Sunday, September 6, 2020

a work of art for living in

One of Ursula K. Le Guin's more unusual essays is titled "Living in a Work of Art." It's in her collection Words Are My Matter. It's a description of the house she grew up in, in Berkeley, and of what it was like to live there. She describes the house as beautiful but eminently livable (unlike some architectural houses which exist for their artistic qualities only), and made mostly of finely polished but untreated wood. It was designed by the noted architect Bernard Maybeck in 1907, with extensive gardens laid out by John McLaren, the designer of Golden Gate Park.

You can now see something of what it looks like in realtor photos in this news article, for it is now for sale. It's very wooden, and very open and airy - I expect there are other parts not quite so much so, for Le Guin writes elsewhere of her father's study, and I doubt it looked like that - and the gardens are thick and elaborate.

Anyway, interesting to see. The article says that Le Guin herself once owned the house, but I don't think that's true. It was her parents' house, which they bought from the original owners in 1925, soon after their marriage, a few years before Le Guin was born. She writes that her family lived in it until her mother's death in 1979, and I would presume it was sold at that time. Le Guin herself never lived in the house, except for visits, after she went off to college in 1947, and for the remaining dozen years of her father's life, her parents spent most of the time on the East Coast where he was now teaching, and when she stayed with them it was there. Then she got married and established her own household. But the essay testifies that this house did shape her childhood.

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