marilynne robinson

Marilynne Robinson

Source: Irish Times

After our reading week for American Literature, we returned to our lectures this week and discussed the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. This novel narrates the maturing of twins Ruth and Lucille as they grow up under the care of various relatives. This story is compelling as it focuses on the relationships between different generations of women, with men playing only a minor role in the development of the story.


Cover of Housekeeping

Source: Faber & Faber

The family tree begins with Sylvia and Edmund, who have three daughters, Helen, Molly, and Sylvia, who is known as Sylvie. Edmund dies early in the story as the train he is travelling on suddenly flies off the tracks and crashes into the lake in Fingerbone, Idaho, where the story is set. Later on in the novel, Helen, the mother of Ruth and Lucille, commits suicide by driving into the same lake where her father had died years earlier.

The twins are then passed between several guardians including their grandmother Sylvia, their great aunts Lily and Nona, and finally their aunt Sylvie, who returns to her home town after living her life until this point as a wanderer, never settling in one place. While Ruth and Sylvie become quite close, Lucille never reciprocates the same feelings towards her aunt, and eventually leaves Fingerbone and her relatives behind.

I found this novel intriguing to discuss as it the first text we have looked at this semester which focuses on the relationship between women within a family and how the family dynamic can shift as the twins move between different guardians.

The title of the novel, Housekeeping, is also interesting as it can be interpreted both in the literal sense of keeping the home organised and tidy, and also the idea of the relationship between the various generations of women living within this particular house. I enjoyed discussing this novel in the lectures and am looking forward to talking more about the themes and other elements of the narrative in my tutorials. If you have read Housekeeping what did you think of the novel?

I’ve only a few weeks of American Lit lectures left, and I’ll be back next week with another blog post on the latest author we’ve looked at!


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