First Love: A Gothic Tale

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First Love: A Gothic Tale
First edition
Author Joyce Carol Oates
Illustrator Barry Moser
Country United States
Language English
Genre Gothic novel
Publisher Ecco Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 85 pp
ISBN 0-88001-457-1
OCLC 33165822
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3565.A8 F57 1996
Preceded by Zombie
Followed by We Were the Mulvaneys

First Love: A Gothic Tale is a novella by award-winning novelist and essayist Joyce Carol Oates and illustrator Barry Moser. It tells the story of Joise S_____, a girl who goes to stay at her aunt's mansion in upstate New York. While there, she has an incestuous relationship with her cousin, Jared. The novella deals with two of the more common recurring themes in Oates' work: "teenage initiation and perplexing and problematic love."[1]

Plot summary[edit]

11-year-old Josie arrives in upstate New York to live with her great-aunt after her mother abandons her father for no apparent reason. There, she meets her 25-year-old cousin, Jared, who is studying to be a minister. Her stay is very unpleasant; she is physically and psychologically abused by both her mother and great-aunt. She is also bullied without mercy at her new school. Her mother turns her away for love and comfort. Feeling abandoned and unloved, she turns to Jared for the affection she longs for. However, Jared's intents are anything but to love and care for her. He uses false affection to get her to self-mutilate herself, drink her own blood, look at pornographic material, and endure verbal abuse from him. He soon begins sexually abusing her, which Josie mistakes to be him expressing true love to her, although she knows that what they are doing is wrong. Jared attempts to force Josie to kidnap a very young girl for him at which point Josie is able to finally resist, leading to the breakdown of the relationship with Jared. The novella ends with Jared's return to the seminary and with Josie looking forward to a new chapter in her life.[2]


  1. ^ Loeb, Monica. "'Useless as Moths' Wings' Oates Revision of Checkov's 'The Lady with the Pet Dog.'" Literary Marriages: A Study of Intertexuality in a Series of Short Stories by Joyce Carol Oates, pp. 87-104. Bern: Peter Lang, 2002.
  2. ^ Gates, David. "American Gothic." New York Times 15 Sept., 1996.