Roxana Robinson at The Nation:
Marilynne Robinson’s novels are beautifully rendered works of realism, which is perhaps our most distinguished literary genre. They are intellectually complex and emotionally compelling. Miraculously, they also manage to be accessible, popular and commercially successful. So in many ways Robinson is a mainstream author, but in others she is in direct opposition to the traditions of Anglo-American literature.
Despite our various personal and political commitments to religion, when it comes to literature we have become a decidedly secular nation. The presence of religious doctrine, or Scripture, or theology, in mainstream fiction is scant. Religion seems directly at variance with the skeptical, rational, pragmatic realism that dominates our literary tradition. Whatever question the novel poses, God is not the answer.
In Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay muses, with conventional piety, “We are in the hands of the Lord. But instantly she was annoyed with herself…she had been trapped into saying something she did not mean…. The insincerity…roused her, annoyed her.” Now she wants to purify that lie “out of existence” and goes on to think, “How could any Lord have made this world?… there is no reason, order, justice: but suffering, death, the poor. There was no treachery too base for the world to commit; she knew that.” Mrs. Ramsay’s calm pronouncement affirms that it is possible to love the world, and the people in it, without a belief in God.
How would religion enter into fiction anyway?