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Peter de Lory. VALLEY VIEW, KETCH UM, IDAHO. 1974- Hand-colored gelatin silver print. 12 7l6"x 17 7 /8"- Minneapolis Institute of Arts, National Endowment for the Arts Photography Grant, and the Kate and Hall J. Peterson Fund. Peter de Lory's black-and-white photographs of large and lonely western land­ scapes mirror the setting of the mythical town of Fingerbone in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, whose inhabitants occupy a tenuous physical and emotional space. Viewing de Lory’s photographs, our eyes circle within scenes of sky, water, and earth before settling on objects that speak of the footprint of humanity and its impermanence. Like Fingerbone, the environments framed within de Lory’s camera resist traditional interpretation and reside in a multitude of hearts—what de Lory calls “the ways memory and myth overlay reality.” E r a s e d b y S p a c e , Ig n o r e d b y H i s t o r y : P l a c e a n d G e n d e r in M a r i l y n n e R o b i n s o n ’s W e s t T o n y R . M a g a g n a Fingerbone was never an impressive town. It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere. —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (62) Marilynne Robinson’s Fingerbone is a fragile and diminutive place. Presented in her novel Housekeeping, the lake community in the moun­ tains of Idaho sits amid an immense, imposing wilderness, its people burdened by persistent floods and snowstorms that threaten to over­ whelm the town and erase their hold on the land. The place is dwarfed by the vastness of the surrounding space; it is isolated by distance, cut off from the influences and recognized values of civilization. Robinson’s narrator describes the town and its people as “chastened” by a sense that they exist beyond the margins of recognized society (62), that the place they seek to inhabit and define is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere, a “no-place” so far out on the edge of human civilization as to be outside history, ever on the verge of being swallowed back into the wild spaces that encircle it. Immersed in this western wilderness, the residents of Fingerbone are haunted by a sense of “elsewhere,” a belief that there exist more estab­ lished, settled places where “things [are] otherwise,” where the habits and histories of life are stable and meaningful (62, 178). The townspeople are ever aware of their precarious place within the western landscape as well as their distance from the centers of legitimate culture in those imagined elsewheres. Their attempts to define a sense of place for themselves belie anxieties about the uncertainty of their position on the margins; the town’s efforts to fit into a larger tradition of recognized history, as well as to ward off the feelings of illegitimacy and impermanence attendant to their place in the West, manifest in self-conscious acts of placing and of history-making. More significantly, especially to Ruth’s family of women, these anxious attempts to inhabit a sense of local identity W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e 4 3 .4 (W in t e r 2 0 0 9 ) : 3 4 5 -7 1 3 4 6 W ESTERN AMERICAN LITERATURE W IN TE R 2 0 0 9 often result in physical and social boundaries that enforce exclusion­ ary definitions as to what people and which actions belong and whose experiences matter. Although Housekeeping has garnered significant critical attention since its publication, much of it has focused on issues of female domes­ ticity as well as on the gendered politics of mobility and transience at play. There has been little critical effort— particularly in the last decade— to explore Robinson’s work as a product and reflection of the North American West or to place it within the larger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 345-371
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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