“Passages of the Soul”

Writing the Self in the Fiction of Marilynne Robinson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle is known about the ways that Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson writes her fiction, except that she does it quickly, in long hand, dressed in comfortable clothes. In her novels Housekeeping and Gilead, however, Robinson explores turning the practices of thought and feeling into language by reinterpreting the tradition of the spiritual autobiography. Her first-person narrators, especially the Reverend John Ames in Gilead, wrestle with how to express their felt life in written form. Ames uses prayer, meditation, the parable, reflection, repetition, sermon-writing, the diary and the letter form to help him express his feelings about dying and leaving his young son.

Led by Lucy Clarke, this half day workshop will look at the ways that Robinson’s characters – Ames in particular – present the uneven and never complete ‘passage of the soul’ in writing. Looking at passages from the novels and illustrative extracts from the Bible and some of the spiritual autobiographies that may have influenced Robinson, we will explore the many ways fiction allows for the writing of the soul and the self.

Image Credit: Daria Epicantus