Literary Marriages: A Study of Intertextuality in a Series of Short Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

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Reading the story positively, it could be a sign of enlightenment, or maturation, perhaps. Given Joyce Carol Oates's likely familiarity with Thomas Mann's novella, and given the identity of the basic motifs informing the two works, along with a number of secondary motifs in common, it seems reasonable to consider "Tristan" as yet another intertext for "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? The question arises: is Joyce Carol Oates's story another link in the chain, a dialogue with Mann's novella?

In each case, Oates transformed the original text in varying ways, creating new texts which could stand on their own as independent stories. She then looks at four of the five stories and at Oates's transformations. In "The Lady with the Pet Dog," the setting is changed to contemporary America, the narrative perspective from male protagonist to female, and some details are changed, others added; plot and theme remain essentially the same.

The result is a story "less imagined than transposed" In "The Metamorphosis" the setting is again changed to the United States, and details and characters are added, with the reactions of the family given additional prominence. In "The Dead," structure, theme, and some language and symbolism are parallel with Joyce's original, as is the emotional sterility of the protagonist, and the "dead" environment.

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Setting and plot are different, and the point of view is female rather than male. The structure of "Tristan" exposition, followed by chronological action has been retained, but shortened. The ending is also transformed and simplified. Arnold Friend, again quite simply, is left as the unambivalent victor. Common to both texts is the power of music and its use as a weapon of seduction. Gabriele loved music, and before her marriage she played the piano Thus it required only relative solitude, a piano, and the fortuitous presence of music by Chopin and Wagner for Spinell to make effective use of this weapon.

Connie also loves the popular music of her time, and Ellie's transistor radio happens to be tuned to the very same station she was listening to when the men arrived The music creates a bond of shared interest between the two men and Connie, and it can be heard constantly in the background throughout Arnold Friend's seduction attempt. Nevertheless, changes were necessary, even here.

The transformation of setting and protagonist brought with it the change from Wagner to Presley et al, and from actively playing the piano to passively listening to a radio.


Because of Oates's transformed narrative situation, this was still not enough. In contrast, Friend faces a more difficult task than did Spinell. His desires are decidedly carnal, and the element of danger for Connie in going for a ride with the men is far more tangible and immediate than playing the piano in the sanatorium drawing room. How then to convince her? Oates solves the problem by splitting Mann's seducer into two figures. Ellie Oscar, with Spinell's appearance, suspect masculinity, and the music, is simply not enough, so Spinell's ability to persuade is amalgamated with that of Charles Schmid in the charismatic masculinity of Arnold Friend, who then takes center stage, opposite Connie.

At first, it might seem doubtful.

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  • There is no explicit link to "Tristan," no "signpost" for the general reader, who would not likely notice, for instance, the description of Ellie Oscar. But whether in the European sanatorium or the American Southwest, the end result is the same: the probable death of a young woman. Avant, John Alfred. Bastian, Katherine. Bellamy, Joe David. Clemons, Walter.

    Dessommes, Nancy Bishop. Peter Freese. Essen: Blaue Eule, Easterly, Joan. Friedman, Ellen. Linda W. Boston: Hall, Healey, James. Herget, Winfried. Invisible Writer. A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Dutton, Reaske, ed. John R.

    Knott, Jr. San Francisco: Canfield Press, Lee, Betty. Mann, Thomas. New York: Vintage Paperback ed.

    Milazzo, Lee. Conversations with Joyce Carol Oates. Joan is a divorce with a two-. She is described as a nervous, unhappy, confused young woman, sometimes morbidly dependent upon Howard, and at other times quite indifferent to him This brief description of Joan is entirely psychological, whereas Emilia is described in physical terms.

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    She is seen as extremely beautiful, Emilias face, for instance, is heart-shaped, girlish, pretty Before arriving at her house and having seen only one blurred photograph, he had simply not given much thought to the widow. Since the research project has been his primary interest, he has up to this point seen her as a presence, a medium between himself and the dead poet How right he was indeed! It is of interest to note here that this will also be his final impression of her.

    However, in between these two stages there is a middle section where his conception of Emilia as a woman takes over entirely, i e, on the level of physical reality. Right before he is to meet Emilia, he does begin to think of her, perhaps unconsciously, in sexual terms.

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    He thinks of how his letter asking permission to come and do research must have touched her in a special way that no other similar request had. In fact, a Harvard man he knew, much better established than Howard, had been refused. He thinks of his own letter as a seed fertilizing an egg, so swiftly, so accidentally, yet by immutable design a single seed, a single egg, while billions of other seeds had been helpless, wasted, sterile As she later shows him around the house he notices her legs as she ascends the stairs before him, and he stares at her back He also remarks that she has a tendency to stay close to him and had a habit of lightly touching his arm with her fingertips This is of course reminiscient of Pearces magic touch.

    By touching a person with his fingertips he could absorb that person Doubtlessly, but without being tangible, this kind of ability to enter the lives of others reminds us of some of Oatess pronouncements. As it turns out, Pearce has perpetuated this ability through Emilia. All throughout the physical level where Emilia is seen as a sexual figure and which ends in betrayal, there is at the outset a dreamy or hazy atmosphere enveloping their relationship.

    This is a characteristic to reappear in several of the stories to be discussed. Perhaps simple giddiness from being in love makes Howard experience their love-making like an event in a dream Or is it his sense of unreality, of experiencing the impossible? Her eyes, her. He is exposed to the mystical transformative qualities of love. The sexual act becomes a sacrament transporting him onto planes of existence far from his usual mundane world.

    In the Pearces marital bed there is simply not a fusion of two, but of Howard, Emilia, as well as Connell: The boundaries between the three of them became hazy This very scene is later repeated in Oatess The Dead where the present lover is fused with lovers of the past, including the dead. Just as Emilia had picked out Howard among numerous other scholars, so had Connell picked her out among other women to marry. Although she was already married at the time, she had left her husband, feeling she had no choice.

    I had to go with Connell Since this was only a few months before his death, she never got to know him very well. Neither did anyone else: He didnt want anyone to know him, because he thought people would confuse him with his poetry. He just wanted the poetry, i e, the mystery or transformative powers of literature These are the very ideas expressed by the writers persona, the eidolon and the physical writer that Oates brings to the forefront in JCO and I.

    It does appear as if Pearce had carefully prepared his departure. He alone knew that he was suffering from cancer. He then decided to marry a young and beautiful woman. Together they returned to his home town, but not to the house where he grew up. Instead he purchased one of the largest farms in the area, and in the bargain obtained someone elses inheritance; the house came complete with furnishings et al.

    Joyce Carol Oates's Early Short Stories

    He wanted to be remembered as a poet not as a man. The temporal housing of his literary production in someone elses home is akin to using the corporal body to house the soul, or as in this story, the poet housing his literary legacy and his spirit with a beautiful woman he barely knows. In a similar way, the poets art is housed within Howard through his sexual affair with the poets wife, but like the human body, or the house with its furnishings, the affair is temporal. His scholarly study to be written will then be the concrete result, or fertilization, of that union.

    The book thus conceived, hopefully to be published, will render the poets art eternal. According to Oatess theory of art discussed in this chapter, The Sacred Marriage exemplifies and testifies to the overwhelming power and mystery of art and the artist, in a positive sense, to transform the individual. When perusing Pearces papers Howard runs across notes from some religious riddles and parables.

    With mounting stupefaction he proceeds to read the story of a Spanish novelists transformation from man into his art: X is about to die and wants to write the novel of his own life, extended beyond his life. In Madrid he selects a certain woman. He is a noble, dying old man, she is a very beautiful young woman. She is worthy of being his wife. And therefore he marries her, and she nurses him through his last illness, buries him, and blesses all the admirers of his art who come to her, or she alone retains Xs divinity.