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Interpreting ‘Suzanne Delage’ as Dracula

On the interpretation of Gene Wolfe’s short story ‘Suzanne Delage’ as inversion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula horror novel.

The 1980 Gene Wolfe short story “Suzanne Delage” is a cryptic 6-page memoir about an apparently uneventful quotidian early-1900s American life, and has defied literary analysis for decades.

I solve it as an inversion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


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.

I found none of the past interpretations 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, a close reading identifies SD as, specifically, a Wolfe-style homage to the greatest vampire novel: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and further alludes to Hamlet).

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. By inverting Van Helsing’s Catholic victory over Dracula into the Narrator’s Protestant defeat by Dracula, SD makes a Catholic critique of contemporary secularism.

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 puzzle-box.

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.

The Story

Italics are preserved from the original. I have added hyperlink references for obscurer terminology or references, & links to later commentary sections:

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 precept—but that he has, nearly always, been so conditioned to consider himself the most mundane of creatures, that, finding no relationship to the remainder of his life in this extraordinary experience, he has forgotten it.

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 Club) 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 woebegone1 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”—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 town; and certain racial minorities, 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”—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 quilt 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 hers2; 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.”

Allusions

Historical Location

The Narrator situates the town in one of the original American colonies by referring to textiles from “American Revolution times”, preferably 1790 or older, made in “traditional ways of the old farm families”; this rules out most of the USA, as British colonial governments had attempted to halt settlement beyond the colonies, and what would become states like Ohio or the Mid-West certainly did not have a long enough history of colonization by 1790 that there could plausibly be ‘old farm families’ making fancy textiles.

The reference to “Zouave regiments” further refines this to Northern colonies: Civil War Zouave units were primarily fielded by the Union from states like Pennsylvania or New York, and the South never created Zouave regiments.

Overall, the impression one is given is of a New England state, or at the most southerly, New York or Pennsylvania. (We can rule out New Jersey on out-of-universe grounds—who would ever set a ‘tale of the uncanny’, of any sort, in New Jersey?)

Chesterton

Dan’l sources this to G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Chapter V “The Fad of the Fisherman”3:

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 drifts apart like a forgotten dream; and it was in the hour of many dreams, at daybreak and very soon after the end of dark, that such a strange sight was given to a man sculling a boat down a river in the West country. The man was awake; indeed, he considered himself rather wide awake, being the political journalist, Harold March, on his way to interview various political celebrities in their country seats. But the thing he saw was so inconsequent that it might have been imaginary. It simply slipped past his mind and was lost in later and utterly different events; nor did he even recover the memory till he had long afterward discovered the meaning.

…As his own boat went under the dark archway he saw another boat coming toward him, rowed by a man as solitary as himself. His posture prevented much being seen of him, but as he neared the bridge he stood up in the boat and turned round. He was already so close to the dark entry, however, that his whole figure was black against the morning light, and March could see nothing of his face except the end of two long whiskers or mustaches that gave something sinister to the silhouette, like horns in the wrong place. Even these details March would never have noticed but for what happened in the same instant. As the man came under the low bridge he made a leap at it and hung, with his legs dangling, letting the boat float away from under him. March had a momentary vision of two black kicking legs; then of one black kicking leg; and then of nothing except the eddying stream and the long perspective of the wall. But whenever he thought of it again, long afterward, when he understood the story in which it figured, it was always fixed in that one fantastic shape—as if those wild legs were a grotesque graven ornament of the bridge itself, in the manner of a gargoyle. At the moment he merely passed, staring, down the stream. He could see no flying figure on the bridge, so it must have already fled; but he was half conscious of some faint significance in the fact that among the trees round the bridgehead opposite the wall he saw a lamp-post; and, beside the lamp-post, the broad blue back of an unconscious policeman.

The title of the book refers to the result of the stories, the culprit escaping—a tragic failure of justice:

Fisher knows too much about the private politics behind the public politics of the day. This knowledge is a burden to him in the 8 stories, because he is able to uncover the injustices and corruptions of the murders in each story, but in most cases the real killer gets away with the killing…

In this story, the narrator realizes later that the odd observation of a man jumping onto a bridge early in the morning is in fact the clue that solves the murder mystery: it is the murderer making his escape from his constructed mystery.

Hamlet

The ‘hackneyed precept’ of the tragedy Hamlet refers to 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 after waiting for the ghost of Hamlet’s father to arrive from Hell, who has revealed his secret murder by his usurping brother King Claudius & Queen Gertrude’s infidelity, and charges Hamlet to remember his message and wreak vengeance on the usurper (but spare the queen for other punishment):

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damnèd incest.
But, howsomever thou pursues this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once.
The glowworm shows the matin to be near
And ’gins to pale his uneffectual fire.
Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.

Given the Hamlet context, the later reference to ‘queens’ is likely a reference to Queen Gertrude, who the naive Hamlet believes beautiful & innocent but after speaking with the Ghost, denounces. (Other suggestions include a reference to “drag queens”, or vampires, by analogy to ‘king of the night’ + ‘Brides of Dracula’.)

Hamlet vows to remember him & forget all else, and in fact, implies he’s literally written it down4 as he speaks:

O all you host of heaven! O Earth! What else?
And shall I couple hell? O fie! Hold, hold, my heart,
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up. 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. Yes, by heaven!
O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile and smile and be a villain.
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.

[Stage notation: “He writes.”] 5

So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.
It is “adieu, adieu, remember me.”
I have sworn’t.

Memory loss, and misleading documents or fictions, come up repeatedly in Hamlet: Hamlet “writes” down the Ghost’s instructions to avoid forgetting them; Ophelia goes mad and forgets being in love with Hamlet, while Hamlet feigns madness & forgetting to fool his uncle & Queen Gertrude; Hamlet writes a short play, ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ (a play within a play), to test the King; in response, the King sends Hamlet & Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England with a letter instructing that Hamlet be executed immediately (while Hamlet switches this out for a letter naming Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead); Hamlet appears to have forgotten about the court jester Yorick until seeing his skull & grave; and the play ends with all major characters dead and Horatio is ordered by the dying Hamlet to tell posterity all that happened.

Proust

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).6

‘Delage’ may also be an allusion to Ives Delage.

Pie Club

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.

External Evidence

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.

Ursula K. Le Guin

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.)

Virginia Kidd

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.

Edges Covers

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!7

The front & back book cover pages of Edges which opaquely describe each of the 13 stories (identified below).

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:

  1. “Introduction”, Ursula K. Le Guin

  2. “The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear’s Stead”, Damien Broderick

  3. “Omens”, Carol Emshwiller

  4. “Touch the Earth”, Scott Sanders

  5. “The Other Magus”, Avram Davidson

  6. “Peek-a-Boom”, Sonya Dorman

  7. “Suzanne Delage”, Gene Wolfe

  8. “The Finger”, Naomi Mitchison

  9. “Barranca King of the Tree Streets”, Lowry Pei

  10. “Thomas in Yahvestan”, George P. Elliott

  11. “The Vengeance of Hera”, Thomas M. Disch

  12. “Falling”, Raylyn Moore

  13. “Father Returns from the Mountain”, Luis Urrea

  14. “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:

GLIMPSES:

  • of disaster too great to believe

    [“Falling” by Raylyn Moore]

  • of a captured quantum creature

    [“Peek-a-Boom” by Sonya Dorman]

VISIONS:

  • 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.]

JOURNEYS:

  • 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”.8 (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.

Analysis

At first, this very short story seems poor. It’s not hard to find dismissive ratings of it. It’s boring, and written in long meandering sentences that almost anesthetize the reader. It ends with a cheap “twist” of ‘like mother, like daughter’, which hardly even seems like an ending. It’s unworthy of a master writer like Wolfe. It certainly isn’t worthy of being printed in two different anthologies.

Shaggy Dog Story

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.9

Gerry Quinn offers the suggestion that the dull incident is simply the best that the Narrator can do in trying to come up with interesting incidents:

That’s [having ‘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.)

Missed Chances

Some posters avoided explaining the anomalies, saying there’s nothing there except Proustian melancholy, stop looking for clones or vampires already!

If you need horror, the waste of a man’s life be horror enough. Gerry Quinn ably describes this interpretation:

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 supernatural) is extraordinary enough to fulfill the Narrator’s promise of an incredible point to his story.

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.

Yes, It’s A Trap

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.10

Well, the Narrator promises very early on to tell us about something extraordinary: “…some extraordinary experience, some dislocation of all we expect from nature and probability…” But prima facie, there is no such payoff! The mentioned story is shockingly unshocking. 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 with11, 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 (Broderick1998) 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.

Marc Aramini highlights the introductory quote:

… 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 her12. 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).

Desiderata & Theories

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:

    • Kidd: explain how “no one else could have written it” / explain why SD is “a den of iniquities”

    • Le Guin: 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 armory’s worth of Chekhov-guns littered through the story:

The following are drawn from my search of the Urth mailing list discussions, and may be incomplete.

Proust Connection

Gerry Quinn:

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.

Snow White

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:

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.

Cloning

The name ‘Suzanne Delage’ can be 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.

Coincidence? Or a red herring?

David Stockhoff 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.

There Can Only Be One

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 well, 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.

The Spanish Influenza

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 ons. Gerry Quinn suggests that perhaps it was a parental coverup or actually a reference to a later & milder flu epidemic14, 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 period.

Ives Delage, incidentally, died in 1920—not long after the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.

This theory incurs many problems: it is not particularly extraordinary, 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.

Affair

In this version, we’re being lied to (like we are in so many Wolfe works). The Narrator did not lead a cursed life, and so 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 girl.

But this theory is unsatisfying in some respects:

  1. There’s nothing particularly astounding about this timeline

  2. He married multiple times and didn’t seem to erase his memory of those

  3. the female friend is being rather disingenuous in her phrasing if Suzanne is as intimate his ex-wife, and she knows it was an extremely messy, bitter breakup, and how utterly furious he is at any mention of Suzanne

  4. It doesn’t explain the quilt interlude

  5. It doesn’t explain the peculiar Pie Club photograph

  6. It doesn’t explain the ‘unable to be photographed’ listing

  7. The Spanish Influenza anomaly goes unexplained

Pregnancy

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 pregnant. 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 and visible even in a small primitive photograph; they usually would be kept at home or sent away entirely—so this suggestion is extremely anachronistic. Second, The Narrator says he has learned & 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. So how could the daughter at the end be the baby Suzanne was pregnant with many decades ago? The daughter should be surely at least in 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 ~60–7015.

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. And how could the female friend be mistaken about it being Suzanne Delage’s daughter instead of her granddaughter? It’s a small town.

(Note that this theory still suffers from problems #1, 2, and 5.)

Smallpox

The expeditions of Suzanne’s mother and the Narrator’s mother turn up a blanket, and an old Revolutionary-era one—such old 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 extraordinary 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 participation in 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 mention remind us that the Narrator has already done exactly that—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 leading rivals like the vampirism theory: we seem to have explained at least a few of the striking Chekhov-guns and provided an overall interpretation.

Objections

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.

William and Mike reply, respectively, that it is perfectly plausible:

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.

Lesbian MILFs

In this theory, the two mothers were having a lesbian affair with the antiquing as cover. 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. 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.)

Ghosts

The Hamlet allusion, which was in a ghostly context, has already been mentioned; the Americana setting also makes one think of Peace, with its Midwestern 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.

Vampires

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 enchanting 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, with ‘pure as milk’ being the Narrator ironically putting a positive spin on the vampiric pallor

  • the reason she was unable to 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 remove 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 upon, 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 fiction—they’ve appeared in multiple stories and novels—and so are a priori plausible.

  • 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 to the Narrator’s house, while it was licit to spend weeks or months traveling together and all other social intercourse?

    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.

    • How is the daughter out in broad daylight? (Only some vampires are fine in daylight; most of them weaken, die, or sparkle.)

  • if Suzanne made the Narrator forget with vampiric powers, then why is the female friend immune, knows exactly who the daughter & Suzanne are, and expect the Narrator to know too?

  • the photographs don’t quite work out—we aren’t told that the photo 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 sudden 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?

    But this is all resolved, by just one clue…

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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)

Vampires were the best explanation, but still unsatisfying. I compiled the foregoing theories in 2009, in the hopes that putting them in one place would crack the mystery of SD. It did not, and emphasized the inadequacy of the theories; if I had to pick just one theory as the least bad, I would have picked ‘vampires’, but it left most of SD unexplained and felt unmotivated. Why vampires? Why New England? Why any of this? There was little discussion of SD over the next decade I am aware of, probably because there was nothing left to be said: I & other Urth.net commentators gave up, as it seemed like SD might simply be insoluble—the late Gene Wolfe novels & stories suffer greatly from Wolfe badly misjudging what readers would understand, as Wolfe became ever more idiosyncratic and adopted a flat nondescript writing style that concealed everything of importance. There was probably an answer, but it would require a leap of logic or piece of knowledge that made sense to Wolfe, but no one else, and short of an answer emerging from Virginia Kidd or Gene Wolfe’s posthumous papers, there was nothing one could do. (In this respect, late Wolfe fiction resembles a puzzle game which has never been playtested by anyone but the creator, leading to illusions of transparency & inferential distance.)

In 2023, I happened to decide to improve my edition of the story by adding hyperlink annotations to some of the more obscure parts like “Zouave regiment”, and noticed what seemed like a typo at the end; it was present in Endangered Species scans, but I couldn’t check the original Edge because it was still unavailable anywhere online. So to tidy up that loose end, I bought & made a scan of it in July 2023 and checked: it was not a typo, just an awkward phrase. But more interesting was Ursula K. Le Guin’s preface mentioning SD, which had never been covered before, and then I noticed the cover blurbs corresponded to all the stories—and implied SD was specifically a memory erasure story. This was one of the many hypotheses proposed for SD, but not one I had thought all that hard about. Thinking about the topic ‘memory erasure of a young lover’ in a ‘vampire story’, the event of the cover suddenly accidentally stirred a subconscious memory—could it be a book I had read long ago and forgotten? After all, Gene Wolfe would have read it, for it was about as famous as books can be; but then, how could everyone have read SD for all these decades and never noticed its omission?16 Surely such a failure would be too extraordinary, for such an answer to lay in plain sight; nevertheless, I checked the Wikipedia plot summary, its description of vampiric powers & weaknesses (including not being damaged by sunlight), rechecked some earlier essays & blog posts I’d read about Mina Harkner & trains, and—it was that easy. SD’s key was Dracula. The rest was details and followup.


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 referencing17 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 vampires18 & hypnosis—one and only one vampire comes to mind:

The vampire, Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel Dracula (text)!

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 oft-victimized 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.

Inversion

Like Hamlet & Dracula, SD is a Gothic story19, filled with decaying old houses & documents & archives & heirlooms & attics20, beautiful young victimized upper-class women, 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 extraordinary events beyond their initial comprehension which will fray their sanity and threaten their lives, souls, and minds.

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”, 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 Helsing21 (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 timetables22, 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 between SD, Dracula, and Hamlet:

  • Narrator : Jonathan Harker23 : Hamlet

  • Tampered-with original documents : Dracula-extorted letters & destroyed documents : King Claudius’s letter

  • N/A (omission key to inversion & defeat) : true copied documents

  • Suzanne Delage : Mina Harker : Ophelia/Queen Gertrude

  • Narrator’s female friend : Lucy Westenra (?) : Ophelia

  • Narrator & Suzanne Delage’s mothers : Lucy’s mother (“Mrs. Westenra”) : Queen Gertrude?

  • Suzanne Delage’s husband : Dracula : King Claudius

  • Suzanne Delage’s daughter : Jonathan & Mina Harker’s son : N/A

  • Dr Van Helsing : N/A (omission key to inversion & defeat) : Horatio?

  • Defeat : victory : mutual defeat

  • Rail : ship : ship

  • New England : England : Denmark

  • Fundamentalist Protestant church : Catholicism : Protestantism

  • American Revolutionary & Civil Wars : Hungarian wars : Scandinavian wars

So, I think this interpretation resolves SD: it is a particularly extreme Wolfean instance of unreliable narrators, which is so compact that the true story cannot be inferred from solely internal evidence, but one must consult external sources. 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 like Hamlet or Proust are the red herrings). The parallels like the destruction of documentation or the Brides of Dracula24 or mind-control/hypnosis/mesmerization 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.

Explanations

Hamlet

One of the most striking aspects of the Dracula interpretation of SD is that SD turns out to be alluding to it indirectly, by making parallel allusions—the opening chapters of Dracula allude to the same parts of Hamlet that SD does! This clinches the case for SD-as-Dracula, as this is too extraordinary a coincidence to be accidental.

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.)” Harker, like Hamlet, is baffled by what has happened, and doubts his own sanity.

Harker realizes Dracula is planning to kill him when Dracula forces him to write forged letters (an attempt which fails, although Harker’s own smuggled letters also fail when the Gypsies betray him to Dracula), and himself relies heavily on letters in the fight against Dracula; this parallels the King’s failed attempt to kill Hamlet when Hamlet instead uses the letter to eliminate Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (who he sees as spies loyal to the King and not him).

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.” This sheds additional light on the Narrator’s comment about “queens” and more innocent times: Hamlet is now disgusted by the queen’s “incest” and possibly conspiracy to murder her husband in favor of an usurper, and her most innocent gesture is now a sign of her monstrous crimes. (In both, a woman is caught between her original husband/suitor and the vampire/usurper; Queen Gertrude is explicitly sexually unfaithful, and there are extreme sexual connotations to Dracula’s corruption of women. Infidelity & marriage comes up again & again in Dracula, from the events themselves to minor symbolism like nautical names—both the ship bearing Dracula to England being named after Demeter to the ship bearing him away being named after Catherine the Great!)

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.” (Because the incest and murder by Claudius threatens to corrupt all of Denmark, just as Dracula’s evil spreads from Transylvania across Europe to England; the victims of Claudius & Dracula cry for vengeance.)

Later on, Van Helsing will criticize the closed-minded modern English for not realizing how many extraordinary things there are in the world that they have never imagined before:

“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 materialization. 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, aye 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.”

Finally, the fiancee Lucy, before succumbing to full vampirization & dying (having never wed), compares herself to Hamlet’s dead virgin fiancee, Ophelia.

(There is one more minor reference, irrelevant to SD: “be cruel only to be kind”—Seward to Renfield, from Act 3 Scene 4.)

Nationalism

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, aye, 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; aye, 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 & Wallachs25] 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.”

Or in discussing buried treasure:

…“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 Gerard1885]

Textiles

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.

Is there more to the textiles in SD than serving as plot mechanism, or another subtle allusion to early Dracula?

Hampton Court

I couldn’t think of any, but Leonard Wolf’s The Annotated Dracula finds the reference to Hampton Court of considerable interest, as a metonymy for upper-class moral decay—apparently, while indeed open to the public as a museum in the late 1800s for Harker to visit (Stoker, as usual, is scrupulous in the details), Hampton Court was notorious for its earlier 1700s era, and Wolfe thinks that this, and Alexander Pope’s setting of The Rape of the Lock in Hampton Court, is what Stoker is really doing:26

Hampton Court Palace, situated between Bushy Park and Home Park about 15 miles from London, was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515. Wolsey later presented the palace to Henry VIII, his patron.

The tapestries Harker saw were probably those in the Great Hall of the palace, which contains tapestries representing scenes from the life of Abraham.

The castle, in Stoker’s time (and today), was open to visitors daily from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., though on Sundays it opened at 2:00 P.M. Admission was free, and visitors were “required to pass from room to room in one direction only.”

Alexander Pope describes the ambiance of artificiality and sexual frivolity for which Hampton Court was famous in the eighteenth century. For Pope, Hampton Court was the place where

Britain’s Statesmen oft the Fall foredoom
Of Foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home;

Hither the Heroes and the Nymphs resort,
To taste awhile the Pleasures of a Court;
In various Talk th’ instructive hours they past,
Who gave the Ball, or paid the Visit last:

…one describes a charming Indian Screen;
A third interprets Motions, Looks, and Eyes;
At ev’ry Word a Reputation dies.
Snuff, or the Fan, supply each Pause of Chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.

As Pope saw it, Hampton Court was the appropriate setting for the heartless amatory war between the beautiful Belinda and the Baron who was to commit the Rape of the Lock.

Certain Racial Minorities

The Narrator is deliberately obscure and cryptic here about the “certain fundamentalist church” and the “certain racial minorities”, implying their missing identities are important. No SD theories other than the Dracula interpretation attempt to explain why these references are so oblique or their real identities: they are oblique because the Narrator only interacted with them as part of the vampire war (the church as allies, the minorities as enemies), and so erasing the war also erased his memories of both.

Under the Dracula interpretation, the ‘certain racial minorities’ are the two racial minorities which are prominent in the novel: Jews & Romani (Gypsies), who assist Dracula & oppose the English heroes. Given the extent of racism against both groups, one might hesitate to refer to them in any way other than the most oblique.

Further, it is difficult to explain the reference as being to more standard American racial minorities like Hispanics or African-Americans. It is tempting to read this as referring to African-Americans; however, SD is clearly set in New England (due to the presence of British governors in the colonial period, & Zouave regiments being associated with the North), 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.

Certain Fundamentalist Church

Under the Dracula interpretation, the important part of the ‘fundamentalist church’ is less the ‘fundamentalist’/low church adjective than the implication that it is a Protestant one. Such an old New England town would, of course, have dozens of Protestant 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, that he claims to have had nothing to do with?

This is more than classism of a middle/upper-class New England burgher27, who would not go to anything as lower-class as a fundamentalist church, but would be a high church Anglican, or at least something respectable like Methodist or Quaker. But there is no reason for him to mention this church out of all churches—not even to forestall misunderstanding by the hypothetical reader—because nothing would imply he was anything but a good Anglican/Methodist (and no SD reader ever suggests otherwise). So why, in or out of universe, does this come up?

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? It doesn’t matter—the distinction between high/low is another red herring: the identity 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 defenseless.

Pie Club Irony

If Suzanne has been vampirized by this point, then the pseudo-name “Pie Club” here then begins to sound like a grim Wolfean irony: the Narrator is unconsciously failing to remember the real club name (presumably some variant on ‘Home Economics Club’), and giving it a more truthful name—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 hiding the truth that 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, and shying away from documentation.


Another possibility is that Wolfe is again drawing on The Annotated Dracula28, which mentions that in Stoker’s sources, Dracula is linked to the famous magician, the Pied Piper of Hamlin: Dracula was supposedly educated in his occult powers at the Devil’s school, the Scholomance, located at Lake Hermanstadt, and the inhabitants of Hermanstadt were supposedly the Piper’s descendants.

As the Pied Piper mesmerizes and mind-controls children with his powers to lead them away (usually to their doom), and Suzanne is using her hypnotic vampiric powers to control her young victims, this allusion would make sense. (There are otherwise no important references to “pie” or “cake” in Annotated Dracula.)

The Annotated Dracula

The Annotated Dracula is an authoritative 1975 edition of Dracula which has been heavily annotated, with additional new illustrations, maps, and so on, by Leonard Wolf (born in Transylvania), who in addition to the regular annotations, made a point of visiting as many locations as he could. It was published by a mass-market publisher, Ballantine, and has been credited for having “legitimized Dracula scholarship”; it appears to have been commercially successful.29

Much of Annotated Dracula can be found easily online by searching Stoker’s references, and so I didn’t find reading it as useful as hoped, but Wolf made 3 good points:

  1. the sunlight tolerance of Dracula, in contrast to popular culture

  2. the theme of the reflection-less/invisible Dracula replacing or usurping the ostensible protagonist Jonathan Harker:

    The Annotated Dracula notes that “Mina” may be a symbolic name: “Spelled backwards, it almost achieves the Latin anima, or soul.” (ie. what the inanimate living-dead like Dracula no longer possess). This is why, symbolically, Dracula casts no reflection and flames can be seen through him, and why he is an aged old man, regaining his youth when victimizing young women.

    In his commentary, Wolf further pursues the theme of Harker & Dracula switching places over the story, with Harker growing old & weaker & more physically resembling Dracula at the beginning as Dracula usurps him & vampirizes Mina.

  3. the meaning of Dracula referencing Hampton Court

SD’s Inspiration?

These are all things that Gene Wolfe could have observed on his own, but it’s striking that #1 & #2 embody the essence of SD—the sunlight tolerance of “Suzanne’s daughter” is the critical clue that we are being referred uniquely to Bram Stoker’s Dracula to solve SD—and #3 is idiosyncratic to Annotated Dracula’s interpretation. (No one else, in any of the Dracula material I have read thus far, finds the reference more than superficial, or gives Wolf’s reading.)

Further, one could note out-of-universe that Gene Wolfe exhibited a certain fascination with anything named ‘Wolf’ or ‘Wolfe’, and would find ways to work that name into his fiction (most famously, in Fifth Head of Cerberus); and that (like almost everyone after the 1700s) Wolfe doesn’t seem to have cared much for Alexander Pope or that entire period of Augustan classicism, and may never have read The Rape of the Lock or known about Hampton Court’s reputation.

This raises an interesting possibility: did The Annotated Dracula actually inspire SD? As a lifelong fan of Bram Stoker & Dracula, and fascinated by anything named ‘Wolf[e]’, it is easy to imagine Wolfe hearing the (justified) praises of Annotated Dracula, acquiring a copy, and on re-reading it for perhaps the first time since he was a teenager…

And then, suddenly, being struck by the idea of writing his own version—one where Harker is fully-replaced and the unreliable narrator has been fully manipulated by Dracula into forgetting & destroying all documents; and then carrying out this ingenious formal conceit by painstakingly writing SD as a tissue of elision & oblivion, with the clues in plain sight—the sunlight, the indirect references to Hamlet, the oddly lengthy discursion about textiles (an indirect reference to Leonard Wolf).

The mechanical process of writing SD would have taken hardly any time compared to the iterative revision of polishing each word, but then publication would have been a challenge: given the blank incomprehension of all readers, SD would hardly have been accepted by many SF magazines or anthologies without adding in blatant spoilers that Wolfe would surely have rejected, so Wolfe might not’ve even bothered trying to sell it anywhere, and put it in the drawer to wait ~4 years for Virginia Kidd desperately rustling up stories for Endangered Species (and, being desperate & on a shoestring, unable to afford even copyediting, willing to confine her editing to obscurely hinting that there is in fact something there inside SD).

If this is true, we would expect to find possibly rejections or references to SD in his personal papers, but more likely, Annotated Dracula in Gene Wolfe’s personal library. (As a reference edition of the greatest work by one of his favorite authors, with nice artwork & maps & bibliographies & chronologies, there would be little reason for Wolfe to ever discard it, so if his personal library was still intact when he died in 2019, I would expect it to still be there.)

The True Story

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 pleasant childhood life in 1910s New England—until a distant Dracula impinges upon it, and gradually forces a disbelieving Narrator 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 & 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 vampire30, and become its thrall, regularly returning home exhausted because drained of blood. (Dracula is noted to prefer women, feeding on men only in extremis.) 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’ in31—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.32 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).33

Here the vampire strikes, and begins vampirizing not just Suzanne Delage, but then he & she begin attacking other students as well.34 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 semi-accidentally at some point during the initial vampire attacks.35 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.36 The (apparently completely unnecessary) mention of ‘certain racial minorities’ reminds us of Dracula’s early monologue to Jonathan Harker about the ‘Four Nations’ and his reliance on Gypsies & Jews as servants in Dracula, and who he would have used in any American war against vampire-hunters. The Narrator mentions that, despite a physically active childhood, he did not play much football and was relegated to a backup position because he was not good, for no given 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 hypnotized37 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.38 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. (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” and enchanting those around her, then settles in a vampiric routine, eg. hunting for prey at ‘Pie Club’ & school dances, with victims either recovering39 or their deaths blamed on pandemics or other factors, which helps her avoid any notice when she too is ‘unable to be photographed’; after a decorous period post-graduation, she marries her implied-but-completely-omitted husband, Dracula. (Her marriage would arouse no comment due to age-mismatch—because unlike many vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula becomes highly youthful after feeding on victims, in contrast to his aged appearance at the beginning of Dracula, after semi-starvation in his castle.)

The Narrator then goes on to live a severed, mutilated, clerkish life devoid of his usurped true love in a town parasitized by at least 2 vampires, and unable to develop meaningful relationships or have children40; 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’.41)

Decades later, he chances to run into Suzanne Delage herself, undead, preserved in her virginal teenage beauty at precisely the moment of her ‘turning’ mid-high-school, mesmerizingly sexual as a Bride of Dracula42, 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)43, and the woman who identifies her as Delage’s daughter shows signs not of a mere brief forgetfulness but of a sudden unexpected & frustrating mental confusion & fog—consistent with having been hypnotized (or enchanted) as part of Delage’s cover-story.

The direct re-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 extent of iniquities to the Narrator.

That is left to the reader, likewise so many decades later.

Open Questions

While resolving most of the details of SD, there are a few points where it’s not definitely clear to me what Wolfe meant, or if they were meant to be insoluble (either as part of the horror, or because unimportant enough to waste words hint at):

  1. whether there is more to the “textiles” than Hampton Court,

  2. or to the “bitter old woman”,

  3. or to the pseudo-name “Pie Club”;

  4. the exact fate of the two mothers; and

  5. how the Narrator was defeated.

Interpretation

The above focuses on solving the puzzle box and explaining what happened, and the in-universe ‘why’ in terms of a single point of divergence (Dracula choosing the USA rather than UK). But why did Wolfe write SD?

Remarkable feat. As a writing exercise, it is a remarkable one, and Wolfe rose to the challenge of inverting Dracula and creating a compact story consisting almost solely of negation, omission, and loss. It also recontextualizes Dracula: in an era where vampires were already dangerously overused and had degenerated into movie camp, the narrative of SD is all the more sinister for the titular vampire remaining (almost) completely offscreen in its familiar peaceful small town American setting. By going back to the original vampire novel, Wolfe reminds us of its uncanny power (and its idiosyncrasies) usually lacking in its countless imitators.

More than stunt. This would be enough, but I think Wolfe was not satisfied at that, and that hidden behind those motives, there was a religious one—Wolfe’s Catholicism. Hidden deep in his works, Wolfe often seems to be defending or justifying his Catholicism. It can be easy to miss it in works like The Book of the New Sun (Wolfe is not crass about it—he is creating literature, not propaganda), but like the sun behind the clouds, slightly illuminates everything.

Reason + Faith + Works = Salvation. Wolfe’s message in SD, I think, is somewhat like the standard horror trope of “the supernatural exists and you should believe in it and fight it”, but much more so: it is specifically an anti-fideistic pro-natural theology Catholic message, that, one might say, ‘reason without faith is blind, and faith without reason is powerless’. The vampire evil triumphs when one is too dominant.

When reason > faith. Then there are three possible scenarios (faith > reason, faith < reason, & faith = reason): the peasantry of Transylvania have great faith, but lack reason & organization and cannot do anything but stalemate the vampires and suffer periodic victimization; despite their greater Yankee technology & rational science compared to the protagonists of Dracula decades before, the Narrator’s modern people are defenseless against the vampires because they have abandoned the true faith in favor of a false Protestant one (or outright agnosticism/atheism), lacking even superstitions (suppressed by Enlightenment dogma), and fall prey; only Dr Van Helsing exemplifies the Catholic union of reason & faith, enabling him to make famous medical discoveries in the secular world but also conquer supernatural evil like Dracula. SD, thus, fills in the scenario missing from Dracula.


  1. “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”).↩︎

  2. 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.↩︎

  3. WP summary: “In the 7th story, ‘The Fad of the Fisherman’, the Prime Minister himself is the murderer, who kills the financier whose country house he is visiting because the financier is trying to start a war with Sweden over”the Danish ports”. By killing his host, the Prime Minister seeks to avoid a war in which many more people would die, and the financier would profit at the cost of thousands of lives.” The Prime Minister gets away with it.↩︎

  4. As Hamlet has just returned from college (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg), this could be something like a commonplace book, or it could be a more aristocratic travel journal.↩︎

  5. This is not in either quarto or the First Folio versions, but most editors add this stage notation, because Hamlet implies he is writing as he recites it, when he finishes by saying “So, uncle, there you are” (“So vncle, there you are, there you are.”, “So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.”, “So Vnckle there you are: now to my word;”, respectively).↩︎

  6. ‘“Tell me about the Lexicon Urthus”: an interview with Michael Andre-Driussi’↩︎

  7. 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.↩︎

  8. Perhaps 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.↩︎

  9. pg 46 of Attending Daedalus↩︎

  10. For example in Endangered Species, “The Detective of Dreams” is straightforward once you realize the dreams are Gospel stories.↩︎

  11. And how does he know that everyone pronounces her name “Susan”?↩︎

  12. Gerry Quinn points out that Marc is mistaken here—the narrator doesn’t claim that; rather, his female friend with him is the one who tells him that the ‘charming child’ looks like Suzanne Delage.↩︎

  13. Messages hidden in character names & onomastics are another classic Wolfe technique.↩︎

  14. Gerry Quinn:

    …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.

    ↩︎
  15. Consider the usual retirement ages for programs like Social Security.↩︎

  16. I suspect that part of the answer here is that Dracula has been too successful in spawning imitators, to the point where the vast universe of vampire alternatives overshadows & distorts the original; readers of Dracula often remark on how different it is from their expectations, which are heavily influenced by imitations like Nosferatu (burning to death in any sunlight) or the endless Hollywood remakes. This destroys intended associations like Dracula/trains and creates red herrings that Wolfe may not have intended, like the daughter/sunlight. This would render SD another example of the difficulty in reading fiction when burdened with too much knowledge.↩︎

  17. Wolfe has named Bram Stoker at least twice as one of the writers who most influenced him in youth. First, around the time of publication of SD in 1980:

    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 DickensH. 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 later in 1988:

    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.

    ↩︎
  18. Stoker is one of Wolfe’s favorite authors, and vampires are a recurring theme. The Book of the Long Sun & The Book of the Short Sun are rife with ‘space vampires’ as key players & manipulators; as well as 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 (ie. 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).↩︎

  19. The usual assumption of readers of SD is that when the Narrator says 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 its identity is unimportant, a nonfiction work of no relevance, 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 embarrassed genre fiction readers (especially Gothic fiction or horror) to dismiss them as merely entertainment or commonplace.

    This description works well for Dracula in particular: it is a genre fiction book which is ‘somewhat’ political (the technological development theme, Catholicism), philosophical (althroughout, especially in the character of Renfield), historical (the background of Transylvania & Dracula, like his monologue), etc.↩︎

  20. 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.↩︎

  21. 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.21 [see Gerard1885] 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 disfavor 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.↩︎

  22. 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”, Robbins2014; “Turning Back the Economic Clock: The real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Robbins2022; and “Bram Stoker, Dracula, and Progress Studies”, Cowen2022, “The Real Value of a Catholic Modernity”.

    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: at the beginning in Chapter 2, Harker discovers that Dracula has a library stuffed full of the latest English publications, which he reads for hours daily, and and has been teaching himself English in eager anticipation of moving to the very center of the world, the London metropole:

    In the library I found, to my great delight, a vast number of English books, whole shelves full of them, and bound volumes of magazines and newspapers. A table in the centre was littered with English magazines and newspapers, though none of them were of very recent date. The books were of the most varied kind—history, ​geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law—all relating to England and English life and customs and manners. There were even such books of reference as the London Directory, the “Red” [UK budget] and “Blue” books, Whitaker’s Almanac, the Army and Navy Lists, and—it somehow gladdened my heart to see it—the Law List.

    …“I am glad you found your way in here, for I am sure there is much that will interest you. These companions”—and he laid his hand on some of the books—“have been good friends to me, and for some years past, ever since I had the idea of going to London, have given me many, many hours of pleasure. Through them I have come to know your great England; and to know her is to love her. I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is. But alas! as yet I only know your tongue through books. To you, my friend, I look that I know it to speak.”

    “But, Count,” I said, “you know and speak English thoroughly!” He bowed gravely. “I thank you, my friend, for your all too-flattering estimate, but yet I fear that I am but a little way on the road I would travel. True, I know the grammar and the words, but yet I know not how to speak them.” “Indeed,” I said, “you speak excellently.”

    And in Chapter 23, Van Helsing explains how Dracula has been experimenting with his powers, ‘waking up’ for the first time in centuries. By doing so, Dracula has been slowly discovering better ways to enter houses by exploiting thralls or how to hide his coffins in undiscoverable & physically-inaccessible places; and that if not stopped by the heroes then, within days might have improved his powers to become eternally unstoppable (in a sort of ‘vampire Singularity’, one might say):

    [Van Helsing:] “…As I learned from the researches of my friend Arminus of Buda-Pesth, he was in life a most wonderful man. Soldier, statesman, and alchemist—which latter was the highest development of the science-knowledge of his time. He had a mighty brain, a learning beyond compare, and a heart that knew no fear and no remorse. He dared ​even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay. Well, in him the brain powers survived the physical death; though it would seem that memory was not all complete. In some faculties of mind he has been, and is, only a child; but he is growing, and some things that were childish at the first are now of man’s stature. He is experimenting, and doing it well; and if it had not been that we have crossed his path he would be yet—he may be yet if we fail—the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life.”

    Harker groaned and said, “And this is all arrayed against my darling! But how is he experimenting? The knowledge may help us to defeat him!”

    “He has all along, since his coming, been trying his power, slowly but surely; that big child-brain of his is working. Well for us, it is, as yet, a child-brain; for had he dared, at the first, to attempt certain things he would long ago have been beyond our power. However, he means to succeed, and a man who has centuries before him can afford to wait and go slow. Festina lente may well be his motto.”

    “I fail to understand,” said Harker wearily. “Oh, do be more plain to me! Perhaps grief and trouble are dulling my brain.”

    The Professor laid his hand tenderly on his shoulder as he spoke:—

    “Ah, my child, I will be plain. Do you not see how, of late, this monster has been creeping into knowledge experimentally. How he has been making use of the zoöphagous patient to effect his entry into friend John’s home; for your Vampire, though in all afterwards he can come when and how he will, must at the first make entry only when asked thereto by an inmate. But these are not his most important experiments. Do we not see how at the first all these so great boxes were moved by others. He knew not then but that must be so. But all the time that so great child-brain of his was growing, and he began to consider whether he might not himself move the box. So he began to help; and then, when he found that this be ​all-right, he try to move them all alone. And so he progress, and he scatter these graves of him; and none but he know where they are hidden. He may have intend to bury them deep in the ground. So that he only use them in the night, or at such time as he can change his form, they do him equal well; and none may know these are his hiding-place! But, my child, do not despair; this knowledge come to him just too late! Already all of his lairs but one be sterilise as for him; and before the sunset this shall be so. Then he have no place where he can move and hide. I delayed this morning that so we might be sure. Is there not more at stake for us than for him?”

    (The contrast here to later vampires, like those of Anne Rice’s vampires, who are psychologically traumatized by a changing world, is remarkable.)↩︎

  23. The Narrator ‘learned a profession, practiced…much sooner..retired’ but also apparently went to college; a profession which is ‘practiced’, benefits from a college education, would be boring & uneventful, and might allow one to retire early, might be a career like solicitor Jonathan Harker—ie. law. It is worth noting that while this is not mentioned in Hamlet I know of, a royal heir like Hamlet would likely have specialized in law during his college career rather than anything else like theology, and in that sense, the monologuing Hamlet was a ‘solicitor’ as well↩︎

  24. Presumably if one is the Bride of Dracula, one is thus an aristocrat: one might even say ‘queens’, by analogy to ‘king of the night’.↩︎

  25. The Annotated Dracula (Wolf1975) suggests, based on a Baedeker, that “Presumably, by the Four Nations Stoker means these three [the Magyars, Szeklers, and Germans] plus the Wallachs”.

    It also references an 1888 estimate by Emily Gerard as 2.17m people, broken down as 1.2m Romanians, 0.65m Hungarians, 0.21m Saxons, 0.08 Gypsies, 0.03 Jews, and 0.01m Armenians.↩︎

  26. As what appeared to be a mainstream Irish liberal in favor of home rule but not independence, Stoker was doubtless not attempting to attack the monarchy, but simply invoke a Dracula-esque parallel decay of aristocratic virtue into vice, particularly sexual vice.↩︎

  27. And we can safely assume, without invoking Dracula parallels, that the Delages & the Narrator are middle/upper-class: the mothers have ample money & leisure to indulge in collecting, the Narrator goes to college & appears to own his house and not genuinely need to labor even in his white-collar occupation, and there is no hint anywhere of finances being a concern.↩︎

  28. Discussing the Dracula passage where Van Helsing says:

    But he is clever. I have asked my friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make his record; and, from all the means that are, he tell me of what he has been. He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land. If it be so, then was he no common man; for in that time, and for centuries after, he was spoken of as the cleverest and the most cunning, as well as the bravest of the sons of the ‘land beyond the forest.’ That mighty brain and that iron resolution went with him to his grave, and are even now arrayed against us. The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due. In the records are such words as stregoica—witch, ordog, and pokol—Satan and hell; and in one manuscript this very Dracula is spoken of as wampyr, which we all understand too well. There have been from the loins of this very one great men and good women, and their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell. For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good; in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest.

    Annotated Dracula (pg215) notes:

    According to Emily Gerard in her [1888] Land Beyond the Forest, “a small lake, immeasurably deep, and lying high up in the mountains to the south of Hermanstadt, is supposed to be the cauldron where is brewed the thunder, under whose water the dragon lies sleeping in fair weather. Romanian peasants anxiously warn the traveller to beware of throwing a stone into this lake, lest it should wake the dragon and provoke a thunderstorm.”

    Miss Gerard also tells us that the inhabitants of Hermanstadt are reputed to be the descendants of those children who followed the Pied Piper as he took his revenge against the pinch-penny burghers of Hamelin. (See map, pg335.)

    ↩︎
  29. Inasmuch as used copies are plentiful 48 years later, Wolf published a followup edition (The Essential Dracula 1993—insultingly, Wolf stole the title of an entirely different quasi-sequel to Annotated, the Raymond McNally & Radu Florescu1979 Essential Dracula!), not to be confused with the Leslie Klinger2008 The New Annotated Dracula↩︎

  30. 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 or Manhattan 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/Manhattan instead of London. Perhaps if Bram Stoker had visited New England harbors instead of English ones, we would have had a rather different Dracula!↩︎

  31. 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.↩︎

  32. It is worth noting that, aside from the Ghost’s statements, there is little or no evidence in the rest of the play that Queen Gertrude knows King Claudius murdered her husband, as she generally appears to be a guileless pawn who wants what’s best for Hamlet, who dies by accident.↩︎

  33. Dracula appears to prefer ships & carriages for bulk transport when necessary, but of course those would not be options here.↩︎

  34. 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).↩︎

  35. 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 giant wolf (Dracula), 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.

    In the Hamlet parallels, it’s striking that both Ophelia & Queen Gertrude die as a result of the conflict, but in accidental ways not intended by any of the men (similar to Lucy’s mother dying by accident).↩︎

  36. 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.)↩︎

  37. 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.↩︎

  38. Conversely, as part of humanity’s progress, the heroes are constantly sharing, copying, compiling, sealing, or making documents in all sorts of forms: the very latest & advanced shorthand (Pitman shorthand) as well as longhand text, telegraphs, typewritten clean copies, wax phonograph cylinders, newspapers & gazettes… and reviewing the documents & correcting each other. (Annotated Dracula argues that all of the setbacks the heroes have are because they failed to communicate even more than they did.)

    With the heroes’ collaboration in mind, it is suspicious that the Narrator of SD consults only his own documents and refers to no one else’s documents. Why not, for example, ask to borrow his female friend’s yearbooks? Or check the local library? (It’s not like he has anything better to do, as a lonely child-less divorced retiree who apparently spends his time merely reading pulp books with no hobbies or community involvement.)↩︎

  39. 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.

    ↩︎
  40. It is worth mentioning that Jonathan & Mina Harker have a son, rather than Suzanne Delage & unknown having a ‘daughter’.↩︎

  41. 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 America in this period, he should not have been living in a town of approximately the same size ‘all his life’, and the highschool should have either been demolished & rebuilt on a much larger scale or new high schools built. Nor is there any other hint of the city growing or changing after he returned from the implied college.

    This hints that the town ceased growing and may 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.↩︎

  42. See also Jolenta in Book of the New Sun, Cassie in An Evil Guest, or the ‘goddess’ in There Are Doors.↩︎

  43. The Annotated Dracula emphasizes how (as of Wolf writing in 1975) this was a major difference between the Stokerian Dracula and the massive wave of popular vampires:

    It should also be noted that here, once again, we see Dracula abroad in daylight. This will happen still another time in Stoker’s story, though, interestingly enough, the film industry has taken it as dogma that a vampire cannot stir abroad by day…This impulse to make law out of lore is very powerful and finds its most vivid expression in the film industry’s treatment of the vampire.

    ↩︎

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