Robinson on the West and her Literary Predecessors


Robinson on the West

p. 168  I am praising that famous individualism associated with western and American myth.  When I praised anything, I proceed from the assumption that the distinction available to us in thie world are not arrayed between good and bad but between bad and worse.  . . . The opposition frequently made between individualism on one hand and responsibility to society on the other is a false opposition as we all know.  . .  .

p. 169  The cult of the individual that, to the best of my belief, enlisted me here was aesthetic and religious.  The significance of every human destiny is absolute and equal.  The transactions of conscience, doubt, acceptance, rebellion, are priviledged, secret, and unknowable.  . . . Only lonesomeness allows one to experience this sort of radical sigularity, one's greatest dignity and privilege.  Understanding this permits one to understand the sacred poetry in strangeness, silence and otherness.  The vernacular form of this idea is the western hero, the man of whom nothing can ever really be known.

p. 170  the frontier hero
their heroes lived outside society, .  . .In Thoreau he is a critic.  In the vernacular tradition of western myth he is a rescuer and avenger.  In every version he expresses discontent with society.  . .  .My one great objection to the American hero was that ht ewas inevitably male--. . . So I created a female hero, of sorts, also an outsider and a stranger.

Robinson on the influences she recieved:   (New York Times Book Review  May 13 1984: 30)
"If to admire and to be influenced are more or less the same thing, I must be influenced most deeply by the 19th-century Americans--Dickenson, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson and Poe.  Nothing in literature appeals to me more than the rigor with which they fasten on problems of language, of consciousness--bending form to their purposes, ransacking ordinary speech and common experience, rummaging through the exotic and the recondite, setting Promethean doubts to hymn tunes, refining popular magazine tales into arabesques, pondering bean fields, celebrating the float and odor of hair, always, to borrow a phrase from Wallace Stevens, in the act of finding what will suffice.  I think they must have believed everything can be apprehended truly when it is seen in the light of an esthetic understanding appropriate to itself, whence their passion for making novel orders of disparate things.

Hedrick  140

What is of interest immediately in the novel is its framing of the two main female characters, as well as its sphere of the domestic and the maternal, within a discourse on the house and house-keeping taken from nineteenth-century writers such as Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. . . .  At the time that he wrote Walden,Thoreau was well aware of the repetitive and oppressive nature of domestic housework: "[. . .] we know not what it is to live in open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think" (19).  Sylvie echoes this sentiment; when she comes back to take care of Ruth and Lucille, Sylvie proceeds to "attune" her mother's house "to the orchard and to the particularities of weather [. . . ]"(85)

Thoreau on housekeeping (qtd in Hedrick 140)

At present our houses are cluttered [. . . ] a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole, and not leave her morning's work undone.    [. . . ] what should be man's morning work in this world?  I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but but I was terrified to find that they required to dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still [. . . ] How, then, could I have a furnished house?  I would rather sit in the open aire.  (Thoreau 24)

Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped [. . . ] now, a taste for the beautiful is most cultivaed out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.

What makes Housekeeping extraordinary is not its use of Transcendental texts, but its literalization of an attitude toward the house that we accept as masculine and philosophical, but not as feminine and domestic. ..

Hedrick,-Tace.   'The Perimeters of Our Wandering Are Nowhere': Breaching the Domestic in Housekeeping."  Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction (1999 Winter)40.2: 137-51.

Robinson,-Marilynne.  "My Western Roots."   Old West - New West: Centennial Essays.   Ed. Meldrum Barbara Howard. Moscow: U of Idaho P, 1993: 165-72.