Marilynne Robinson's Novel Housekeeping

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Marilynne Robinson's novel Housekeeping


In this paper, it will be discussed Marilynne Robinson's novel Housekeeping, and a literary criticism relying on secondary sources to explore the work of this novelist. Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and Lucille, two sisters who, after their mother's suicide, cared for by a succession of female relatives, finally and most unconventionally by their mother's youngest sister, Sylvie, a wanderer who returns home to attend to her nieces with a peculiar notion of housekeeping. Ruthie offers as an explanation for their flight from civilization; her statement is as well Robinson's articulation of her deviation from the myth of the unencumbered American hero. Her female hero is extremely much entangled with history, ancestry, the inheritances of family and race; she is an individual standing, not alone, but together, with an aunt who is also mother and sister, and with whom she affirms the bonds of family.

Critical Analysis

Housekeeping is a complex, often amorphous novel about appearance and reality, mutability, and memory and the past. It lends itself to--and has yielded--a variety of critical explications, ranging from Thomas Foster's reading of it as a representation of Julia Kristeva's theory of women's time, to Elizabeth Meese's reconstruction of the novel as Robinson's attempt to explore the creation of an individual and communal female self, to Gunilla Florby's consideration of the author's use of the "machine in the garden" theme. In short, Housekeeping is not simply Robinson's engagement of one of the central myths of American literature, but her appreciations for American literature and her critique of it are an intriguing element of the novel.

In "Is There Life after Art? The Metaphysics of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping," Joan Kirkby notes the echoes of American literature in Robinson's recommendation in Housekeeping of a return to nature. "Inevitably," Kirkby writes, "Housekeeping evokes and improvises on recurring motifs and whole structures and patterns of resonance from the works of those earlier American writers also preoccupied with the interaction of nature and art, Dickinson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson, Poe" (Kirkby, pp.92-93). Indeed, the student of nineteenth-century American literature recognizes allusions to those and other writers throughout Housekeeping.

In an interview about Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson speaks of the influence of the American writers whose work reverberates throughout her novel. "I'm a great admirer of nineteenth-century American fiction; and I've been told that Moby-Dick, for example, is a 'man's book' all of which led me to think that if I would write a book with only female characters that men would read, then I could have Moby-Dick!" She continues, proudly: "And, to be honest about it, men have been very nice about Housekeeping. Amazing numbers have read it" (Marilynne Robinson, pp.122). Marilynne Robinson may well express amazement at the number of men who have read and liked Housekeeping, for underlying her appreciation for, and use of, the traditional male American writers and the myth of freedom in wandering is a subversive female narrative that dramatically rewrites a central myth of canonical American literature.

Judith Fetterley and Nina Baym have applied their ...