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Joyce Carol Oates: Bellefleur

At the beginning of the 1980s, Oates went Gothic. In other words, she wrote a few Gothic novels. Some would say that she parodied them, while others would argue that she took the form and revitalised it. Of course, she has used Gothic touches in her previous novels, from Wonderland to The Triumph of the Spider Monkey but this is the first time that she has written a full-length unashamedly Gothic novel. She starts off with the traditional Dracula castle with a storm and a strange cat and rarely lets up the Gothic stuff in this long novel. The novel is the story of the Bellefleur family over several generations, starting at the time of the American Revolution and more or less ending with Gideon and his ambitious wife, Leah, in the present day. Leah wants to restore the family to the situation it was in at the time of the American Revolution under Jean-Pierre Bellefleur, with a huge estate in upstate New York. Gideon is determined to stop her and does. We follow, in a complex plot, their stories, with particular emphasis on the Civil War (Lincoln even fakes his own assassination) and, of course, death and mayhem ensue, as they do in Oates novels. The family, as it must in a Gothic novel, has its own curse. The family members are gloomy and melancholic and can be obsessive and anti-social. In addition, strange creatures, nasty crimes and other Gothic elements are woven into the story. It is enormous fun but also very well written, as always.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Dutton