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Pollock’s early plays quite clearly were focused on making a comment about society, earning her the label of social playwright. “With Blood Relations people who don’t like social comment plays seem to think I’ve ‘moved’ considerably and I’m finally beginning to concentrate on character, that I’ve learned a few character traits and maybe they can expect some ‘better’ work from me,” Pollock once said in an interview in The Work: Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights.
Although not well known in the U.S., Pollock has a reputation in her native Canada. Jerry Wasserman and Paul Knowles have praised her for developing a significant body of work.
Some critics have been disappointed in what they perceive as a lack of clear feminist focus in Blood Relations. According to S. R. Gilbert, the play “does not adequately explore issues of women in Victorian (or modern) society.”
Pollock has commented that male reviewers fail to see any connection with feminism in this work, with some seeing the play as a mystery while others as a psychological study. Pollock herself has not commented on whether Lizzie's reputation as a lesbian, not just a woman, influences these more limited associations between women in general and the 1890s murderess named Borden.
Pollock’s claim that Blood Relations does have a feminist message, though, has been echoed by some academic feminists. “In many ways the play epitomizes the strengths and originality of theatre about women imprisoned in a man-ordered universe,” says Ann Saddlemyer in Rough Justice: Essays on Crime in Literature. A few critics find merit in her use of the dream thesis; others find the technique clumsy, overwrought, and closer to embroidery than to polished technique.
The structure of Blood Relations allows for the ambiguity that is interwoven throughout the play. Nowhere does the play state in absolute terms that Lizzie is guilty (although the Actress's perception, playing Lizzie in the dream thesis, seems to indicate so). And the court acquits her. But then there's the Actress who arrives at the conclusion, after playing the role of Lizzie, that she is guilty.
The play remains ambiguous and never really fully answers the question. According to Saddlemyer, Pollock successfully reframes that question by pointing the finger (and ultimately the hatchet) at the viewer and asking, in Lizzie’s shoes, what would you do? However, some will regard that as a dodge, suspecting that Saddlemyer and other feminists excuse Lizzie's crime out of solidarity and thoughtless identity with the criminal.
Mary Pat Mombourquette has noted in the International Encyclopedia of Theatre that Pollock is not one to let the audience off the hook. Passivity is not allowed. “Instead she demands that the audience acknowledge that the act of judging makes them active participants in the theatrical event.”. If this is accurate, Blood Relations is not the best exemplar of Pollock's work or of audience participation. The play seems to adore Lizzie at every turn, and demands very little, if any, judgment of this celebrated lesbian murderess.
- Historical context: Lizzie Borden
- Historical context: the murder and trial
- Historical context: women’s rights
- Production history
- Critics' response