Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Bloodsmoor Romance attempts to re-create a period novel form that no longer exists. Contemporary fiction is generally either realistic or fantastic. In the nineteenth century, however, fantasy and reality could mix freely in what was known as the romance. Contemporary novelists who try to insert fantasy in reality are often misunderstood or scolded by critics for mixing their genres. When British novelist Nevil Shute added some fantasy to one of his novels, the critics advised him to stick to the type of realism that his readers had come to expect in his works.

Joyce Carol Oates, by calling her novel a romance, is clearly signaling her readers that there will be certain elements of fantasy in addition to the real-seeming story that she is trying to tell. Some of the fantasy includes the mysterious balloonist who kidnaps Deirdre Zinn, the time machine invented and destroyed by Mr. Zinn, and the mysterious change by which Constance Philippa becomes a man in body as she becomes more masculine and assertive in character.

The realistic story line includes the poor but loving family, the real inventions of an age of inventiveness, as well as the enthusiasm with which the nation moved from the innocence of a primarily agrarian culture into the somewhat jaded technological realities of the twentieth century.

Of all the writers who might try to create a romance, Oates is one of the ablest. She is a prolific writer of more than thirteen novels, including them (1969), the winner of the National Book Award. In addition, she has published volumes of short stories, poems, and essays, as well as several plays.

Besides being a writer, Oates is a teacher, too, with credentials in literature. She has written much criticism in which she often takes male writers to task for their limited views on women’s potential, both intellectual and sexual. She portrays in her own intellectual life the sorts of honors that gifted women can accomplish. Oates is the winner of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Lotos Club.