Monday, December 04, 2006

Life Traces: Raitt

The Setons at Home: Organizing a Family Biography
Lucinda H. MacKethanDepartment of EnglishNorth Carolina State University
Houses are some of America's greatest storytellers and function in any culture as powerful social symbols. The double meaning of "House," which Edgar Allan Poe understood so well when he wrote his classic story "The Fall of the House of Usher," demonstrates how the house-as-structure in its physical design can become a telling statement of identity, taste, class, place, training, and heritage. In terms of semiotics, the study of sign systems and the conventions governing their interactions, the house as "form" signals the symbolic as well as genealogical ligatures of family. Poe was able with great economy in his story to expose and explore one man's full life through intertwining descriptions of Usher's family lineage and the residence in which he dwelled. The linguistic association of House with Nation-State is another significant nineteenth century usage to consider, as when Abraham Lincoln, in 1858, presented in simple domestic terms his nation's terrible dilemma: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Across the Atlantic, in 1860, the year that saw the United States reach the last stage of its unalterable dividedness before the cataclysm of war, Ernest Thompson Seton was born in the rugged Northumberland region of England. Forty years later he was well on his way to becoming a standard bearer of a new American century at its supremely confident beginning. To frame the story of the Seton family in America -- father Ernest, mother Grace, and daughter Anya -- through the houses that they themselves built between 1900 and 1951, is to have a way to contain, to "house" so to speak, their lives -- geographically, psychologically, and socially - as successful writers, as prominent American personalities, and as a complex and ultimately failed family.
Life Traces: Raitt

No comments: