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Prefaces to Deephaven

Sarah Orne Jewett
 

Preface to the 1877 Edition

     This book is not wholly new, several of the chapters having already been published in the Atlantic Monthly.

     It has so often been asked if Deephaven may not be found on the map of New England under another name, that, to prevent any misunderstanding, I wish to say, while there is a likeness to be traced, few of the sketches are drawn from that town itself, and the characters will in almost every case be looked for there in vain.

     I dedicate this story of out-of-door life and country people first to my father and mother, my two best friends, and also to all my other friends, whose names I say to myself lovingly, though I do not write them here.
 

S. O. J.

Preface to the 1893 Edition




     The short lifetime of this little book has seen great changes in the conditions of provincial life in New England. Twenty years ago, or a little more, the two heroines whose simple adventures are here described might well have served as types of those pioneers who were already on the eager quest for rural pleasures. Twenty years ago, our fast-growing New England cities, which had so lately been but large towns, full of green gardens and quiet neighborhoods, were just beginning to be overcrowded and uncomfortable in summer. The steady inflow of immigration, and the way in which these cities had drawn to themselves, like masses of quicksilver, much of the best life of the remotest villages, had made necessary a reflex current that set countryward in summer. This presently showed itself to be of unsuspected force and significance: it meant something more than the instinct for green fields and hills and the seashore; crowded towns and the open country were to be brought together in new association and dependence upon each other. It appeared as if a second Harvey had discovered a new and national circulation of vitality along the fast-multiplying railroads that spun their webs to bind together men who had once lived far apart. The civil war, which had given so many citizens of the North their first journey and first knowledge of the world outside their native parishes; the fashion set before the war by those gay Southerners who for the most part filled the few mountain and seashore hotels of the North; the increase of wealth, and of the number of persons who had houses in town and country both, - all these causes brought about great and almost sudden changes in rustic life. Old farmhouses opened their doors to the cheerful gayety of`summer; the old jokes about the respective aggressions and ignorances of city and country cousins gave place to new compliments between the summer boarder and his rustic host. It began to appear that neither men nor women of the great towns were any longer stayers-at-home according to the Scripture admonition.

     The young writer of these Deephaven sketches was possessed by a dark fear that townspeople and country people would never understand one another, or learn to profit by their new relationship. She may have had the unconscious desire to make some sort of explanation to those who still expected to find the caricatured Yankee of fiction, striped trousers, bell-crowned hat, and all, driving his steady horses along the shady roads. It seemed not altogether reasonable when timid ladies mistook a selectman for a tramp, because he happened to be crossing a field in his shirt sleeves. At the same time, she was sensible of grave wrong and misunderstanding when these same timid ladies were regarded with suspicion, and their kindnesses were believed to come from pride and patronage. There is a noble saying of Plato that the best thing that can be done for the people of a state is to make them acquainted with one another. It was, happily, in the writer's childhood that Mrs. Stowe had written of those who dwelt along the wooded seacoast and by the decaying, shipless harbors of Maine. The first chapters of The Pearl of Orr's Island gave the younger author of Deephaven to see with new eyes, and to follow eagerly the old shore paths from one gray, weather-beaten house to another where Genius pointed her the way.

     In those days, if one had just passed her twentieth year, it was easy to be much disturbed by the sad discovery that certain phases of provincial life were fast waning in New England. Small and old-fashioned towns, of which Deephaven may, by the reader's courtesy, stand as a type, were no longer almost self-subsistent, as in earlier times; and while it was impossible to estimate the value of that wider life that was flowing in from the great springs, many a mournful villager felt the anxiety that came with these years of change. Tradition and time-honored custom were to be swept away together by the irresistible current. Character and architecture seemed to lose individuality and distinction. The new riches of the country were seldom very well spent in those days; the money that the tourist or summer citizen left behind him was apt to be used to sweep away the quaint houses, the roadside thicket, the shady woodland, that had lured him first; and the well-filled purses that were scattered in our country's first great triumphal impulse of prosperity often came into the hands of people who hastened to spoil instead of to mend the best things that their village held. It will remain for later generations to make amends for the sad use of riches after the war, for our injury of what we inherited, for the irreparable loss of certain ancient buildings which would have been twice as interesting in the next century as we are just beginning to be wise enough to think them in this.

     That all the individuality and quaint personal characteristics of rural New England were so easily swept away, or are even now dying out, we can refuse to believe. It appears, even, that they are better nourished and shine brighter by contrast than in former years. In rustic neighborhoods there will always be those whom George Sand had in mind when she wrote her delightful preface for Légendes Rustiques: "Le paysan est donc, si l'on peut ainsi dire, le seul historien qui nous reste des temps antehistorique. Honneur et profit intellectuel à qui se consacrerait à la recherche de ses traditions merveilleuses de chaque hameau qui rassemblées ou groupées, comparées entre elles et minutieusement disséquées, jetteraient peut-être de grandes lueurs sur la nuit profonde des âges primitifs." There will also exist that other class of country people who preserve the best traditions of culture and of manners, from some divine inborn instinct toward what is simplest and best and purest, who know the best because they themselves are of kin to it. It is as hard to be just to our contemporaries as it is easy to borrow enchantment in looking at the figures of the past; but while the Judges and Governors and grand ladies of old Deephaven are being lamented, we must not forget to observe that it is Miss Carew and Miss Lorimer who lament them, and who insist that there are no representatives of the ancient charm and dignity of their beloved town. Human nature is the same the world over, provincial and rustic influences must ever produce much the same effects upon character, and town life will ever have in its gift the spirit of the present, while it may take again from the quiet of hills and fields and the conservatism of country hearts a gift from the spirit of the past.

     In the Preface to the first edition of Deephaven it was explained that Deephaven was not to be found on the map of New England under another name, and that the characters were seldom drawn from life. It was often asserted to the contrary, while the separate chapters were being published from time to time in the Atlantic Monthly, and made certain where the town really was, and the true names of its citizens and pew-holders. Therefore it appeared there were already many "places in America" not "few," that were "touched with the hue of decay." Portsmouth and York and Wells, which were known to the author, Fairhaven and other seacoast towns, which were unknown, were spoken of as the originals of this fictitious village which still exists only in the mind. Strangely enough, the Atlantic Ocean always seems to lie to the west of it rather than to the east, and the landscape generally takes its own way and furnishes impossible landmarks and impressions to the one person who can see it clearly and in large. Some early knowledge of the secret found later in the delightful story of Peter Ibbetson appears to have been foreseen, but a lack of experience and a limited knowledge of the wide world outside forced the imaginer of Deephaven to build her dear town of such restricted materials as lay within her grasp. The landscape itself is always familiar to her thought, and far more real than many others which have been seen since with preoccupied or tired eyes.

     The writer frankly confesses that the greater part of any value which these sketches may possess is in their youthfulness. There are sentences which make her feel as if she were the grandmother of the author of Deephaven and her heroines, those "two young ladies of virtue and honour, bearing an inviolable friendship for each other," as two others, less fortunate, are described in the preface to Clarissa Harlowe. She begs her readers to smile with her over those sentences as they are found not seldom along the pages, and so the callow wings of what thought itself to be wisdom and the childish soul of sentiment will still be happy and untroubled.

     In a curious personal sense the author repeats her attempt to explain the past and the present to each other. This little book will remind some of those friends who read it first of

" - light that lit the olden days;"**

but there are kind eyes, unknown then, that are very dear now, and to these the pages will be new. This Preface must end as the first Preface ended, with a dedication to my father and mother my two best friends - and then to all my other friends whose names I say to myself lovingly, though I do not write them here.

S. O. J.


From a letter to Louisa Dresel, March 10, 1893.

in Richard Cary, "Jewett to Dresel: 33 Letters," Colby Library Quarterly 7:1 (March 1975): 38-9. As Jewett was thinking about the 1893 new edition of Deephaven and a new preface, she wrote:
 

. . . [A]lthough I had not read Deephaven for a good while I felt as if I had come to be the writer's grandmother. I liked it better than I expected. It is the girlishness in it that gives it value, but I must be thinking about a new preface - which will say a few things to the modern reader! It is curious to find how certain conditions under which I wrote it are already outgrown. The best thing that can be done for the inhabitants of a State, says Plato, is to make them acquainted with each other - and my little story is written (in the main) by a girl not much past twenty, who nevertheless could see that city people who were beginning to pour themselves into the country for the summer, had very little understanding of country people. It is different now, isn't it? I wish I could write such a preface as George Sand used to write for her country sketches!
 



Notes

a second Harvey: William Harvey (1578-1657) is the British physician and anatomist who first explained the circulation of the blood in the human body.
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civil war: The American Civil War, 1861-1865.
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women ... stayers at home: Perhaps in reference to I Corinthians 34-5, which admonishes the Corinthians to forbid women speaking in church and instructs women to ask their husbands questions at home if they wish to learn anything.
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selectmen: members of the local town council.
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noble saying of Plato: Plato (about 428-347 BC) was a Greek philosopher, author of numerous dialogues featuring Socrates, his teacher. The quotation comes from Book V of "Laws," in which Socrates does not appear: "for there is no greater good in a state than that the citizens should be known to one another." (Research: Jack V. Wales, Jr. of the Thacher School, Ojai, CA.)
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Stowe ... shipless harbors of Maine ... The Pearl of Orr's Island: Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) is best known for Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); she published The Pearl of Orr's Island in 1862. The Embargo Act of 1807, sometimes known as Jefferson's Embargo, devastated the smaller New England ports. Its purpose was to punish England and France for capturing neutral ships and impressing sailors for use in their fiercely contested war, but the embargo was a costly, much resented strategy. New Englanders typically date the continuous decline of their shipping industry in the 19th century from the Embargo.
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mournful villager: Jewett's sketch, "From a Mournful Villager," appears in Country By-Ways.
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George Sand ... Légendes Rustiques: George Sand (Amandine-Aurore Lucille Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, 1804-1876) was a productive French novelist, remembered also for her love affairs with the painter Alfred de Musset and the pianist-composer, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). A translation of the passage by Jeannine Hammond of Coe College: "So one could say that the peasant is the only historian we have left from the times that predate history. We should award honor and intellectual profit to the person who researches the marvelous traditions of each hamlet, which, seen as a group or compared one with the other and carefully studied, would throw a great light on the profound night of primitive ages."
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Portsmouth and York and Wells ... Fairhaven: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. York and Wells are southern Maine coastal towns near Jewett's South Berwick. Fairhaven is on the south coast of Massachusetts.
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Peter Ibbetson: Peter Ibbetson (1891), by George DuMaurier (1834-1896).
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Clarissa Harlowe: Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), English novelist, author of Pamela (1740), published in 1747-48 Clarissa; or The History of a Young Lady, a very popular, long epistolary novel.
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" - light that lit the olden days": Information on this quotation is welcome.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
 


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Text of Deephaven