Saturday 24 December 2011

Marilynne Robinson on What Literature Owes the Bible

Marilynne Robinson, ‘The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible’, The New York Times (22 December 2011).

I read Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson’s first novel (published in 1981), during the summer this year and was utterly beguiled.

This is a short piece by her on the influence of the Bible on literature in English, from which the following is excerpted:

‘The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know.’

‘Biblical allusions can suggest a degree of seriousness or significance their context in a modern fiction does not always support. This is no cause for alarm. Every fiction is a leap in the dark, and a failed grasp at seriousness is to be respected for what it attempts. In any case, these references demonstrate that in the culture there is a well of special meaning to be drawn upon that can make an obscure death a martyrdom and a gesture of forgiveness an act of grace. Whatever the state of belief of a writer or reader, such resonances have meaning that is more than ornamental, since they acknowledge complexity of experience of a kind that is the substance of fiction.’

I see she has a collection of essays due out in March 2012, which will be worth looking out for. The blurb tells us: ‘In this new collection she returns to the themes which have preoccupied her work: the role of faith in modern life, the inadequacy of fact, the contradictions inherent in human nature. Clear-eyed and forceful as ever, Robinson demonstrates once again why she is regarded as a modern rhetorical master.’

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