Reading Adoption

Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama
Marianne Novy

A literary scholar who is an adult adoptee delves into one of the enduring themes of literature—the child raised by other parents


The paper back edition of this book was published in 2007 with minimal corrections to the text.

Reading Adoption explores the ways in which novels and plays portray adoption, and suggests how these representations have contributed to general perceptions of adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents. Marianne Novy reads a range of authors, including Sophocles, Shakespeare, George Eliot, Dickens, Barbara Kingsolver, Edward Albee and others, to observe how these works address the question of what makes a parent. She identifies repeated themes such as differences between adoptive parents and children, fantasies of mirroring between adoptees and their birth parents, and the relationship between nature and nurture. She meditates on how her relationships with her adoptive parents, her birth mother, and her own daughter affect her reading, and ultimately finds issues in much adoption literature relevant to parenting in any kind of family. Engagingly written from Novy's dual perspectives as critic and adult adoptee, the book combines the techniques of literary and feminist scholarship with memoir, shedding new light on familiar texts.

Marianne Novy is Professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is author or editor of numerous books, including Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture.

Praise / Awards

  • "Weaving together perceptive literary analyses, skillful expositions of cultural history, and thoughtful discussions of her own experiences as an adoptee, Marianne Novy illuminates texts ranging from Shakespeare's plays to the novels of Barbara Kingsolver. This book will interest not only students of literature but the many people involved with the process of adoption."
    ---Heather Dubrow, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • "In Reading Adoption Marianne Novy takes us back to Oedipus, that quintessential adoptee, and to Shakespeare's romance with parent-child reunions, as well as to orphans lost and found in modern English and American literature. And all the while she gives us insights into living adoption as she weaves her own story of reuniting with her birth mother, which is as absorbing as any of the fictional narratives she has guided us through."
    ---Betty Jean Lifton, author of Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness

  • "Profound and touching, deeply smart, the perfect blend of academic/intellectual and heartfelt humanity."
    ---A.M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life and The End of Alice

  • "Marianne Novy's book represents personal criticism at its best. At once a close, historicizing analysis of a wide range of fictions about adoption and a sensitive account of what it is like to read from the position of the adoptee, Reading Adoption brilliantly illuminates a subject hidden for centuries in plain view."
    ---Margaret Homans, Yale University
  • "A breath of fresh air . . . Illuminates the tension between families, birth and adoptive, that is always there, and is always much more complex than the all-nature or all-nurture camps try to make it . . . She makes us all question our dearly held myths and icons . . . and she stretches our imagination to encompass the complexity and diversity of adoptees and adoption as it is lived."
    ---Mary Anne Cohen, Bastard Quarterly

  • "A penetrating and highly informed study that makes an important contribution to the growing body of literature now constituting adoption studies. The book is notable-and courageous-in its blending of the personal and the scholarly . . . a book of monumental interest."
    ---Carol J. Singley, Rutgers University-Camden
  • "With her extraordinary combination of life-writing and literary analysis, Novy presents her reader with a new way to read old books . . . Novy places her work as a mediator between the extremes of opinions about adoption. This position enables her to question the assumptions of those too easily influenced by the literary conventions as well as to challenge those who---wishing to undo the formula altogether---believe that adoption is the answer to many world problems."
    ---Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • "An essential resource not just for scholars but for anyone who cares about adoption's pervasive influence in our culture."
    ---Lifewriting Annual

  • "Art imitates life and vice versa in Marianne Novy's thought-provoking, even-handed analysis of the classic plot device, from ancient Greece to the present: the abandoned child. Drawing on her own experiences as a person adopted in the 1940s and as a mother, along with her probing insight as an academic, Novy explores the evolving definitions of 'parent' throughout literature and history with sensitivity, wisdom, and fairness."
    ---Sarah Saffian, author of Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found
  • "Reading Adoption is one of those rare creatures in academic writing: a 'good read.'"
    ---Children's Literature Association Quarterly

  • "Novy's book offers much to those therapeutically interested in expanding the articulation of adoptive relationships and identities . . . It is at once a brave, original call to consciousness and confidence and a call for further scholarship."
    ---Jennifer Thorn, Modern Philology

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 304pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03264-8

Add to Cart
  • $29.95 U.S.



  •  Sophocles, Shakespeare, George Eliot, Dickens, Barbara Kingsolver, Edward Albee, adoption, reading, fiction, literary criticism, lit crit, literary studies, adoption studies, novels, plays, birth parents, adoptive parents, adoption literature