Robinson: General Introduction
Born and grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, south of Canadian border.
A two-time Finalist for the National Book Award for her novel
Housekeeping (1983), and her book Mother Country: Britain,
Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution (1989)
Her views on the American West and her American predecessors.
Housekeeping: Plot Summary
As a Metafiction (by
I. Mothers, (Fathers,) and Daughters;
"What you choose
to do has a shadow of what you choose to forego.
1). What roles do men play in this novel?
In order to create that
feeling of dimensionality, I simply split up one woman and made her into
a group of women." (Robinson from the Interview
2). How is grandmother's housekeeping presented? How
is she related to her daughters?
3). Ruth and Lucille's "mothers:" Who take the role of
"mothers" to her and Lucille? How are each of them charcterized?
4). Ruth's and Lucille's growth: The story is narrated from Ruth's point
of view. How do they grow apart from each other and why?
II. Feminine writing and Women's stories:
Cixous & Kristeva )
Cixous sees in women's writing "the potential to circumvent and reformulate
existing structures through the
inclusion of other
experience." How is this done in Housekeeping? Consider
both its narrative style, main focus and "the other women" in it.
(What are the other women's stories that get told in this novel?
Q: Is there semiotic disposition in this novel? (ref. The semiotic
the emergence of the semiotic in the symbolic, or the
genotext in the phenotext.
rhythm, ambiguity and over-symbolicity, the switches and multiplicity of
locutionary position. )
III. Symbolic meanings: Housekeeping vs.
the lake and the flood; brightness and darkness; the train
"A lot of the
things that are in Housekeeping are preoccupations that emerged from this
kind of writing without any specific intentions -- and they were preoccupations
I wasn't particularly aware of, like housekeeping, and memory, and place"
(Robinson from the Interview
Q: 6) What are the
different houses we see in this novel? How are they "kept" differently
by different characters?
7) The setting itself is symbolic: Fingerbone, the lake and the train that
goes through the bridge.
(Ref. Discussion of the lake as a metafictional element )
IV. The West and Transient
About the American
West. "That's the part of the country where I grew up . . . and it's a
part of the country that people in general have a very impoverished imagination
with M. Robinson; Reading
in the novel -- shy, shown in photos, like to travel;
2. Reginald Stone
(1): pp. 3-4 -- his adventure;
(1): pp. 5-6 -- the derailment
of the train and his death
(2): p. 40 -- his "importance"
3. Fisher -- p. 15 not even
a photo, no name. His job is unclear (6) pp. 101-102.
mentioned on (1) p. 14 (photo);
(3) pp. 51-52;
housekeeping & love:
grandmother twofold marginalization
(the town, how they recognize her death--her insertion into the public sphere
after Grandfather's death: (1)
p. 11-12; perfect serenity p. 13;
Not really to keep them:
Her feelings about Edmund's
death and of his disappearance before his death 10;
sense of love after marriage:
(1) p. 12;
the resurrection of the ordinary
pp. 15-18 (or strangeness in the ordinary)
changes in the daughter pp.
2nd-time childcare and housekeeping:
as if dreaming, insecure 24-25;
pie for ghost children-- with well-meaning and despair; 26
aging p. 26;
I-3. Ruth and Lucille's "mothers":
Helen and her house see only the tented top 20; string attached to
the children 21;
the two aunts, Lily and Nona:
consensus, habit and familiarity:
their dialogue p. 30;
their response to the two girls:
unpracticed pats and kisses. (2) p. 29; utter fear of the outside world
their views of Sylvie
- the other 'mothers' --Home Economics
teacher; Rosette Brown's mother 104
Sylvie and her housekeeping:
her transienct actions: Sylvie
on the rail 80; 82-83
housekeeping: pp. 85; her ways
of buying things 93; evening 99; Sylvie compared with Helen (7) p. 110
how she changes her ways of
housekeeping after the town's intervention 199
missing the mother: searching
and waiting for resurrection like hoboes p. 96, missing the mother p. 121
in need of a mother: snow woman
Lucille vs. Sylvie:
questioning her and then defending
her p. 57-58; children p. 69 ; dressing 92-94; husband 100-101;
Ruth's differences from Lucille: Lucille's
response to the flood p. 66; her response to seeing Sylvie on the bridge
81-82; last summer: different views on going to the woods (6) 98-99;
different views of their "mother"
(7) p. 109-110;
Ruth needs Sylvie -- confusing Helen with
Sylvie 53; Ruth's fear of separation p. 68; p. 70-71; 106; 109; connect
Sylvie with Helen, in front of the mirror 130-131;
Lucille's taking action
(7) p. 122 -
Ruth unwilling to follow; finds
what she lost in Sylvie's house 124 -
II. Feminine writing and Women's stories:
Confirmation and a metaphysical examination of what house/home keeping
Narrative Style: circular, associative and re-visioning
recurrence of her love for Edmund
after his death : e.g. the wind passage -- pp.. 16-18;
repetition of the quietness
after the daughters' departure p. 15; repetition of descriptions
of grandmother's housekeeping, e.g. 27.
the train as a metaphor pp.
The story is told by Ruth--in her attempts to re-construct the past in a
sympathetic way (with expressions such as "say" "I have wondered.") e.g. the
wind passage; p. 48 about Sylvie ; p. 96 about the hoboes and them
Her attempts at reconstruction pp. 53; 91.
Molly p. 90; Helen, Sylvie,
Bernice's taking care of Ruth
and Lucille 21-22;
grandmother's mother's story
about a woman and ghost children 25-26;
Ettie's story about an old lady
and her parrot p. 24;
Sylvie's stories: lonely women
66-67; about travelling women: Edith, a woman of substance p. 87; Alma,
seeing the sunset 88; the lady who goes to see her cousin being hanged
grandfather's houses: the stairs p.47; grandfather's wardrobe 89;
the school p. 76
meanings: Housekeeping vs. the lake and the flood; brightness and darkness;
forming and/or conforming to
habits, patterns and properties
"unhouse me of this flesh" 159
Loss and transience:
the lake: like a mysterious
dark world with the surface as a breakable boundary p. 7-8; Fingerbone
and the lake pp. 4, 9 ; the lake and history p.41
the flood: Fingerbone's hoard
destroyed 62-63; The house flowed around us. p. 64; the bushes have moved.
the train -- p. 50;
Interconnectedness of the images
-- images associated
with water-- the dear ordinary = image on the water 15; shadow on the
water = image in an eye p. 5; grandmother's property --> turns liquid 27;
window: warped as water p.86; woman in the mirror = woman in the dream,
remembered, and in the lake. 131-32
-- images associated with
the town - light (as opposed to the darkness in Nature and on the lake
-- deep woods associated
with old house p. 98
-- the world's gaze as distorting
memory p. 53; lighted
train --> "Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted
house." (8) p.154
Reconstruction, sense of connectedness
fragments to be reconstructed:
what perished need not also
be lost 124
IV. The West
the town vs. transients:
Ruth's feelings about the town
and the world: the world's gaze (distorting) p. 99
the town represented by Rosette
Brown's mother (6) pp. 103; 104
R's silence (does not know what
she thinks) 105; Ruth's awkwardness felt very tall 121;her loneliness (after
Lucille rejects her) p. 136
Her narration shows how she
understands grandmother and Sylvie. pp. 48-49.
Her use of "we" p. 98; Her different
interpretation of staying overnight in Nature 116
In her narration, she wants to speak to
Lucille (174); she speaks to "you" about breaking
up a family p. 190
Her gradual understanding and acceptance
of transience and death, while trying to connect with the living.
Her acceptance of darkness as a
solvent of everything. 1) The visible is illusive; "...there need not be
relic, remnant, margin, residue, bequest. . . " (116)
Her experience of sleep as death
118; --> Her interpretation of her dream of waiting for her mother with
The perished need not also be lost
To crave is to have 152;
tearing down the house--> willing
to un-house herself 158