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Title: Ordinary sanctity : grief and the fiction of Marilynne Robinson
Author: Clarke, Lucy
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 6295
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2016
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Academic research on grief in the West is a twentieth-century phenomenon and until recently has been conducted almost exclusively in the psy- and cognate disciplines. One consequence of this is theory-led scholarship and a persistent set of erroneous assumptions which now pass for clinical lore. These include the presumption that grief is amenable to comparison and measurement, that it occurs in chronological time, that it is a process which ends and, if it persists or remains absent, that it can be treated and recovered from like an illness. Since the late-twentieth century, critical grief scholars from across disciplines and bereaved people themselves have argued that this does not reflect the lived experiences of those who grieve. Demands have been made for a far more expressive discourse which acknowledges grief’s texture and open-endedness and seeks to depathologise bereavement, grief and mourning; however, problematic assumptions about bereavement persist. This thesis argues that adequate descriptions of grief can only be achieved if researchers privilege the poetics of loss over and above the logic of theories of loss. American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has long been critical of the over-reliance on scientism that has evacuated contemporary knowledge of the felt experience of human lives. This thesis argues that felt experiences of intimate bereavement are at the core of her four novels, Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008) and Lila (2014), and as such that Robinson’s fiction and thought can fruitfully expand knowledge about grief. Focusing in particular on her textured evocations of the first-person experience of grief; grief and timelessness; and grief and sociality, this thesis treats Robinson’s novels as vivid and ethical thick descriptions of grief and griever consciousness. It reads her work within and against the critical context of recent grief scholarship across a variety of disciplines in order to challenge prevailing wisdom and to position her fiction as a critical and highly legitimate source of emotional epistemology on loss. It concludes that her revisionist approach to human suffering provides a profound and productive intervention in a field troubled by the rationalization of human experience, and confused by both its uncritical secular scientistic legacy and the early twenty-first-century search for a secular ethics.
Supervisor: Lea, Daniel Sponsor: Oxford Brookes University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral