Friday, August 24, 2007


There are some questions I carry around with me all day, kind of like a lumpy purse. There's Why am I so much colder than everyone else all the time? There's Now that Karl Rove has resigned, who's operating Bush's neuroanatomy? And then there's the eternal Celery: why?

Lately, though, my oldies but goodies have been shoved aside to make room for a new and pressing query. Lately all I have the strength to wonder is: What's the point of Susan Stringham?

Susan Stringham, for those of you who don't operate my neuroanatomy, is a peripheral character in Henry James' The Wings of the Dove. (This is a book club, right? I thought this was a book club.) I'm smack in the middle of the novel right now, and the three main characters are, in turn, smack in the middle of their nasty little machinatory muddle. Some of them are busy embodying passivity, some of them are busy embodying activity, and some of them are busy embodying passivity in the service of activity. And in the midst of it all, poor little Susan Stringham, nee Shepard, is busy embodying, as far as I can make out, squat.

Other peripheral characters serve as foils or perform instrumental plot functions. Other peripheral characters -Mrs. Lowder, Lord Mark- have substance, or, at the very least, style. What has Susan got? A one-paragraph, snooze-worthy backstory, a little bit of hand-wringing, a lot of zero.

As a result, she's all I think about. Is James just going to leave her dangling there? Or is she going to be like gasoline: inert until tossed on the fire? I confess I can't see it, but if Susan Stringham does ignite a blaze, I'll be the more delighted for my blindness.

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