Imagining Adoption

Essays on Literature and Culture
Marianne Novy, Editor
Engaging essays on the theme of adoption as seen in literary works and in writings by adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption activists


Adoption has long been a pervasive theme in literature, from folk legends to the novels of Barbara Kingsolver. Many nonliterary writers have been increasingly drawn to the subject. Imagining Adoption brings together for the first time analyses of literary portrayals of adoption and other examples of adoption discourse.

The essays analyze adoption in a range of works, including the novels of George Eliot and Anthony Trollope; children's literature (Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte's Web); contemporary fiction (Louise Erdrich, Jeanette Winterson, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Laurence); and poetry (Sandra McPherson, Jackie Kay) and film (Secrets and Lies, Losing Isaiah). They examine personal narratives by "home children;" magazine articles by adoptive mothers; adoptee rights newsletters; and scholarly arguments about transracial and transnational adoption. The contributors contextualize their literary and rhetorical analyses with reference to historical research; feminist, Foucauldian, psychoanalytic, and postcolonial theory; and personal experience.

Adoption plots dramatize cultural tensions about definitions of family and the importance of heredity, along with changing constructions of illegitimacy, infertility, maternal instinct, and homosexuality. Since adoption often brings together people from groups separated by economics, ethnicity, and increasingly by nation of birth, its use in fiction can contrast their worlds, and can protest against their split and/or against the victimization of one group by the other. Some contributors argue that adoption affects the imagination of several adoptee authors (Albee, Winterson, McPherson, Kay) even when dealing with other topics. But most importantly this anthology shows how complex and varied are the ways in which people have written about adoption itself.

Marianne Novy is Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Pittsburgh. She has published Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare and Engaging with Shakespeare: Responses of George Eliot and Other Women Novelists, and has edited three anthologies on women's responses to Shakespeare: Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare, Cross-Cultural Performances , and Transforming Shakespeare.

Praise / Awards

  • "A timely and fascinating collection, Imagining Adoption holds a mirror up to the back of our social and mythic fabric, showing the warp of family romance shot through with a blood-red woof of adoption."
    ---Alison Booth, University of Virginia

  • "A book on adoption that resonates with the contradictions, love loss, power, symbolism, fantasy, pain, and joy that is adoption! This book is a treasure."
    ---Barbara Katz Rothman, Baruch College

  • "Here we have glimpses of what it feels like to be adopted and to adopt in this country, internationally, and interracially. An essential book for those who would understand where illusion and reality intersect in adoption."
    ---Betty Jean Lifton, Author of Journey of the Adopted Self

  • "As the face of adoption is undergoing radical change both nationally and internationally, we can only be thankful for a volume like Imagining Adoption . Turning to literature, memoir, and film, [these essays] illuminate the psychological and ideological issues surrounding adoption in subtle and complex readings. Imagining Adoption adds a new chapter to the narrative and the fantasy that constitutes family today."
    ---Marianne Hirsch, Dartmouth College

  • "A path-breaking anthology. I salute its intellectual bravery and its lucid framing of a vital topic of social and literary practice."
    ---Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Temple University

  • "Well-informed essays about social and theoretical constructs determining who belongs to whom for which reasons and at which price(s), including forthright discussions of the essential subjects of motherhood and the 'natural'... Comprehensive and complex, this is an anthology certain to find wide readership."
    ---Choice, February 2002

  • ". . . there is something for everyone in this stalwart volume on the heartwarming and heartrending subject that is known as adoption. Perhaps its main achievement is that it grounds adoption in reality, while appreciating adoption's place in literature and the imagination."
    ---Betty Jean Lifton, author of Twice Born, Decree, Summer 2002

  • "A remarkable anthology of scholarly views of adoption in literature---this book is a gem"

  • ". . . a gem that any thinking person interested in adoption would enjoy. . . . [T]he best thing I have read on the subject in ages."
    ---Mary Anne Cohen, Origins, Spring 2002

  • "It will be welcome to anyone curious about or engaged in the dense and apparently already particularized study of adoption as a literary theme, cultural metaphor, and social practice."
    ---J. M. Baker, Jr., University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Fall 2002

  • "If we are effectively to teach the literature of adoption, we must be able to help our students negotiate the social questions presented by the discursive and material practices that have defined this institution to date. Teachers and readers who want to engage in this enterprise will be particularly grateful to Novy's comprehensive introduction."
    ---Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy

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Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted May 2001.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03002-6

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  • $34.95 U.S.

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  • adoption, reading, fiction, literary criticism, lit crit, literary studies, adoption studies, novels, plays, birth parents, adoptive parents, adoption literature, foster children, foster parents, psychology, sociology, gender studies, families, relationships, reproduction, American studies, American literature, Edward Albee, economics, ethnicity, adoptees, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Anne of Green GablesCharlotte's Web, Louise Erdrich, Jeanette Winterson, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Laurence, Sandra McPherson, Jackie Kay, Secrets and LiesLosing Isaiah