Places: Bellefleur

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1980

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Mid-sixteenth to late twentieth centuries

Places DiscussedBellefleur Manor

Bellefleur BellefleurManor. Ancestral home of the Bellefleurs, a large American clan whose roots go back to the American Revolution. The family mansion sits on the shores of mythic Lake Noir near the Canadian border, a region similar to the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Over the years, the family gains control over a vast part of the region. As its wealth and influence grow, it advertises its power by building the manor as a grand castle. However, the great structure is both castle and prison, for it binds all the Bellefleurs–living and dead, past and present, young and old–together forever. To be a Bellefleur is to be a captive in Bellefleur Manor and its region, forced to live with all manner of oddities brought on by a family tradition of intermarriage among cousins.

An eerie, coppery pink in color, the house is a huge structure with “innumerable walls and towers and turrets and minarets,” like “a castle composed in a feverish sleep.” By the late twentieth century, the castle has fallen into serious disrepair, along with the fortunes of the family. It is leaking, broken, and occupied by cats, rats, ghosts, a vampire, and a mass murderer. The house and family fortune are eventually rescued by Leah Bellefleur, but the manor is then destroyed by her husband, Gideon, in a violent act that kills most members of the clan, including Gideon and Leah themselves. However, their children are spared, and the manor’s destruction frees them from the hold it has long exercised on their family.

Along with many rooms and suites for family members and their wives and children, the manor contains a nursery for the children, in which they are tutored by Hiram Bellefleur, and a walled garden where the children play. It is from this garden that a huge bird–the Noir Vulture–one day snatches one of the Bellefleur children and carries her off. A particularly more mysterious area of the manor is the Turquoise Room, also known as the “Room of Contamination,” in which Samuel Bellefleur locks himself, never to reappear again. Young Bromwell Bellefleur claims one of the manor’s towers as his laboratory, and he eventually becomes a famous astrophysicist. Another room is occupied by the vampire Veronica Bellefleur.

Cemetery

Cemetery. Family burial place, located just beyond the manor’s walled garden, near Mink Creek. Mink Pond, created by Mink Creek, is the favorite hideout of Raphael Bellefleur, who one day is attacked by a tenant farmer’s son (or perhaps a dog); he is saved from dying when the pond’s waters close over him. Later the pond mysteriously dries up, and Raphael disappears. Yolande Bellefleur is also attacked by the same boy (or dog) in the cemetery. She flees and hides in the barn, where her brother Garth saves her from the attacker by burning the barn.

Lake Noir

Lake Noir. Dark and mysterious body of water on which the manor sits. The lake claims the lives of several members of the Bellefleur clan. It is said to be inhabited by humanlike creatures who live just below its surface and walk upside down on the water. Their activity can be seen most easily during the winter, when the Lake is covered with an exceptionally thick coat of ice.

Nautagua County

Nautagua County. Mountainous region surrounding Lake Noir. Its Mount Blanc is the home of Jedediah Bellefleur, a hermit who dedicates himself to worshiping God. Ewan Bellefleur is the sheriff of the county, which, in addition to Bellefleur Village, contains such towns as Nautagua Falls, Port Oriskany, Mount Kittery, Paie-des-Sables, and Innisfail, in which Jean Pierre commits his mass murders.

BibliographyBender, Eileen T. “History as Woman’s Game: ‘Bellefleur’ as Texte de Jouissance.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 76, nos. 2/3 (Summer/Fall, 1993): 369-381. Asserts that “unshapely, fueled by waves of ungratified desire, Bellefleur is an audacious and revisionary model of historical fiction.”Creighton, Joanne V. Joyce Carol Oates: Novels of the Middle Years. New York: Twayne, 1992. A critical analysis of Oates’s novels and essays published between 1977 and 1990. Calls Bellefleur Oates’s “most impressive reworking” of the nineteenth century gothic genre.Cunningham, Valentine. “Counting up the Cost.” Times Literary Supplement, March 20, 1981, 303. Describes Bellefleur as bloated with details and suffused with “peculiarly American” horrors.Nodelman, Perry. “The Sense of Unending: Joyce Carol Oates’s Bellefleur as an Experiment in Feminine Storytelling.” In Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction, edited by Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989. Argues that Bellefleur, in its nonchronological approach to storytelling, is especially feminine in its experimentation because it transcends “the limitations of both conventional and conventionally innovative forms of fiction” represented by the traditional narrative form of conflict, crisis, and resolution.Oates, Joyce Carol. (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities. 1st ed. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1988. A collection of Oates’s own musings on writing and the woman writer. Contains the preface to Bellefleur, in which Oates discusses the classification of the novel as gothic and reveals the one image from which the novel grew.
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