truth, then all cease; the tiny wounds of the throats disappear, and they go back to their plays unknowing ever of what has been.
It is worth mentioning that Jonathan & Mina Harker have a son, rather than Suzanne Delage & unknown having a ‘daughter’.↩︎
The narrator highlights the population size of the town as “living all my life, as I have, in a town of less than a hundred thousand population”, and notes that the high school had been expanded to keep up with the population growth by the time he attended.
However, given the population growth rates of successful cities, particularly in the population boom of Amerca in this period, he should not have been living in a town of approximately the same size his entire life, and the highschool should have either been demolished & rebuilt on a much larger scale or new highschools built. Nor is there any other hint of the city growing or changing after he returned from college.
This hints that the town ceased growing and may even be regressing, like the region of Transylvania controlled by Dracula—on a practical level, vampires being opposed to progress & growth, which threaten stability & their immortality, and perhaps the undead are inimitable to a living growing human population on a more metaphysical level as well.↩︎