Marilynne Robinson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Marilynne Robinson’s novels have been her most acclaimed works, her critical essays on topics ranging from environmental disaster to religion have been praised as valuable contributions to life and letters in the United States. Her book The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998) explores the contours of modern culture as its ideas have been shaped by thinkers as diverse as John Calvin, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud. In an earlier book, Mother Country (1989), Robinson examines the significant physical and environmental damage caused by Sellafield, a nuclear reprocessing plant in Britain. In addition to writing fiction, Robinson frequently contributes essays and reviews to such periodicals as The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The New York Times Book Review.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Many critics have called Marilynne Robinson a “writer’s writer” for her elegant and hauntingly evocative use of language and for the spiritual force of her stories. Her first novel, Housekeeping, appeared to great critical acclaim in 1980, and writers from Walker Percy to Mary Gordon and Doris Lessing praised it for its richness and variety of tone, its delightful sentences, and its haunting dream of a story. Housekeeping was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and it won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel for 1980 as well as the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Although Robinson produced two books of nonfiction between her first and second novels, twenty-four years passed before she turned her pen to fiction again. In 1989, Mother Country, Robinson’s nonfiction examination of the consequences of pollution at the British nuclear reprocessing plant Sellafield, was a finalist for the National Book Award. When Gilead appeared in 2004, Robinson’s loyal cadre of readers gladly welcomed her return. Critics once again heaped praise on Robinson’s writing, and the novel won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well as the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. In 2008, her third novel, Home, was named a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Durose, Lisa. “Marilynne Robinson: A Bibliography.” Anthropological Quarterly 10 (Winter, 1997). Examines Robinson’s works and literary style, discusses Housekeeping and Mother Country, and lists works, interviews, criticism, and reviews.

Galehouse, Maggie. “Their Own Private Idaho: Transience in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.” Contemporary Literature 41 (Spring, 2000). Focuses on the notion of temporariness, natural and domestic landscapes, and mothering in Housekeeping.

Pinsker, Sanford. Conversations with Contemporary American Writers. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1985. Includes an interview with Robinson.

Robinson, Marilynne. “An Interview with Marilynne Robinson.” Interview by Thomas Schaub. Contemporary Literature 35 (Summer, 1994). Discusses “Housekeeping,” women in the West, experience and the vernacular, emotion, and more.

Robinson, Marilynne. “Interviews with Marilynne Robinson.” Iowa Review 22 (Winter, 1992). Contains valuable personal comments and observations on Housekeeping (including connections with the Book of Ruth) and Mother Country.

Rubenstein, Roberta. Boundaries of the Self: Gender, Culture, Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Rubenstein’s reading of Housekeeping is both accessible and perceptive.

Troy, Maria Holmgren. In the First Person and in the House: The House Chronotope in Four Works by American Women Writers. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University Press, 1999. Includes an analysis of Housekeeping.