Although critics echo Marilynne Robinson's own preferences in highlighting similarities between her work and nineteenth-century American literature, doing so undercuts her attempts to revive contemporary public discourse by modeling dialogue across difference in her fiction. Such conversations are a major theme in her novel Lila, in which an elderly pastor and young migrant worker articulate the old wounds and cultural assumptions that derail their conversations, and yet choose to marry and continue seeking understanding. In Lila, Robinson also engages her immediate literary forebears in conversation, evoking William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying in order to resist the cynicism of his female protagonist. Although Robinson fears that a similar cynicism dominates her own era, she puts forth, through her titular character, a revival of the "character of generosity" she deems essential for contemporary public life.


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pp. 277-298
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