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Résister aux normes et se confronter au backlash : genre et sexualité dans les Amériques

Deconstructing Gender Roles and Digesting the Magic of Folktales and Fairy Tales in Annie Proulx’s Omnivorous Wyoming Stories

La déconstruction des stéréotypes de genre et le recyclage des contes de fée et des contes folkloriques dans les nouvelles du Wyoming d’Annie Proulx
A desconstrução dos estereótipos de gênero e reciclagem de contos de fadas e dos contos folclóricos nas novelas do Wyoming d’Annie Proulx
Deconstruyendo los estereotipos de género y digeriendo la magia de los cuentos tradicionales y de hadas en los Relatos omnívoros de Wyoming de Annie Proulx
Bénédicte Meillon


Au-delà des nombreuses études portant sur l’entreprise de déconstruction des mythes de l’Ouest Américain dans l’écriture d’Annie Proulx, cet article sonde ses nouvelles du Wyoming, véritables palimpsestes qui transgressent les normes et conventions dominantes en matière de genres littéraires autant que sociaux. S’intéressant aux réécritures grotesques et féministes de contes de fées et de contes folkloriques, cet article affirme que l’art de la nouvelle sous la plume de Proulx offre un outil redoutable pour démonter les discours idéologiques qui perpétuent des stéréotypes de genres par le biais de ces formes anciennes de récits brefs. Recyclant la magie des vieux contes, les récits postmodernistes et omnivores de Proulx se nourrissent de fragments et de mythèmes qui exposent et rechargent la puissance transformationnelle des formes discursives. Sa pratique subversive et ludique de la mythopée donne une écriture métatextuelle qui montre la voie vers des envolées libératrices de l’imagination et permettent de faire bouger les lignes de démarcation entre les genres établis.

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I/ Introduction

In their very shortness, short stories have remained close to the original source of narrative in myth, folktale, fable and fairy tale. They therefore are more apt to focus on basic desires, dreams, anxieties, and fears than novels. (May 1994, xxvi)

  • 1 Alex Hunt’s collection of essays deals mostly with Proulx’s rewriting of North American founding my (...)
  • 2 In using the term “magical realism” I am referring to the merging of magic events within a realisti (...)
  • 3 Karen Rood repeatedly does mention Proulx’s use of magical realism, without however showing how it (...)
  • 4 Charles E. May grounds his own thesis in Eikhenbaum’s vision of the short story as a “fundamental, (...)
  • 5 See my article in “Unreal”. I have analyzed elsewhere Proulx’s postmodernist play with Dante’s Infe (...)
  • 6 I am referring to Gérard Genette’s theory of intertextuality in his book Palimpsestes: La literatur (...)

1Many scholars have recently analyzed the demythologizing enterprise in Annie Proulx’s fiction, but few have focused on how entangled this is with a strategic use of magic and her rewriting of older, short narratives.1 In comparing Proulx’s short fiction with her novels, the former distinguishes itself from the latter by her prevalent use of magical realism,2 and by her ostensible recycling of literary myths, folktales and fairy tales.3 Proulx depicts herself as “an omnivorous reader”. She argues that “one has only to read the One Thousand and One Nights or The Decameron or the Grimm Brothers’ collection of folktales to see that there are old, old stories that humans constantly reuse” (Cox). Corroborating Charles E. May’s thesis affiliating the short story with derivations from older forms of oral narratives, these tales ingested by Proulx provide a characteristic staple of her three collections of Wyoming stories, and may help theorize enduring differences between the novel and the short story.4 Having written elsewhere on fantastic apparitions, on the magical realism at work in her questioning of women’s inheritance, and on the ecofeminist plotting and imagery in her Wyoming collections that underscore man’s silencing and abuse of both women and nature,5 I here scrutinize the palimpsestuous relationship tying her postmodernist stories to older forms of short narratives in relation to gender ideologies.6 One after the other, Proulx’s stories bluntly write over the patriarchal myths that form the fabric of North American civilization, such as the dream of the West, the Cowboy myth or the fulfillment-of-the-feminine-in-happy-marriage myth. By showing how these ideological constructs determine individual choices and often shape the tragic lives of her characters, Proulx challenges these stereotype-perpetuating discourses and calls for new mythologies. As Katie O. Arosteguy has demonstrated, “Proulx rewrites the genre of the Western from a feminist perspective that deconstructs the figure of the cowboy–an iconic image of US masculinity” (117). This essay contends that Proulx’s feminist revision of the West is furthermore tied to her revisions of folktales and fairy tales.

  • 7 See Alex Hunt, p. 2. In his introduction, Alex Hunt brings together the various tensions underlying (...)
  • 8 In using the adjectives “postmodern” and “postmodernist,” I am referring respectively to a socio-cu (...)
  • 9 As Jack Zipes shows, there “is a direct line form the Perrault fairy tale of court society to the W (...)

2Proulx’s critics underline the ambivalent responses her fiction arouses, with characters that read as both realistic and caricatured, places likewise real and hyperreal, and with a postmodernist style that is also a critique of postmodernity.7 But this tension is precisely what lies at the heart of postmodernist art, which, in Linda Hutcheon’s words, “uses and abuses, installs and subverts, the very concepts it challenges” (3).8 Just as Proulx consistently explores mythologies of place, while challenging the adequacy of the myth to represent people’s actual situations, the same applies to her rewriting of mythologies of gender, particularly as they may be encapsulated in certain old fairy-tale archetypes and solidified in their more modern, Disneyfied versions.9 Proulx’s three collections of Wyoming stories cover in their plots a time span going from the end of the nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, making visible the continuum between three generations and the stories passed on from one to the other. Nearly all her characters seem mired in the Pioneer ethos of the early European settlers, including prevailing gender stereotypes of masculine dominion and feminine submission.

  • 10 In Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, Zipes focuses at great length on demonstrating the long-l (...)
  • 11 This is an aspect of women’s inheritance in Proulx’s fiction that I have discussed in “Inheriting,” (...)

3Proulx’s women are confined by the conservative values passed on to young girls via fairy tales such as the Grimm brothers’ or Perrault’s and their subsequent Disney adaptations of “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” stories presenting meek, enduring young women whose kindness and resilience are to be rewarded by happy marriages, or whose curiosity and disobedience are to be punished, as in Perrault’s “Bluebeard.”10 Scanning many generations from pioneer to modern-day characters, the situations of Proulx’s Wyoming women are exposed in stark contrast with the early Victorian ideal of woman which permeated the fairy tales of the pioneers, casting a docile and unselfish Angel in the house, devoted to her husband and children’s well-being.11 Proulx’s fiction underlines that as socio-cultural contexts evolve, myths can turn into an anomic curse for the subjects who lack the imagination to reinvent themselves or to write new stories that might better coalesce with their dreams and desires, their identities and environments.

4As with much postmodernist art, not only does Proulx’s short fiction exhibit awareness of all forms of discourse as constructs, it simultaneously and playfully foregrounds its own ingestion and transformation of old tales. As Cristina Bacchilega argues about revisionist fairy tales, “these postmodern transformations do not exploit the fairy tale’s magic simply to make the spell work, but rather to unmake some of its workings” (23). Focusing closely on Proulx’s rewriting of fairy tales, folktales and myths, I seek to elucidate why Proulx’s use of magical realism often works in conjunction with feminist revision of old tales. I will first look at the metafictional aspects of Proulx’s stories that call attention to a folk and literary legacy. Relying on Jack Zipes’s theory of the fairy-tale genre, I will then turn to Proulx’s feminist rewriting of fairy tales in an endeavor to unpack the ideological, revisionist quality of her tales. Finally, I will tease out the implications of Proulx’s alternative scenarios for women.

II/ Proulx’s cross-genre story-telling: turning folktales and fairy tales into short stories

  • 12 This folk tale was popularized by the release in 2000 of the Czech film Little Otik by Kan Švankmaj (...)
  • 13 As I have developed elsewhere, this may on another level encapsulate a moral dimension, exhibiting (...)
  • 14 In The Missouri Review, Proulx elaborates on the influence of her initial training as a history maj (...)

5Feeding on grotesque fairy tales and folktales, there is often something monstrous about Proulx’s short stories, both in the cruelty they can exhibit and in the hybrid forms they take. As a matter of fact, her art of recycling via the short story is metatextually encapsulated in the eponymous “sagebrush kid” in one story–a freakish creature that has turned into a supersized carnivorous plant, devouring anybody who comes its way through the Wyoming desert. Revisiting the topos of the monstrous man-eating child, Proulx’s story seems to have ingested the Czech folktale turned into a classical fairy tale by Karel Jaromir Erben, entitled “Otesánek.”12 In the Czech story, as the insatiable log child eats people up, including its adoptive parents, it develops the frightening habit of reciting the list of people it has heretofore devoured–a list that grows proportionately to the ever-developing monster, and that the log child artfully turns into a kind of nursery rhyme. It is hard not to think in that light of the way Proulx’s stories descend from, cannibalize, and pay tribute to their own genitors. Proulx’s American version of “Otesánek” intimates that the sagebrush has metamorphosed into a gobbling mutant as a result of its adoptive mother feeding it meat bones and scraps. Read metatextually, this may evoke Proulx’s recycling of cultural débris from older tales, which she nurtures her own hybrid and transformative stories with, while dropping clues here and there to the many tales that have been ingested to feed her insatiable storytelling growth.13 Under her pen, the short story turns into a powerful, condensed art form with a long genealogy rooted in folktales and fairy tales, as well as in the many true-life anecdotes that Proulx gathers and ruminates.14 Ultimately, the growth of the sagebrush may self-reflexively symbolize Proulx’s genesis of omnivorous stories, thriving on digested fairy-tale topoi, folktales, mythèmes, real-life anecdotes, and raw news items.

  • 15 Ellen Boyd sums up and analyzes Proulx’s story in relationship with various versions of the oral Ic (...)

6That Proulx’s stories draw on folktales is made explicit in the preface to her first volume of Wyoming stories. “The Blood Bay,” she tells us, is “a Wyoming twist on the folktale ‘The Calf that Ate the Traveler,’ known in many stock raising cultures” while the opening story, “The Half-Skinned Steer,” is “based on an old Icelandic folktale, ‘Porgier’s Bull’” (Proulx 2003, 10).15 Since both stories by Proulx underline the fantasizing at work in storytelling, they partly sap the foundations of the stories they incorporate.

7Resting on interlaced, embedded narratives, “The Half-Skinned Steer” pays a tribute to old folk stories which have engendered many literary fairy tales and short stories, with their emphasis on orality and skaz. The frame narrative is told by a heterodiegetic narrator, although filtered through Mero’s point of view and memories. At that moment, Mero is an old man, driving from Massachusetts back to the family ranch in Wyoming to bury his brother. The embedded parts contain analepses going back to the time when Mero left Wyoming as a young man. These parts of the story are also delivered by the same extradiegetic narrator, using Mero as focalizing agent; yet they incorporate the voice of the intradiegetic narrator, Mero’s stepmother, just as Mero remembers hearing it. Thus, the reader gets a word-for-word version of the gruesome story of the half-skinned steer told long ago by Mero’s stepmother. Readers are nevertheless warned that she “was a total liar” (Proulx 2003, 32). The omniscient narrator debunks the eponymous story of the half-skinned steer as mere yarn, discrediting the teller’s “low and convincing liar’s voice.” She is remembered as having an enticing voice “that drew you in, that low, twangy voice, wouldn’t matter if she was saying the alphabet, what you heard was the rustle of hay. She could make you smell the smoke from an unlit fire” (Proulx 2003, 35). Proulx’s frame narrative thus foregrounds the synesthetic magic at work in storytelling, with its power to ignite our imagination as well as our senses, our awareness of the fictionality of stories notwithstanding.

  • 16 For more developed interpretations based on close reading, see my articles where I venture ecofemin (...)

8In addition, Mero’s brother’s name is Rollo, meaning “hot air” in Spanish, which, understood idiomatically, arguably alludes to the tall-tale quality of the whole story. Consequently, as the half-skinned steer unexpectedly resurfaces at the end, but this time in the frame story, this metaleptic contagion appears in a self-reflexive light. Because the story of the half-skinned steer has been presented from the start as unreliable fabrication, the eponymous frame narrative, via a porosity effect, might be apprehended with the same awareness of the artificiality at play. However, the frightening apparition of the maimed animal within Mero’s field of vision at the end of the story is nonetheless potent and disturbing for the reader. Proulx’s postmodernist rewriting paradoxically undercuts the original story and yet forcefully re-empowers the eponymous steer with foreboding potency.16 Despite all the elements working against a verisimilitude effect when it comes to the steer’s magic, this very magic is eventually reactivated by Proulx’s contemporary story. While the marvelous from the old Icelandic folktale is at first Americanized and debunked, it is nevertheless rehabilitated by Proulx’s story ending, thus reclaiming and recharging the magic power held by the previous versions of this incredible story, and inherent in storytelling more generally.

  • 17 This is the case for instance in “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,” as I have demonstrated in my a (...)

9In “The Blood Bay,” the narrator recounts a pleasant evening, “eating, drinking and playing cards, swapping lies” (Proulx 2003, 95). Passing on folktales is likened to “swapping lies,” again highlighting the tall-tale quality of Proulx’s craft. In the end, this story derides Grice’s gullibility while playfully marking the borderline between the codes of the uncanny and the fantastic as defined by Todorov. As Grice comes up with a fantastic interpretation of the horrid human remains he finds inside his shack, readers are well-aware of the rational, if nauseating explanation for those. The pleasure derived from this story mostly results from the framing of impossible events within dramatic irony–a narrative strategy which deflates the horror and magic, and enhances the grotesque and satirical dimensions of the story. While it is evident that there is no supernatural event at work in this plot, other magical realist stories in the three collections allow for multiple interpretations, wavering between fantastic and rational interpretations without privileging either.17 With Grice playing the role of the fool, “The Blood Bay” reveals the satirical and moral dimensions of her multilayered stories, inviting readers to view her often grotesque palimpsests through a sociopolitical lens, whether in relationship to environmental or social awareness.

10The same dry irony points to the intertextual play with many fairy tale topoi. For instance, in “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,” the narrator recounts the story of Ottaline, growing up on an isolated ranch, who starts conversing with a grotesque, broken-down, and talking John Deere tractor. That the story alludes to “The Frog Prince” is evident in one of the dialogues between the protagonist and the enamored, monstrous creature, when Ottaline comically asks: “‘Are you like an enchanted thing? A damn story where some girl lets a warty old toad sleep in her shoe and in the mornin the toad’s a good-lookin dude makin omelettes?’” (Proulx 2003, 138). At first, Ottaline’s skepticism with regard to the possibility of magic transformation comically undercuts fairy-tale values (“a damn story”). Her irreverent language debunks the notion that she truly expects the non-human creature to transform into Prince Charming, a delusive topos inherited from many a fairy tale and which Proulx consistently attacks. It underscores the preposterous idea of turning overnight from a “warty old toad” into “a good lookin dude making omelettes,” while implying that as opposed to “some girl,” Ottaline would not be so foolish as to fall for a repulsive mate in the hope for his magic transmogrification.

11Other, less direct references to the fairy-tale genre are strewn throughout the collection via significant details working as intertextual signposts. In “Dump Junk,” Christina discovers her late mother’s magic teakettle, which bears affinities with Aladdin’s magic lamp. She remembers the miraculous apparitions of beautiful dresses in her indigent childhood, one “with a white piqué Peter Pan collar” and another with “two turtleneck knit shirts, one aquamarine and one snow white” (my emphasis Proulx 2005, 304). Years after the facts, Christina realizes that, like the fairy godmother in “Cinderella,” her mother had possessed the power to wish anything true. As it ingests fairy-tale fragments and revisits these topoi, however, the story ending is unconventional from the standpoint of classical fairy-tales. Indeed, as Christina coldly wishes her brother dead in revenge for all the abuse he has inflicted on her throughout her childhood, the narrative ends with an unexpected, mischievous twist: “And in Lusk, Wyoming, a retired lineman, Rich Hickey, the unknown, adulterous fruit of [her father’s] loins from a cattle-buying trip in 1928, tripped on his trailing bathrobe belt and flew headfirst down the stairs./ The teakettle played no favorites” (Proulx 2005, 318). Proulx’s revisionist tale strikes the turn of events with cruel irony, bringing about the death of some innocent, unacknowledged relative, while pointing to Christina’s father’s unfaithfulness as one of the unforeseeable causes for this meaningless death. This story suggests the possibility that Christina might have used the magic of the tea kettle to bring herself good fortune, beauty and health as in many fairy tales revolving around magical objects. Yet, Proulx here stages a malevolent use of magic by the heroine that has theretofore won the reader’s empathy. This represents a provocative breach from conventional fairy-tale morality. Such feminist overtones I will get back to later, as they question the standards of feminine gentleness promoted by many of the fairy tales Proulx deconstructs.

III/ De-sanitizing the fairy tale via feminist revisions

  • 18 I am here echoing a phrase from Maria Tatar’s book, Enchanted Hunters: “[children’s stories persist (...)

12More than mere parodic imitations, Proulx’s tales often reassert the brute force that stories possess. Drawing on Maria Tatar’s assessment of the tantalizing power of children’s stories, one might say that Proulx’s short fiction, very much like fairy tales, “enthralls and entrances in large part through the shock effects of beauty and horror” (Tatar 30). Proulx’s fiction for adults recycles cultural débris from old tales, legends and myths,18 “stockpiling in the process arsenals of beauty and horror to construct ‘peak experiences’” (Tatar 12). But the question remains whether her short stories cast a different light on the stories she taps into, whether she subverts their accepted meanings, or simply pays tribute to a storytelling heritage the fragments and figments of which feed her creative process. I argue that Proulx’s feminist stories not only recycle topoi and structures inherited from classical literary fairy tales such as “Cinderella” and “The Beauty and the Beast;” they also debunk the Prince Charming stereotype, together with the gender roles and happy endings typical of some of the tales by Perrault and the Grimms, such as “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” and “Sleeping Beauty,” that became central to the twentieth-century fairy-tale canon thanks in large part to Walt Disney Studios.

13Proulx’s story “Tits Up in a Ditch” offers a contemporary rewriting of “Cinderella” (Proulx 2008, 2008). Dakotah grows up as an orphan, raised by abusive and negligent grandparents. Infatuated with her own Western version of Prince Charming, Dakotah precipitately drops out of high school to marry Billy-the-Kid-looking Sash. Proulx foregrounds her female character’s delusory conflation of cowboy masculinity with the older European stereotype of Prince Charming found in fairy tales such as “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” or “Cinderella,” with its ensuing tragic outcome. Dakotah dreams of romantically eloping from her Cinderella-like situation at home: “Sash immediately gained a lustrous aura of outlawry and gun expertise. Now in her daydreams they rode away together, Sash twisting back in the saddle to shoot at their pursuers” (Proulx 2008, 195). Yet, the salvation and rise in society that would logically follow from marriage in many a fairy tale only takes Dakotah as far as a waitressing job, which she gets fired from the minute she announces her pregnancy.

14At first, Dakotah is said to be “eager to please” (194). Sash’s interest in her speaks volumes in terms of the feminist critique underlying Proulx’s taut writing: “[Attracted] to her shy silence, […] he gauged her a biddable handmaiden who would look to his comforts. He said let’s get married and she agreed” (195-95). Sash himself seems misguided by the gender stereotypes passed on to him via shared cultural patrimony, as he mistakes Dakotah’s “shy demeanor” for meekness. Furthermore, Proulx takes issue in this story with the rash marriage proposals and agreements cast in many a fairy tale as an ideal of romance. As opposed to the virtuous and kind heroine found also in “The Beauty and the Beast,” once they share the same roof, Dakotah cannot overlook her husband’s flaws, mostly when it comes to his condescending assumptions about her role as wife. Consequently, she resists his attempt to confine her to a domestic role. Looking at the “Beauty and the Beast” tales, Zipes shows how the story has served to dictate proper rules of behaviors and manners: “The mark of beauty for a female is to be found in her submission, obedience, humility, industry, and patience; the mark of manliness is to be found in a man’s self-control, politeness, reason and perseverance” (56). At this point, Proulx’s story could offer a feminist, ironic revision of fairy-tales such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” or “Snow White,” with Proulx’s stubborn, unyielding heroine demeaning the models of feminine virtue and self-sacrifice promoted by these stories: “‘I been bossed around since I was a kid. I didn’t agree to be your maid” (Proulx 2008, 200). Dakotah’s defiance and “obstinate refusals” to tend to her husband’s domestic comfort sharply contrast with Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s portrayal of Beauty as ever-willing to serve father and Beast, with Perrault’s Cinderella’s patient endurance of her destitution as the family servant, or again with Snow White’s sweet acceptance of her role as joyful care-taker of the seven dwarves and their home (Proulx 2008, 200).

  • 19 Katie O’ Arosteguy looks at the way Proulx’s stories condemn the mythic cowboy, “a fantastical cons (...)

15If Sash’s character seems to be mistakenly equated in Dakotah’s eyes with Prince Charming, his actual behavior nevertheless points to the rift between the old European masculine models of gentility and the failed cowboys that populate Proulx’s stories. Inasmuch as Sash expects Dakotah to behave in a stereotyped, submissive way, he does not however fit the polite standards of masculine behavior embodied by the Beast as stressed by Zipes. Sash rapidly grows frustrated with his flat-chested wife and with her failure as a docile housemaid and demands divorce. As the rest of the tragic story unfolds, Dakotah is nevertheless forced into submission, turned into a pathetic victim of her marriage. Through a series of catastrophes and vicious twists of fate, Dakotah finds herself stuck in her loveless marriage with a mute and severely maimed Sash, their only child dead and buried. As a consequence of Proulx’s ruthless plotting, Dakotah is finally pressed into self-denial, tending to a beastlike male, the latter never assuming a civil form. His figure is transformed into something monstrous, “both legs blown off at midthigh, the left side of his face a mass of shiny scar tissue, the left ear and eye gone” (Proulx 2008, 217). While this provides an image of wounded masculinity as a result of adherence to the national stereotype of the masculine hero, Sash’s new physical appearance furthermore offers a negative metamorphosis of Prince Charming into hideous Beast.19 Having supposedly inherited a rebellious streak from her “wayward” mother (182), Dakotah deviates from the roles forced onto fairy-tale heroines, as encapsulated by Zipes:

[It] became clear that the female character could assume her ‘civil’ form only if she were willing to sacrifice herself for a beastlike male. By denying herself, she could obtain what all women supposedly wanted and want—namely, marriage in the form of male domination. The male character could assume his “civil” form only when socially deviant forces were tamed and when the female was not a threat but actually charmed or tranquilized by his rationality. (56)

16Proulx typically sabotages the contrived happy ending of many classical fairy tales, whereby women are rewarded for their subservience by a blissful marriage. The mere notion of a Wyoming Prince Charming is thus undercut as both ludicrous and dangerous from a woman’s standpoint, and marriage is more often than not presented as a curse. Moreover, as Proulx’s fiction limns the discrepancy between the Prince Charming stereotype and her Wyoming wannabe-cowboys, her stories insist on the inadequate persistence of gender expectations confining both men and women in roles that cannot fit the reality of their social contexts.

17Not only do Proulx’s stories sarcastically exhibit the conservative values enshrined in many classical fairy tales in their most patriarchal versions; they moreover “de-sanitize” them. They undo the “taming of the ‘wild’ fantasies” or “sanitization” of the oral and literary fairy tales which Zipes attributes to eighteenth and nineteenth century European writers (xi). The most telling example takes place with Proulx’s stylized rewriting of Perrault’s “Bluebeard” in “55 Miles to the Gas Pump,” the shortest of all her stories. The first paragraph focuses on Rancher Croom, an idiosyncratic, hot-blooded, wild and drunken cowboy, pictured as he throws himself down a rock canyon, “parting the air with his last roar” (Proulx 2003, 251). Yet, his suicide attempt is thwarted by a baffling moment of magical realism: “but before he hits he rises again to the top of the cliff like a cork in a bucket of milk” (251). A typographical blank follows Croom’s impossible suspension, metatexually forcing the reader to suspend both disbelief and thirst for closure of this amazing episode. The second paragraph then focuses on Mrs Croom infringing on her absent husband’s prohibition to access the attic of their house, where she makes a reviling discovery:

just as she thought: the corpses of Mr. Croom’s paramours–she recognizes them from their photographs in the paper: MISSING WOMAN–some desiccated as jerky and much the same color, some moldy from lying beneath roof leaks, and all of them used hard, covered with tarry handprints, the marks of boot heels, some bright blue with the remnants of paint used on the shutters years ago, one wrapped in newspaper nipple to knee. (Proulx 2003, 251-52)

18The mention of the blue paint on the bodies in such a short short story must read as a significant detail–it functions as a clue to the intertextuality at play with “Bluebeard,” whose wife similarly ventures into the forbidden, locked room only to discover the remains of her husband’s previous victims.

19There are many ways to read this rewriting of “Bluebeard.” First, Proulx’s text acquires a metafictional dimension as the narrator concludes with a disturbing lightness of tone, “When you live a long way out, you make your own fun” (Proulx 2003, 252).The deadpan voice may here overlap with the implied writer’s, laying bare the playful and highly stylized story at hand, actually written from a secluded ranch in deep Wyoming where Proulx lives. The form of her story indeed displays a careful structure: it comes as a diptych of two symmetrical paragraphs of exactly twelve lines each, followed by a one-line coda. Moreover, the paragraphs conspicuously mirror one another as each is composed of a single, unusually long and complex sentence. Yet, the gruesome description of the corpses (“some desiccated as jerky and much the same color, some moldy from lying beneath roof leaks”) and the abuse implied in the details (“and all of them used hard, covered with tarry handprints, the marks of boot heels”) considerably temper the enjoyment derived from deciphering Proulx’s neo-regionalist toying with Perrault’s tale.

20Second, Croom’s name could be read as a portmanteau conflation of the words “crime” and “loom” or “doom.” Whereas in Perrault’s version, Bluebeard is in extremis killed by the heroine’s brothers, in Proulx’s version, Croom’s aborted suicide and magical suspension in the air hold the menacing possibility of his return and potential revenge upon his disobedient wife. Paradoxically, the narrative voice exhibits a caustic approach to such dark themes that the reader knows indeed to resurface in actual fait divers. The consonances in [r], [n], [t], and [p] phonemes in “one wrapped in newspaper nipple to knee” are for instance rather distracting; one might expect such palatable poetic devices in a nursery rhyme rather than in such an abject description. Besides, Proulx’s story stages the complicity of Croom’s wife (“just as she thought”), and even suggests a certain appetite for horror (“Mrs Croom […] whets to her desire” 251). Instead of portraying the heroine as an innocent victim, Proulx thus questions the role played by women in their relationships with violent men.

21Croom’s portrait aligns him with cowboy masculinity (“in handmade boots and filthy hat,” “stray hairs like curling fiddle string ends, that warm-handed, quick-foot dancer” 251) and signals the destructive impulse entailed by conforming to that norm. Menacing details suggest a wild, deviant temper (his stray hairs, his warm hands, his being walleyed), and physical violence–details that may recall Bluebeard’s enticing yet threatening masculine power symbolized by his eerie blue beard. Ultimately, Croom’s attempted suicide points beyond the violence inflicted on others, to the rage and self-destructive impact brought about by the violent cowboy stereotype. As Katie O’ Arosteguy has argued, Proulx “indicts the cultural project of nostalgia for a form of masculinity” (120). Driven to alcoholism and then suicide, Croom’s sketched out character encapsulates the wounded men Proulx’s cowboys become “as a result of their own violence toward themselves and others” (Arosteguy 120). Croom’s name may thus contain a warning that a culture upholding nefarious fantasies of violent masculinity may be responsible for dooming some of its men to crime.

22Finally, following Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s psychoanalytical reading of Bluebeard as the archetypal predator, Croom’s murders correspond to “the killing of the creative feminine […]. The predator [seeks] to sever a woman’s connection to her own insights, inspirations, follow through and more” (57). Delving into Perrault’s representation of women, Zipes establishes his tendency to deprive women of agency: “[Perrault’s] ideal ‘femme civilisée’ […] must be passive until the right man comes along to recognize her virtues and marry her. She lives only through the male and for marriage. The male acts, the female waits. […] If she is allowed anything, it is to demonstrate how submissive she can be” (40). Perrault’s “Bluebeard” makes it a sin for women to be curious and imaginative. Like the cellar, the cave, or the dungeon in other tales, Croom’s attic represents a place, to use Estés’s words, “to or through which a woman [accesses] the murdered one(s), breaks taboos to find the truth, and through wit and/or travail triumphs by brandishing, transforming or exterminating the assassin of the psyche” (59). Throughout Proulx’s ghastly stories, the confrontation with how much male abuse and dominion her women must endure may help readers, “break the old patterns of ignorance, by being able to behold a horror and not look away” (Estés 58). These stories then suggest that only by assessing how badly her psyche has been captured by patriarchal mores and stories can a woman assert herself and unbridle her own, creative and wild imagination. Staging the partial complicity of Croom’s wife, Proulx’s disturbing revision entails women’s responsibility in showing awareness and, eventually, in accepting or refusing the roles and pre-existing social norms they are offered.

IV/Alternative scenarios and liberating flights of fancy

23In her enterprise to upset the patriarchal frames of many of the fairy tales she rewrites, Proulx pictures a few women who become self-assertive agents of their lives. A couple of her stories challenge the Prince Charming stereotype by substituting it with a female partner. As Carolina Fernández Rodríguez demonstrates in her study of the male rescuer archetype of many classical fairy tales, there is a tendency in feminist revisionist literature to not only “demythologize the traditional hero” but also to “offer different alternatives to it” (52). Rodríguez underscores that a female rescuer is often cast in these subversive rewritings as an alternative to the traditional male rescuer, either via female cooperation, self-liberation, or homosexual relationships.

24In Proulx’s overall somber stories, rare are the characters that achieve self-empowerment. But, going back to Proulx’s gloomy subversion of Cinderella, during the brief period of independence away from Wyoming that Dakotah experiences in the army, she does form a close relationship with a co-officer, also a woman: “They had become closest friends, closer than she had ever been to Sash. Dakotah, for the first time in her life, had someone to talk to, someone who understood everything, from rural ways to failing tests. Marnie said maybe they were in love. They talked about setting up house together with Baby Verl after they got out” (Proulx 2008, 212). If the precise nature of their relationship is indeterminate, the narrative sequence hints at budding homosexuality. Indeed, in the previous paragraph, Dakotah receives a letter from a former school teacher. Dakotah, together with the reader, is thus apprised of “two lesbian women with a herd of goats” who have “bought the Tin Can house and [plan] to make cheese and sell it locally.” Highlighting the taboo on female homosexuality Dakotah has internalized, the narrator reports that “Dakotah was shocked to see the word ‘lesbian’ on the page of a letter like any ordinary word” (212). Proulx thereby offers a furtive glimpse of an alternative scenario for Dakotah’s future, all the better to shatter it: her fate as a victim of her heterosexual marriage is sealed when Marnie is pulverized by a tragic twist. The glimmer of hope Marnie might have represented vanishes in an unexpected bombing, turning her into “a heap of bloody rags and a patch of skin”, an image that evokes the melting of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz (213). Dakotah’s disempowerment is symbolized by the loss of one of her arms. Soon she discovers that the husband who has left her coincidentally happens to be staying in the same hospital, and that, still being officially his wife–they intended to sign the divorce papers but neglected to–she is now by law condemned to nurse him. Even though Sash, Dakotah, and Marnie are here physically destroyed by war rather than by homophobic agents as in the much discussed “Brokeback Mountain,” still Proulx’s cruel plotting provides another indictment of the many violent ways heteronormative society denies men and women the possibility of alternative scenarios of gender and relationships.

25In “Dump-Junk,” Christina and Rose do manage to transgress the patriarchal norms pervading many of the above-mentioned fairy tales, as “neither of them like men” (Proulx 2005, 306). It is inferred that their sexual preferences have partly been shaped by the abuse both of them have suffered from their brothers in their childhoods. Both young women emancipate by taking jobs. They meet at a boarding house where they are renting rooms with their own salaries. Despite the traditional cliché her name might carry, Rose embodies independence: she runs “her own business, the Ladyfinger Bakery” (305). Her self-assertiveness together with her sexual orientation are encapsulated in the naughty name chosen for her bakery, which, while evoking the sweet delight of cakes and sugary treats one can find in a standard bakery, implicitly suggests a different way of tending to feminine cravings. The two characters offer positive models of self-liberation and homosexual love, as they assertively choose their own future, leaving the cowboy state of Wyoming for more liberal San Francisco: “‘We don’t [have to go back]. There’s jobs all over the place here. […] And we’ll have a chance to get out of the old Wyo rut. I don’t want to be a baker. I don’t want to marry some awful mean rancher and have to bring a covered dish to the Cow Belles meetings. I want to go to college. I want my own money and my own life–and you” (307-308).

26The most provocative, feminist subversion of the patriarchal fairy-tale dictates concerning young women’s behavior may be carried out via the protagonist in “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World”. Significantly, the broken down, talking, wannabe prince tractor shows misogynistic prejudice, forbidding her from repairing it: “‘It’s men that fixes tractors, not no woman’” (Proulx 2003, 140). But the scene in which feisty Ottaline does fix the tractor contains innuendos betraying the implicit subtext of sexual empowerment: “She had brought a can of penetrating oil with her and began to squirt it on studs, bolts and screws, to rap on the rusted colts with a heavy wrench./ ‘You make a wrong move I might hurt you.’/ ‘You know what? I was you I’d lay back and enjoy it.’ Something [her former lover] Hal Bloom had said” (my emphasis 141). This dialogue grants Ottaline the upper hand and reverses power roles. It represents the last conversation between her and the tractor which is then abandoned in favor of human company. By granting herself the right to transgress habitual gender roles and by tinkering with the mechanisms of the tractor, the heroine has thus succeeded in disempowering the stories of magic and fixing their debilitating gender stereotypes.

27Ottaline is a case in point: not only does she appropriate manly tools and activities in a scene evoking sexual intercourse from a male point of view; she also develops from a subaltern character maintained in an inferior and shameful position by her father and grandfather into an agent of her own life. She successfully defies gender restrictions, endorsing her own personal attributes and desires. She marries a man who values her as “knowledgeable” and “damn-good looking” whereas up to then, Ottaline had been described as “the family embarrassment,” perceived as grotesque because of her obesity. She ends up taking power over the ranch, running it with her husband. Ottaline thus stands apart from many of Proulx’s other female characters, first because she shows skepticism toward fairy tale values, and second, because she offers a rare example of feminine empowerment both within Wyoming and within marriage. By naming Ottaline’s father Aladdin, Proulx again points to the fairy tale legacy passed on from one generation to another; yet Ottaline shows wise misgivings with respect to the feminine compliance encouraged by the stories heard in her childhood.

28Proulx’s narratives thus often make use of magic to go against the pernicious inheritance contained in patriarchal myths and tales. As a matter of fact, the teakettle inherited by Christina is said to be “monstrously heavy” (Proulx 2005, 303), loaded as it is with ancient, potentially noxious magic power. Moreover, Christina’s use of magic with the intention to kill her abusive brother clearly deviates from the standards of kindness and forgiveness exhibited most notoriously by Perrault’s Cinderella. In retributing the lurid behavior she suffered from as a child and using magic as a means to inflict a violent death upon her torturer rather than to access marriage, Christina’s character defies rampant clichés of feminine passivity, of acceptance of harassment or reliance on heterosexual marriage. It is rather telling in that sense that Christina should be appalled by her mother’s lack of imagination with the teakettle: “But Christina’s heart was sore at the downright awful dishes her unworldly mother had ordered. All of the menus were drawn from her hoard of recipes, the conglomerations with perky names clipped so carefully from ladies’ magazines and from the backs of cans and packages. Nothing had ever seemed sadder” (317). Magic is used by both Cinderella’s godmother and Christina’s mother to produce pretty dresses or recipes advertised in ladies’ journals, thus reinforcing patriarchal mores via these metonymies for standard femininity and domesticity. Christina’s departure from those and her deviant use of magic then offer a rather provocative vision of how magic might be used in the hands of transgressive, imaginative women unwilling to bend to potentially destructive norms.

29As for the magic of the teakettle, if read in analogy with the act of writing, it may potentially refer to the transformative power which story-telling retains, igniting our fancy and transmuting mere fragments and words into visible images and felt experiences. In other words, Proulx’s appropriation of the fairy tale magic demonstrates that, as Bacchilega argues, “postmodern fairy tales reactivate the wonder tale’s ‘magic’ or mythopoeic qualities by providing new readings of it, thereby generating unexploited or forgotten possibilities from its repetition” (22).

30Comforting, happy endings are scarce in Proulx’s short stories. Yet there is a certain morality to be gained from reading these feisty pieces. As I have shown elsewhere, if many of Proulx’s stories dwell on flawed or immoral characters, her plots nevertheless often instill a sense of poetic justice. Not surprisingly, Proulx’s ecofeminist critique of patriarchal dominion and abuse of nature is also achieved in large part via the retributive magic wand provided by magical realism. Casting the Devil as a character and recycling myths of hell, a few of her stories resort to magical realism to send animal poachers directly to hell, or give life to frightful pterodactyl birds in modern-day Wyoming. Yet, these stories contain metafictional elements that call attention to the presence of the implied writer as a demiurge manipulating mythical and literary material, both exposing and simultaneously reactivating their potential power. Proulx’s ecofeminist stance is moreover perceptible in her reversal of the chastisement of female characters’ disobedient behavior occurring in many fairy tales. Proulx remarkably spares her rare, truly independent and alert female characters, while her more conventionally feminine heroines seem systematically cursed. Furthermore, she often retributes male abuse of nature or women with dire fates. Exploiting the liberating effects of magical realism in her short fiction, Proulx’s mythopoeic flights of fancy merge different realms in quite innovative ways: a mute, half-skinned steer leaps from an old folk tale into the realistic narrative of Mero’s life; a tiny sagebrush turns into a monstrous, man-eating creature; and a cast-away tea-kettle becomes a death-bringing object. Each of these recycled fragments bring about a sense of poetic justice, while giving new life to all sorts of marvels and tales.

  • 20 Wendy Faris already points out that magical realist texts tend to produce a kind of “verbal magic,” (...)

31Going back to “The Blood Bay,” containing fantastic elements only within the limited point of view of a fooled character, this grotesque story nevertheless highlights the flights of fancy that may be born from language itself. The improbable and the magic in Proulx’s stories can at times sprout directly from a form of verbal magic, idioms giving birth to incredible events.20 Here, the far-fetched idea that Grice’s blood bay might have eaten “a man raw” reads as a mythopoeic piece inspired not only by the old folktale “The Calf that Ate the Traveler,” but also by the Greek story of Diomedes with his man-eating horses. On a different level, Proulx may here be playing with an inversion of the idiomatic saying “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” reversely envisioning a starving horse so food-deprived it might eat a man. The uncanny is furthermore born within the text from the connotations inherent in the horse’s breed, a “blood bay,” just as well as from Grice’s vernacular expressions: “[He] will mull you up and spit you out. He’s a spirited steed.” (Proulx 2003, 94) Toying with the colorful aspects of idioms and the fantasy inherent in many an old tale, Proulx’s short fiction thus explores the liminal spaces where the metaphorical merges with the literal.

V/ Conclusion

  • 21 Wendy Faris also observes that magical realist novels often “strike a metafictional chord, celebrat (...)

32Coming from an audacious writer of an omnivorous genre, Annie Proulx’s often self-reflexive short stories come to celebrate the magic of language as well as the language of magic.21 As a result, Proulx’s art of the short story feeds on the potential of the genre to illuminate, challenge and take over the discourses contained in fairy tales, folktales, and myths. Proulx is evidently aware that, as Joyce Carol Oates puts it, “fairy tales contain an incalculably rich storehouse of mysterious, luminous, riddlesome, and ever-potent images, a vast Sargasso sea of the imagination” (103). Her stories prove that, as Walter Benjamin recognizes, “[the] fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story” (11). Calling for regenerated myths of genders, Proulx’s reactivation of fairy tale magic and topoi forces awareness that, as opposed to what is suggested in her ironic collection title, Fine Just the Way It Is, pugnacious creativity in fighting ideological discourses may well be preferable to a tragic resignation to one’s anomic situation.

  • 22 Already, in 1995, Zamora and Faris note: “Magical realist texts are subversive: their in-betweennes (...)

33Proulx’s postmodernist magical realism instills in her short fiction a liberating resistance to dominant discourses–an aspect of magical realism which is often highlighted in feminist and postcolonial practices of that mode.22 Giving agency back to both women and nature, Proulx’s overall ecofeminist use of magic and rewriting of folktales, fairy tales and myths substantiate Theo L. D’haen’s claim that magical realism provides “a ruse to invade and take over dominant discourse(s)” (195). Indeed, Proulx’s short fiction not only evidences the mechanisms of geographical determinism, it furthermore exhibits and engages mythological and literary determinism. Just as her revisionist tales pinpoint the inadequacy of the dominant gender roles first imported by European settlers, and still prevalent today in much mainstream, United States culture, ultimately it is the whole Pioneer myth which is debunked by Proulx’s parodic writing as a fairy tale imparting ideas that are irreconcilable with people’s actual situations, dreams and desires.

34Eventually, Proulx’s stories sustain Charles E. May’s notion that the short story genre relies on “the power of metaphor and story itself to answer that cry of the heart of its characters, ‘Who am I?’” May argues that “[as] opposed to the novel, the short story says one does not find the answer to that question in a similitude of the real world, but rather in being caught up within the role that the story demands and being therefore metaphorically transformed” (1989, 73). Looking at Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories in comparison with her novels, it does indeed appear that the two forms present different approaches to mimesis, magic, and realism. Whereas her novels are dominated by grim realism, Proulx’s omnivorous Wyoming short stories stand out as they kindle a kind of verbal magic that reignites one’s imagination, calls attention to the potency of language itself, and thus empowers liberating flights of fancy across rigid categorizations of both genre and gender.

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1 Alex Hunt’s collection of essays deals mostly with Proulx’s rewriting of North American founding myths. Even Mark Asquith’s recent The Lost Frontier only makes few passing mentions of the fairy-tale components of Proulx’s short stories, mostly gleaned from articles of mine previously accessible online.

2 In using the term “magical realism” I am referring to the merging of magic events within a realistic narrative, prompting readers to suspend disbelief and simply go along with the magic worked into the diegesis. For more on magical realism as a genre, see Wendy Faris’s seminal study of literary magical realism: Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative, and Lois Zamora and Wendy Faris’ Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. For more on magical realism in Annie Proulx’s stories, see my article entitled “Unreal, Fantastic and Improbable Flashes of Fearful Insight in Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories.” While this paper does not seek out a long, fastidious debate over what type of magical realism Proulx’s short stories belong to according to the legion definitions and sub-strains of the mode academics have formulated – “ontological” or “epistemological” magical realism (Echevarría), “folkloric,” or “scholarly” magical realism (Delbaere 1992), “metaphysical,” “anthropological,” or “ontological” magical realism (Spindler), “psychic realism,” “mythic realism” or “grotesque realism” (Delbaere again, in a later attempt to categorize various kinds of magical realism),–suffice it to say for now that Proulx’s use of magic is a decidedly self-reflexive one.

3 Karen Rood repeatedly does mention Proulx’s use of magical realism, without however showing how it works and to what effects. See for instance Understanding Annie Proulx, p. 153- 191.

4 Charles E. May grounds his own thesis in Eikhenbaum’s vision of the short story as a “fundamental, elementary form,” and on Northrop Frye’s study of the romance form: “The short story is, in my opinion, as Frye argues for the romance form, the structural core of all fiction in its derivation from folktale and myth” (May 1989, 64). May elsewhere quotes Lionel Stevenson’s distinction between short and long fictional narratives: “ ‘One is the brief narrative that can be recounted on a single occasion. Thence emerged the fairy tale, the folk ballad, and eventually what is now called the short story. The other form is longer and more complex, requiring series of sessions for its delivery. From it descended the saga, the epic, and finally the novel” (qtd. in May 1994, 131).

5 See my article in “Unreal”. I have analyzed elsewhere Proulx’s postmodernist play with Dante’s Inferno as well as the religious topoi of the devil and hell which Proulx resorts to as part of an ecofeminist critique of man’s silencing of nature and women. See my forthcoming chapter “Silent Nature as a ‘Claw in the Gut’ ”, in Natura Loquens, edited by Carmen Flys-Junquera and Juan Ignacio Oliva, and “Inheriting ‘Bad Dirt,’ White Trash, and ‘Dump Junk’ ” in Thy Truth Then Be Thy Dowry, edited by Stéphanie Durrans.

6 I am referring to Gérard Genette’s theory of intertextuality in his book Palimpsestes: La literature au second degré, where he establishes various hypertextual relationships between texts pertaining to parody, pastiche, transformation, imitation, etc.

7 See Alex Hunt, p. 2. In his introduction, Alex Hunt brings together the various tensions underlying Proulx’s work, while summing up other critics’ remarks concerning paradoxical aspects of Proulx’s writing

8 In using the adjectives “postmodern” and “postmodernist,” I am referring respectively to a socio-cultural context and historical period starting around the 1960’s, and to the cultural and artistic movement that has arisen from it to represent, analyze and challenge postmodern society.

9 As Jack Zipes shows, there “is a direct line form the Perrault fairy tale of court society to the Walt Disney cinematic fairy tale of the culture industry. [… For] the most part, the writers of the French vogue prepared the way for a social institutionalization of the fairy tale and stamped the very unreflective and uncritical manner in which we read and receive fairy tales to the present.” (Fairy 33)

10 In Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, Zipes focuses at great length on demonstrating the long-lasting influence of Charles Perrault’s contribution to the rise of the French literary fairy tale, which, according to Zipes, “can be regarded as the source of the flowering of fairy tales in Europe and American in the nineteenth century” (Fairy 30). Perrault’s main influence over the fairy tale is identified by Zipes as having greatly launched the “patriarchalization” and “bourgeoisification” of the oral folktale. Perrault seems to have played a major part in setting gender roles meant to civilize children along bourgeois and aristocratic values, gender roles that are still extant in fairy tales of the twentieth century, including Disney’s. As Zipes has it, “[Perrault] shaped the configurations of the fairy tale to engender an aesthetic-ideological constellation of dependable and temperate male governance over whimsical female naiveté” (50). Jane Yolen also demonstrates in her article “America’s Cinderella” how the many various versions of Cinderella by Perrault’s time degraded the positive folk representation of Cinderella as an active female agent, turning her into the submissive heroine that still prevails in Disney’s version.

11 This is an aspect of women’s inheritance in Proulx’s fiction that I have discussed in “Inheriting,” mostly where it comes to the tragic fate of Rose in “Them Old cowboy Songs.” On the subject of Victorian fairy tales and their perpetuation or challenging of bourgeois, patriarchal values, see Jack Zipes’s Victorian Faity Tales: The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves, as well as Laurence Talairach-Vielmas’s article “Beautiful Maidens, Hideous Suitors: Victorian Fairy Tales and the Process of Civilization.” Following Zipes, the latter demonstrates that even Victorian women writers who attempted to counter the patriarchal interests that orchestrated fairy tales were obliged to work within existing cultural paradigms, and therefore often highlighted “the bourgeois codes of feminine propriety while at the same time offering their readers a significant perspective on how fairy tales suppress the heroines’ agency” (274).

12 This folk tale was popularized by the release in 2000 of the Czech film Little Otik by Kan Švankmajer and Eva Švankmajerová. The film is presented as based on Karel Jaromir Erben’s fairy-tale “Otesanek.” Proulx might have come across older version of the folk tale, Erben’s version, or this fascinating mix of live and stop-motion animated film.

13 As I have developed elsewhere, this may on another level encapsulate a moral dimension, exhibiting the monstrous consequences of humans’ foolish meddling with the natural order of things. See my forthcoming article “Silent.”

14 In The Missouri Review, Proulx elaborates on the influence of her initial training as a history major at University, where she discovered the French Annales School. She thus overtly expresses special interest in true accounts and genuine every-day life documents which she claims as sources for her fiction.

15 Ellen Boyd sums up and analyzes Proulx’s story in relationship with various versions of the oral Icelandic folktale. She aptly demonstrates that “[by] applying the principles of oral storytelling to her writing and reconfigurating an Icelendic folktale into a contemporary short story, Proulx permits both the reconsideration of old ideas and the introduction of new ways of thinking about them.” Boyd concludes that “[though] one cannot change one’s landscape or economic situation, one can change the attitudes inherited through transgenerational transfer” (6), a point that I have also studied at length in my other articles on Proulx’s short fiction.

16 For more developed interpretations based on close reading, see my articles where I venture ecofeminist and mythopoeic interpretations of this short story: “Unreal, Fantastic, and Improbable ‘Flashes of Fearful Insight’ in Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories.’” Journal of the Short Story in English. 62 (2014): 111-130, and “Silent.”

17 This is the case for instance in “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,” as I have demonstrated in my article “Unreal”, where I also analyze more in detail the dramatic irony in “The Blood Bay”.

18 I am here echoing a phrase from Maria Tatar’s book, Enchanted Hunters: “[children’s stories persist] as cultural debris scattered across new media for adults.” (53).

19 Katie O’ Arosteguy looks at the way Proulx’s stories condemn the mythic cowboy, “a fantastical construction of a masculinity that has become so closely intertwined with a national identity” (118). Arosteguy moreover offers a cogent analysis of how Proulx’s stories present wounded white men as a critique of violent dominant stereotypes of masculinity, something I will get back to later in this article.

20 Wendy Faris already points out that magical realist texts tend to produce a kind of “verbal magic,” whereby “a metaphor is made real.” As Faris stresses, it achieves “a closing of the gap between words and the world, or a demonstration of what we might call the linguistic nature of experience” (1995, 176).

21 Wendy Faris also observes that magical realist novels often “strike a metafictional chord, celebrating the magic of stories” (2004, 202).

It might be argued that the magical realist mode pervading many of Proulx’s stories borders on Alejo Carpentier’s definition of the “real maravilloso,” or “marvelous real,” based on the notion that America itself is marvelous. Contemporary critic Roberto González Echevarría has coined the term “ontological magical realism,” which, much like Carpentier’s real maravilloso, stems from the cultural context from which the text arises, with its specific set of beliefs, practices, folktales and myths, as well as its landscape. In her foreword to Close Range, Proulx precisely claims that “[the] elements of unreality, the fantastic and improbable, color all of these stories as they color real life” (11). This statement echoes Gabriel García Márquez’s paradoxical claim to realism: “I am a realist writer […] because I believe that in Latin America everything is possible, everything is real” (19). Yet, Proulx’s short stories evidently may also be read as what Echevarría calls “epistemological realism”–more or less equivalent to Jean Weisegerber’s “scholarly” type of magical realism (27)–, which draws from a patchwork of folkloric and literary traditions. In fact, the postmodernist challenge of the very notions of realism and reality found in many of Proulx’s stories is foregrounded at the threshold of her first collection of Wyoming stories, with an epigraph quoting a retired Wyoming rancher: “Reality’s never been of much use out here” (15). Resisting most of the rigid categories that seek to define magical realism, or else potentially alternately corresponding to all of them (“ontological,” “epistemological”, “mythic” or “folkloric,” “scholarly, or “postmodernist”), Proulx’s complicitous and distanced art of the postmodernist short story reminds us that the creative drive of fiction, like that of Nature, may ultimately remain beyond the grasp of academia’s fondness for categories and grids.

22 Already, in 1995, Zamora and Faris note: “Magical realist texts are subversive: their in-betweenness, their all-at-onceness encourages resistance to monologic political and cultural structures, a feature that has made the mode particularly useful to writers in postcolonial cultures and, increasingly, to women.” (6). Stephen Slemon makes a similar point, looking at magical realist texts which, he shows, “comprise a positive and liberating engagement with the codes of imperial history. […] This process, they tell us, can transmute the ‘shreds and fragments’ of colonial violence and otherness into new ‘codes of recognition’ in which the dispossessed, the silenced, and the marginalized of our own dominating systems can again find voice and enter into the dialogic continuity of community and place” (422). In her digest of the conflicting and varied theory of magical realism as a mode, Maggie Ann Bowers also pinpoints its “acceptance as a liberating and transformative narrative mode,” which is evident in its postcolonial and feminist uses (127).

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Bénédicte Meillon, « Deconstructing Gender Roles and Digesting the Magic of Folktales and Fairy Tales in Annie Proulx’s Omnivorous Wyoming Stories », L’Ordinaire des Amériques [En ligne], 224 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2019, consulté le 27 juin 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Bénédicte Meillon

Université de Perpignan Via Domitia/CRESEM

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