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Home on the Horizon

America’s Search for Space, from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan


Sally Bayley

In this study of space and place, Sally Bayley examines the meaning of ‘home’ in American literature and culture. Moving from the nineteenth-century homestead of Emily Dickinson to the present-day reality of Bob Dylan, Bayley investigates the relationship of the domestic frontier to the wide-open spaces of the American outdoors. In contemporary America, she argues, the experience of home is increasingly isolated, leading to unsettling moments of domestic fallout.
At the centre of the book is the exposed and often shifting domain of the domestic threshold: Emily Dickinson’s doorstep, Edward Hopper’s doors and windows, and Harper Lee’s front porch. Bayley tracks these historically fragile territories through contemporary literature and film, including Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford – works that explore local, domestic territories as emblems of nation. The culturally potent sites of the american home – the hearth, porch, backyard, front lawn, bathroom, and basement – are positioned in relation to the more conflicted sites of the American motel and hotel.


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Introduction 1


1 surroundings; children were both the subjects and the objects of home life. Bushnell’s Work and Play (1864) promoted a picturesque notion of home life and was sufficiently influential to be adopted by several maga- zines of the day. The Happy Home and Parlor, along with novels such as Catherine Sedgwick’s Home (1935, Sedgwick being the most popular writer of her day), fed the nation’s appetite for picturesque living: homes in which religion, education and architectural structures and interiors aligned to benefit the ‘domestic spirit’ of their inhabitants. The result was an unspecified ideology of what songwriter John Howard Payne entitled ‘Home, Sweet Home’.42 ‘Home feeling’ provided an atmosphere of good intent and edifying practices made cosy by sympathetic relations between children and parents; between families and their décor. But ‘home’ was also clearly something made up: an undetermined and unfixed ideology that roamed the early American imagination, lingering outside of space and time. While Sedgwick and Payne strongly hinted at an ideal home, there were no definite constitutional characteristics. Home was first and foremost a spirit of place like no other.43 For Amherst poet Emily Dickinson, home was closely aligned to a sense of God. ‘Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – / I keep it, stay- ing at Home’.44 Home was where one ‘kept’ God, and at home, and in the peculiarly American and intransitive sense of the verb, one ‘visited with’ divinity.45 In other words, one conversed with God in private, and thereby transported the idea...

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