First edition. “I chose the name Ruth because it means compassionate gentleness,” Robinson writes across the first page. “It was a statement to myself about the method of the narrative.” Almost all of the annotations are written across the printed text, in the manner of paper-saving 19th-century correspondents. The occasional effort required to focus the eyes is well rewarded, as the comments have a playful and poetic quality, very much in keeping with the style and tone of the novel. “Memory is mutable and persistent like the self whose memory it is” (p.53). On the final page she writes: “This is about the infiltration of thought and experience by memory, about love in the tracings of memory, persisting and changing and animating.” Sometimes there are random observations on the action: “I have learned that many people have deep attachments to graham crackers.” “Sculpting in snow is a melancholy art.” There are interesting insights into how she created the characters: “The first thing I knew about Sylvie was a sentence ‘Sylvie’s hands were always cold.’ It doesn’t appear in the book.” A line Sylvie utters on p.51: “It’s hard to describe someone you know so well…” prompts this expostulation from Robinson: “It is impossible! This is why I never draw characters from life.” Of “Fingerbone,” the fictional locale of much of the story, Robinson writes, “I love these very tentative settlements. They are so essentially human, like some primordial outpost on the Tigres.” This quiet but powerful novel—Robinson’s first—received the PEN/Hemingway Award, and was adapted to the screen in 1987. At the outset of the last chapter she confesses to a cinematic sensibility in writing the book: “The book was very visual to me as I wrote it, and the most important scenes occur in a darkness, throwing light into relief.”
ROBINSON, Marilynne (b. 1943). Housekeeping. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust jacket.