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Literary Marriages

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

Monica Loeb

A series of intertextual short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, published in 1972, constitutes the subject-matter of the present work. Having entered into ‘literary marriages’ with beloved masters, such as Kafka, Joyce, Thoreau, Flaubert, James and Chekhov, Oates has ‘re-imagined’ their classic masterpieces.
This study aims at finding out whether Oates remains ‘faithful’ to the original versions. What elements besides the titles are retained, or added? Why does a young American woman writer undertake a dialogue with deceased authors and their texts? Why the short story genre? What is Oates’s relationship to intertextuality, literary tradition, or the very aesthetics of her own art?
Grounded in theories of intertextuality, comparative analyses show that Oates remains ‘faithful’ in some of her spiritual unions, while committing ‘infidelities’ in others. For a woman writer in the 1970s transgression was a necessity for survival; these stories thus belong to the revisionary movement. While assimilating and engendering a strongly Eurocentred male literary tradition, Oates manages to unlock energy from the original stories transforming them into expressions of her very own distinct literary voice.
Contents: Prolegomena to Oates's aesthetics – Theories of intertextuality – Joyce's «The Dead» resurrected – Chekhov's «The Lady with the Pet Dog» re-visioned – Metamorphosis in Kafka and Oates – Thoreau's «Walden» revisited – Oates's version of Flaubert's «La Spirale» – Henry James' «The Turn of the Screw» times three.