This chapter presents the French courtly love debate, the demande d’amour, as the scaffolding that supports William Dunbar’s longest poem, The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo. The demande d’amour is assessed against the conventions typical of the French form as well as a near-contemporary Scottish example, Sir Gilbert Hay’s inset demande in The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour. This leads into a broader discussion of poetics in fifteenth-century Scotland, especially as represented in Dunbar’s wider corpus. Next, the composition of the locus amoenus, the frame garden, is contextualised by other examples from Dunbar’s poetry. The narrator’s role in the poem is shown to be highly influential to the concepts of narratology and subjectivity. These various aspects of the text are demonstrated to intersect at moments of narrative grotesque where conventions and expectations are ruptured and reformed in distorted and dissonant ways.
This book introduces a new critical framework for reading medieval texts. The narrative grotesque decentres critical discourse by turning focus to points at which literary texts distort and rupture conventional narratological and poetic boundaries. These boundary-warping grotesques are crystallised at moments affective horror and humour. Two seminal Older Scots works are used to exemplify the multivalent applications of the narrative grotesque: Gavin Douglas’s The Palyce of Honour (c. 1501) and William Dunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo (c. 1507). These texts create manifold textual hybridisations, transfigurations, and ruptures in order to interrogate modes of discourse, narratological subjectivities, and medieval genre conventions. Within the liminal space opened up by these textual (de)constructions, it is possible to reconceptualise the ways in which poets engaged with concepts of authenticity, veracity, subjectivity, and eloquence in literary writing during the late medieval period.
This chapter locates Gavin Douglas’s poem, The Palyce of Honour, within a wider medieval tradition of dream vision poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer’s dream vision poems, The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls, as well as Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid are presented as intertexts to Douglas’s vision. Douglas’s text is shown to fracture typical expectations of the dream vision landscape, the dreamer’s interaction with this landscape, as well as the narrator’s conceptualisation of the process of recording the dream vision. The poem is then set in conversation with concepts of Italian humanist poetics, which conceived of the poet as a divine conduit, a prophet, that could transmit divinely inspired discourses. The framework of the narrative grotesque is applied in order to elucidate the ways in which Douglas warps the medieval genre to integrate humanist philosophies of poetics into his work.
Robinson as professor and defender of ‘America’s best idea’
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff and Kathryn E. Engebretson
For a quarter century, Marilynne Robinson taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. As such, she holds a significant place in the storied lineage of that institution and to the production of workshop writing. This essay will contextualise Robinson’s tenure as a professor and reflect on her opinions on the course of American education. Combined with testimony from former students, the essay covers aspects of her working life that reveal how indivisible it was from her work as a writer. Much of the advice she gave to her students shows an instructor aware of the bigger picture of American education, while maintaining an interpersonal and small-group insistence upon drawing out complexity, emotional truth, and the vulnerable reaches of her pupils’ imaginations.
This essay juxtaposes the inheritance of transcendentalism found in Marilynne Robinson’s novels and essays with the philosophical retrieval of Emerson and Thoreau in Stanley Cavell’s work. Focusing on questions of the ordinary, inwardness, and scepticism, it argues for productive affinities between Robinson and Cavell, characterised by their reactivation of transcendentalist modes. Exploring solipsistic currents in Housekeeping alongside questions of acknowledgement in the Gilead trilogy, this essay contrasts Robinson’s foregrounding of a mysterious, numinous ordinary with the sceptical discovery of the ordinary traced by Cavell. Both Robinson and Cavell give a decisive voice to transcendentalism in this conversation of the ordinary – Cavell’s claims for the philosophical precision of Emerson and Thoreau’s responses to scepticism consonant with Robinson’s admiration for the ‘rigor with which they fasten on problems of language, of consciousness’.
Bereavement, time, and home spaces in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Home
This essay focuses on the depictions of intimate grief that are at the core of two of Marilynne Robinson’s novels. It examines the author’s dense metaphorical representations of the sanctity of human loss through the interaction of her characters with houses, shelters, shacks, and barns. Drawing in particular on work from cultural geography and ritual studies, this essay presents a set of analyses of domestic spaces and domestic rituals in Housekeeping and Home to argue that Robinson’s houses are sacred ‘timespaces’ in which tiny, daily gestures function as metaphoric enactments of the sublimity of loss. It also explores her representations of homelessness as equally potent metaphors for the prolonged suffering of grief.
The home is a central fixture in the cultural imaginary of the United States. In Home, Marilynne Robinson utilises the affects and feelings that circulate in and through a mid-twentieth century Iowan home to probe the relations between memory, race, and nation. This essay argues that Home shifts the Gilead novels to a dominant tone of sadness and melancholy and that the centrality of feeling in Robinson’s novel has decidedly political ends. The sadness that moves within the Boughton home when Jack, the ‘prodigal son’, returns from many years away, agitates the family and community from forgetting, or side-lining, familial and national concerns. The home-spaces of Robinson’s novel therefore require the reader to dwell on twentieth-century America as it is ruptured and troubled from within. In this way, Home quietly and emotively disturbs domestic and public spaces.
A little different every time' - Accumulation and repetition in Jack
This essay closes the collection by considering what Robinson’s fourth Gilead novel, Jack, adds to the quartet. Returning to the same characters in four temporally and spatially limited stories, the Gilead novels work by a process of repetition and slow accumulation, adding meaning through slight changes in voice, perspective, and the gradual revelation of detail. Jack alters this thesis only slightly, retelling the much-discussed life of Jack ‘John Ames’ Boughton from a third-person perspective more closely aligned with his psyche and finally covering the period before Gilead when he began his relationship with Della Miles. Yet, adding more detail to the already well-trodden story of Jack and his inter-racial relationship with Della demonstrates major gaps in how Jack – and, indeed, Robinson – perceives his impact on others. This essay therefore ends the collection by questioning the centrality of whiteness to the Gilead novels and asking who, in these novels, gets the privilege of second, third, or fourth chances.
Civil rights, civil war, and radical transformation in Home and Gilead
This chapter argues that race and racial equality are a central, stand-alone, and defining preoccupation in Robinson’s oeuvre. This essay argues that Gilead and Home constitute two of the most radical novels on the subject of race and civil rights in America. They have far more in common with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) or Toni Morrison’s Jazz (1992) than they do with novels by other white authors that similarly invoke the racial politics of the 1950s and 1960s. Whereas for Philip Roth or Jeffrey Eugenides, for example, racial difference and racial ‘mixing’ exist predominantly as useful metaphors, for Robinson race ‘as race’ is an unresolved conflict at the heart of her project. In this she is allied – to some extent – with William Faulkner, and most closely with the radical writers of the nineteenth-century such as Herman Melville and Mark Twain, as this essay concludes.
This essay considers how Robinson uses the figure of the orphan to explore the tension between American self-reliance and a feminist ethic-of-care. It argues that in repositioning the concept of care outside of the home, Robinson rewrites the terms of domesticity in order to embrace the idea of the interdependence of the human and natural worlds. Despite being separate works written 30 years apart, Housekeeping and Lila call for a comparative reading because of their central female protagonists and their shared thematic concern with women’s transience. In both novels there is a strong link between the orphan's isolation and the natural world, as Robinson explores an Emersonian model of self-reliance, of finding an individual, nonconformist connection to the American landscape. Indeed, through her use of the female orphan trope, Robinson asks whether it is possible to reconcile the separation of the landscape from the American home: to maintain a solitary connection to nature, while also embracing the relationships of care central to domesticity. Like the nineteenth-century women writers before her, she both challenges the domestic ideal and extends its message of interdependence, framing this within the contemporary context of environmentalism.