Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462
Joyce Carol Oates’s book A Bloodsmoor Romance is not a kind of fiction that is easily named, although it is not hard to recognize. The work combines both realism and fantasy in a display of authorial skill: Oates uses several techniques to achieve this effect. First, she sets her romance...
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- Critical Essays
Joyce Carol Oates’s book A Bloodsmoor Romance is not a kind of fiction that is easily named, although it is not hard to recognize. The work combines both realism and fantasy in a display of authorial skill: Oates uses several techniques to achieve this effect. First, she sets her romance in a past that closely resembles the historical past; in that setting one finds both fictional characters and characters who bear the names of figures from history. In addition, the characters of the work are interested in many of the things that interested the real nineteenth century: spiritualism, the theater, the westward movement, experimental science, abnormal psychology, female sexuality, and the nature of marriage.
It is Oates’s second technique that sets the work apart from historical romances per se: She freely manipulates the order of historical events and even adds events that could not possibly occur. John Quincey Zinn demonstrates both of these intrusions of fantasy: He invents the ballpoint pen and solar heating but dismisses them as useless. He invents an operating time machine, but he destroys it after he uses it to misplace one of his pupils. Similarly, Zinn’s daughter Constance combines fantasy with history. Reared for marriage, Constance spends her early life accumulating household linens, but when the wedding night comes, she panics, and placing in her groom’s bed the dress form used to fit her trousseau, she runs away. Disguising herself as a man, she heads west and tries her hand at being a cowboy, an outlaw, a deputy sheriff, and a gambler. During her masquerade, she turns physically into a man as well, and when she returns to the family home at Bloodsmoor, she poses as Philippe Fox, Constance’s agent. Eventually, “he” apparently elopes with a childhood girlfriend.
The plot of the book unfolds by following the lives of the daughters as they grow up. In their adventures, the reader meets several characters drawn from history. For example, Deirdre, the Zinns’ adopted daughter, is kidnapped by a mysterious stranger in a black balloon who deposits her on the lawn of a character named Madame Elena Blavatsky. This Madame Blavatsky shares the quirks of the historical Madame Blavatsky, cofounder of the American Theosophical Society. Recognizing Deirdre’s talents, Oates’s Blavatsky teaches Deirdre to become a medium, contacting spirits beyond the grave, and takes her on a world tour. The reader meets other fictional characters with real counterparts as well: Mark Twain, for one.
As may be inferred from the events recounted above, A Bloodsmoor Romance is an often hilariously comic work, yet one that at the same time attempts to capture some of the boundless enthusiasm of the late nineteenth century, an enthusiasm that was often as undiscriminating as it was energetic.