Death of Adam CL: Avail in Paper

Marilynne Robinson, Author, Houghton Mifflin Company, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $24 (0p) ISBN 978-0-395-92692-5
""My intention, my hope, is to revive interest in... John Calvin. If I had been forthright about my subject, I doubt that the average reader would have read this far."" That's the introduction to one essay, but it could also apply to most of Robinson's (Housekeeping) first book in nearly a decade. Among the 10 essays here is one on the idea of wilderness and an intensely personal meditation on growing up Presbyterian, but these are essentially afterthoughts to an impassioned argument against America's contemporary social Darwinists cum free marketeers. And here's where Calvin comes in. She rebuts the characterization of Calvin as protocapitalist and the quick dismissal of his Puritan followers as prigs. Instead, she finds in their example a more fulfilling morality, one that substitutes personal responsibility for contemptuous condemnation of our fellows and a more personal, independent relationship with God and conscience. The corollary of the notion that ""our unhappiness is caused by society, is that society can make us happy,"" she writes, adding, ""Whatever else it is, morality is a covenant with oneself, which can only be imposed and enforced by oneself."" Though there are occasional problems--for example, the argument ""an important historical `proof' very current among us now is that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence unconscious of the irony of the existence of slavery"" is simply a straw man. But for the most part her moral integrity is accompanied by an equally rigorous intellectual integrity, and rather than accepting received wisdom she hunts it out for herself among original texts. In the process, she revives founding beliefs as a possible solution for current ills. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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