Literary kinships
Euro-American orphans, gender, genre, and cultural memory
in Making home
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This chapter examines contemporary novels featuring white orphans that engage intertextually with the Euro-American canon, claiming a type of literary kinship, at the same time as they draw upon a feminist counter-tradition as a form of recovered cultural memory: Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping (1981), Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005). The chapter scrutinizes the particular processes that white orphan characters are involved in – processes of inclusion, exclusion, recentering, and critique – and argues that contemporary orphan stories renegotiate conventional gender divides in the American quest or picaresque, the bildungsroman, and domestic or sentimental fiction, for in these novels the trajectories of boy and girl orphans entail a repositioning in terms of gender and genre. In claiming literary kinship with earlier genres, they draw on cultural memory but also challenge central American myths.

Making home

Orphanhood, kinship, and cultural memory in contemporary American novels

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