Main Contents
The Jewett Journal

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Transgressive Daughters
in Sarah Orne Jewett's Deephaven

Joseph Church

[The daughter] enters the Oedipus situation as though into a haven. . . . Girls remain in it for an indeterminate length of time.

Freud, "Femininity"
 
 

    Generally considered merely an embryonic work, Sarah Orne Jewett's first novel, Deephaven (1877), offers the sometimes puerile account of a young woman's summer in a New England coastal village. Helen Denis, the free-spirited, twenty-four year old daughter of a naval officer, has accepted the invitation of Boston friend Kate Lancaster to join her at the village of Deephaven, where the Lancasters have come into possession of an ancestral home; Helen's story recounts how the two young women become acquainted with the region, its people and history. Inasmuch as the story emphasizes realistic descriptions of an otherwise unfamiliar, provincial world, we can understand the narrative as simply an early example of Jewett's regionalism or "local color" writing, but closer scrutiny of these descriptions indicates that more than rendering a region they reveal the inchoate concerns of the young women themselves: in that respect the narrative can be better understood as psychological realism in which the women's literal and symbolic (written) ventures into unfamiliar regions allegorize revelatory journeys into the self.1

At the very outset Jewett suggests that the women's writing and, by extension, her own, will involve psychological revelations. Taking up residence in the ancestral house, the two find writing desks with "secret drawers":

The [house's] wide window which looks out at the lilacs and the sea was a favorite seat of ours. Facing each other on either side of it are two old secretaries, and one of them we ascertained to be the hiding place of secret drawers, in which may be found valuable records deposited by ourselves one rainy day when we first explored it. We wrote, between us, a tragic "journal" on some yellow, old letter paper we found in the desk. We put it in the most hidden drawer by itself, and flatter ourselves that it will be regarded with great interest some time or other. (45)
Though offered in a playful way, this description nonetheless appears to symbolize issues of the psyche. On either side of the means of perception (the window) the doubled writing desks suggest the mind's coupled and intercommunicating components--the composite nature of the psyche, its conscious and unconscious or normally hidden elements, the latter indicated by the "secret drawers."2 Thus the women's writing material "between" them and hiding it in the "most hidden drawer" suggests, first, the mind's production of meaningful material that for various reasons, for example, because of social taboos, cannot be expressed directly and therefore must find indirect expression, until then remaining secret; and, second, the use of writing to effect such ends, to evade interdiction.

These concerns with eluding interdiction, with psychological revelations, find analogous elaboration in the novel's sustained attention to the matter of governmental embargoes in Deephaven: the narrative repeatedly points up the deleterious effects of the early nineteenth-century's Embargo Act on the region and the efforts of people to evade its prohibitions, to smuggle their goods out of Deephaven. (In 1807, seeking to reestablish its own maritime authority over the belligerents France and England, the government for a number of months embargoed all trade with Europe and in doing so severely crippled New England's economies.) In Deephaven one mariner tells of having tried to elude the authorities by voyaging at night, another time, of having declared much smaller than actual dimensions of the ship in the official "custom-house books" (117) so that hidden material might pass inattentive inspectors. Running embargoes, secreting writing in hidden compartments--these and related acts to be discussed below indicate that Helen's (and Jewett's) account works to smuggle "secret," transgressive psychological material past authorities and out of Deephaven.3

What, then, lies "hidden" in her account? The narrative intimates that the secrets involve familial issues, specifically oedipal concerns, that the women's engagement with figures in Deephaven dramatizes a critical reconsideration of the archaic oedipal situation, what Freud termed the daughter's "haven" (Fem 114). Deephaven accentuates returns to the past: Kate had spent parts of her childhood in the ancestral house and now as an adult returns to that early setting; during their stay, she and Helen devote much time to reading the ancient letters of Kate's long-deceased grandmother, through her writing harking back to maternal origins. Helen in fact describes their venture into Deephaven as a symbolic journey into the past; she finds that the people have a "curiously ancient, uncanny look" (73):

Have you never seen faces that seemed so old-fashioned? Many of the people in Deephaven church looked as if they must be--if not supernaturally old--exact copies of their remote ancestors. I wonder if it is not possible that the features and expressions may be almost perfectly reproduced. These faces were not modern American faces, but belonged rather to the days of the early settlement of the country, the old colonial times. (73)
In psychoanalytic terms, we may say that in these "exact copies . . . of remote ancestors" the young women encounter symbolic familial figures, such that their engagement with, their narrative representations of, these "reproduced" people, recapitulates psychological origins.

If we allow that in Deephaven the young women engage psychologically archaic issues involving progenitors, then we should expect the narrative's involvement with oedipal configurations. Put simply here but elaborated below, the argument runs that a daughter's maturation typically involves a conflict with and provisional rejection of the mother (for some, it is claimed, based on their sense of having been deprived by way of the anatomical difference, cut off or castrated by her) and a consequent turn toward the father as an ally, toward a more or less fantasized union with him as the exclusive bearer of value and affection. It is pertinent, then, that Helen several times speaks fondly of her father (an officer at sea) but never mentions her mother.4 More convincing, if still appropriately disguised, is Kate's story of her relation with her youthful uncle. Kate and Helen have gone to a circus near Deephaven, when by a kind of association Kate recalls an earlier event in her life, one entirely innocent yet expressing oedipal features, in fantasy the daughter's taking the place of the mother and obtaining pleasure and esteem from the father:

"You don't know how [this circus] is making me remember other things of which I have not thought for years. I was seven years old when I went that first time. Uncle Jack invited me. . . . He took me into the side shows and bought me everything I asked for, on the way home, and we did not get home until twilight. The rest of the family had [gone out] and it was such fun to have our dinner by ourselves. I sat at the head of the table in mamma's place, and when Bridget came down and insisted that I must go to bed, Uncle Jack came softly upstairs and sat by the window, smoking and telling me stories. He ran and hid in the closet when we heard mamma coming up, and when she found him out by the cigar smoke, and made believe scold him, I thought she was in earnest and begged him off. (104-05)
If in a simple way Kate's story articulates disguised oedipal matters, Helen's account elaborates their more complex implications, most of all, the danger of daughters' being bound up in this deep "haven" for what Freud designates an "indeterminate length of time" (Fem 114), in other words, potentially for a lifetime.5 But before I proceed with a reading of that account, I want first to clarify in some detail why the expression of such secrets would demand the smuggling of material, the elusion of embargo. The obvious, but finally inadequate answer, I think, is that society forbids the oedipal union and thus interdicts its expression. Actually, however, especially in the nineteenth century, only the most literal instances are prohibited, and then not universally;6 in fact the daughter's strong attachment to the father is encouraged. As Freud observes, many women remain thusly joined throughout their lives: "the number of women who remain till a late age tenderly dependent on a paternal object, or indeed on their real father, is very great . . . these women [maintain] an intense attachment of long duration to their father" (Fem 105). Freud implies that the daughter's maturation almost necessarily results in a more or less permanent attachment: since, unlike boys, girls typically have no further deprivation (castration) anxieties, they have scant inducement to break up the union with the father: consequently, the girl
enters the Oedipus situation as though into a haven or refuge. In the absence of fear of castration the chief motive is lacking which leads boys to surmount the Oedipus complex. Girls remain in it for an indeterminate length of time; they demolish it late and, even so, incompletely. (Fem 114)
In short, then, society seems little concerned to interdict the daughter's (symbolic) oedipal situation, instead, condoning it because it serves patrilineal interests; Freud himself, somewhat predictably, advises, "It does little harm to a woman if she remains in her feminine Oedipus attitude . . . . She will in that case choose her husband for his paternal characteristics and be ready to recognize his authority" (Outline 51). In Speculum of the Other Woman Luce Irigaray insists that culture's codified, discursive arrangements (the Lacanian "law of the father") in fact work to constrain the daughter in a permanent oedipal impasse, in a severely contracted "haven": responding to Freud's claims that the daughter's "phantasy of being seduced by the father [constitutes] the expression of the typical Oedipus complex in women," Irigaray answers,

It would apparently be too risky to admit that the father might be a seducer, and even that he might want to have a daughter in order to seduce. . . . [It] is neither simply true, nor indeed false, to claim that the little girl fantasizes being seduced by her father, since it is equally valid to assume that the father seduces his daughter but that, because (in most cases, though not all) he refuses to recognize and live out his desire, he lays down a law that prohibits him from doing so. That said, it is his desire which, come what may, prescribes the force, the shape, the modes, etc., of the law he lays down or passes on, a law that reduces to the state of "fantasy" the little girl's seduced and rejected desire--a desire still faltering, barely articulate, silent perhaps, or expressed in signs or body language, a desire that must be seduced to the discourse and law of the father. (37-38)

Irigaray implies that the oedipal prohibition actually serves the father's interests by seducing the daughter into a permanent impasse. Taking up Irigaray's argument in The Daughter's Seduction Jane Gallop concludes, "the law of the father protects him and patriarchy from the potential havoc of the daughter's desirability" (76). In sum, then, we may say that far from actually interdicting the daughter's oedipal union with the father, society pervasively and subtly induces her more or less permanent attachment. Returning to our question of Helen's paradoxically having to smuggle such matters out of Deephaven in a world that actually promotes such nominally tabooed affairs, we can now propose that Jewett's secrets must somehow truly threaten the law of the father, that they must comprise substantially transgressive material and therefore demand elusive expression.

Irigarary and Gallop can help us press this proposal further: both insist that the structured law of the father in part sustains its power by simultaneously inducing the daughter's desire and ever deferring its consummation, in other words, by configuring her as an anticipatory subject, a passive figure; Gallop declares that the "'lasting seduction' of the law is never consummated and as such maintains [its] power" (75). Consequently, Irigaray and Gallop imply, if the daughter were to carry out her desire with respect to the father, her act could potentially subvert the entire structure, in Gallop's term, could cause far-reaching "havoc." To achieve its ends, then, the law of the father would encourage an ideal but not material, let us say, aggressive, attachment; it would strenuously interdict the daughter's active orientation, her represented embracing of the object, because the grasp could potentially draw the paternal figure into a critical light--materialize "him"--and thereby discompose the oedipal haven.7 Granted that possibility, we can then infer that Jewett's narrative must smuggle material past authorities because it means to assert the daughter's disturbing, active desires toward the father. Let me clarify what I mean by "active desire"; I do not mean that Jewett advocates literal consummation, but rather that she affirms a notion of the daughter's assiduously embracing the paternal figure in a symbolic way, one that entails her eros and aggression, in other words, the aggressive daughter's grasping the father in fantasy, for example, in her writing and in such a way as to cause potential havoc.

In some sense Freud describes such a woman when he comments on those many daughters who pay no attention to an anatomical difference, who have no sense of themselves as lacking in any respect, who "refuse" to interpret the difference as privation (Fem 114), and who thus never adopt passive--receptive--strategies with regard to the father. Instead, they maintain their active orientation toward the world. Paradoxically, however, they still enter the oedipal union, according to Freud, because they necessarily undergo conflict with the mother and perforce tend to ally, to identify, themselves with the father: "Even for a girl of this kind [i.e., the determined, active, so-called "masculine" one] it seems necessary that she should take her father as an object for some time and enter the Oedipus situation" (Fem 115), perhaps sustaining this "identification with him" throughout her life (Psych. Conseq. 676).

Potentially this daughter would constitute a disturbing force in the oedipal relation, and by extension culture as such, because she persists in the assertion of her prerogatives. But, as Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel points out, such daughters often curtail their own aggression, embargo themselves, in order to avoid the guilt that inevitably attaches to such assertiveness. In "Feminine Guilt and the Oedipus Complex" Chasseguet-Smirgel explains that the active daughter's desirous turn toward the father occurs simultaneously with the development of an intense instinctual aggression (anal-sadistic) that immediately and necessarily entails the father: to avoid consequent guilt many girls transform their identification into an idealization, placing him off limits (ideal) and thereby, to their relief, making impossible their aggressive embrace:

The idealization process on which the change of object [toward the father] is founded weighs heavily on women's future psychosexual development. In fact it implies an instinctual disfusion, each object being, at the time of the change of object, either entirely negatively cathected (the mother, her breast, her phallus) or entirely positively cathected (the father and his penis). Because of this the little girl will tend to repress and countercathect the aggressive instincts which exist in her relation to the father in order to maintain this instinctual disfusion. As a result there arises a specifically feminine form of guilt attached to the anal-sadistic component of sexuality, which is radically opposed to idealization. (97)8
Surprisingly, then, like her passive counterpart, the determined daughter may also sustain the oedipal union. Of course she gains some advantages in otherwise maintaining her active orientation but she suffers significant losses as well: for one thing, she may turn her embargoed aggression against herself such that she forcibly restricts herself to playing a slavish, "complementary part" (128) to the father; for another, she may help maintain the values and configurations inhering in the law of the father by replicating them, thus affirming the very forces that inevitably come round to restrict her aspirations; finally, insofar as she ever orients herself toward an unattainable idea of the father, she may find it impossible to reestablish good relations with the maternal figure, with mature women in general. Reflecting on the ways this contracted haven diminishes women generally, Chasseguet-Smirgel, not unlike Irigarary and Gallop, argues that such daughters must risk symbolically acting upon their erotogenic and aggressive aims, despite the consequent guilt and that to do so requires their beginning to de-idealize the father, drawing him into experience as such. Pertinent to our interest in Jewett's writing is Chasseguet-Smirgel's observing how the daughter might work through such issues symbolically, in fantasies and dreams, noting in one such case that "once [the daughter's] aggression toward the paternal penis was accepted she was able to create fantasies about an Oedipal sexual relation with the father" (107) and transcend an otherwise lifelong, debilitating predicament.

In sum, to get beyond the oedipal impasse the daughter must materialize, must represent, his figure and her aggressive aims: such an act amounts to a transgression and thus demands her overcoming social and personal proscriptions. In the argument to follow I contend that Jewett's novel dramatizes such transgressions, that it depicts daughters working to transcend the interdictions which delimit them. Freud terms the oedipal union a potentially lifelong haven and, as Sarah Kofman remarks, conceives of it as a place of special "happiness":

All Freud's terms here emphasize the fact that for the girl, who is compared to a ship that has undergone countless vicissitudes in the course of a long and painful voyage, the oedipal situation is a real haven . . . . Nothing will force her to leave the port, moreover, to overcome the oedipal situation, which she will in fact overcome only "late" and incompletely. Freud insists so strongly on the "happiness" of this oedipal situation that he has a great deal of difficulty later on finding any good explanation for [her] overcoming her Oedipus complex, however incompletely. (199-200)

Jewett's rendering declares that those confined to such a haven--to a deep haven--whether with the father or his surrogate suffer debilitation and must somehow breach its boundaries. In a general way the narrative allegorizes these issues in its portrayal of the Embargo's impairment of Deephaven's inhabitants: significantly, a villager characterizes Deephaven as a woman ruined by the interdiction:

"[The] time of the embargo . . . was dreadful hard times; ships rotting at the wharves, and Deephaven never was quite the same afterward, though the old place held out for a good while before she let go as ye see her now. . . . Dreadful foolish piece of business that embargo was!" (118-119)
From our psychoanalytic standpoint, the embargo signifies the injurious restriction of the daughter in the oedipal haven, rendered graphically by "ships rotting at the wharves."9 More tellingly, Helen observes that Deephaven "never recovered from the effects of the embargo of 1807, and a sand bar has been steadily filling in the mouth of the harbor" (69). Insofar as the daughter-narrator who would breach the haven must materialize, must articulate, the paternal figure, she would most of all fear a dramatic stopping up of the mouth, inasmuch as it portends complete closure. The challenge, then, involves running the embargo, smuggling one's goods (oneself) out of Deephaven; as mentioned earlier, we learn of several instances of daring mariners eluding the authorities, most interestingly for our concerns with writing, by duping inspectors with respect to the ship's dimensions, "her" inner structure: an old captain, Sands, confides, "'So I took [the custom-house's] book and I set down her measurements and made her twenty ton short'" (117). Like this vessel, Jewett's apparently simple local color "book" carries, I believe, much contraband.

If the narrative establishes an analogy between daughters constrained in the oedipal union and the inhabitants embargoed in Deephaven, it embodies that debilitating matter more fully in one of its most dramatic characters, Miss Sally Chauncey, an elderly, somewhat deranged woman with whom Kate and Helen develop an acquaintance. Sally Chauncey could be characterized as a strong daughter--as "'proud as Lucifer,'" claims one villager (153)--who, to her severe detriment, never gets out of Deephaven, more precisely, never escapes the father's house. She had enjoyed a prosperous girlhood but watched as the Embargo ruined her father and precipitated not only his descent into madness but her own derangement, events I take to symbolize the disastrous consequences of the embargoed oedipal haven. A closer look at her decline indicates that she mistakenly devotes herself to maintaining an archaic relation with the father by way of the house. After the father's collapse, her brothers likewise suffer psychological maladies--one commits suicide, the other confined in chains--until she herself breaks down and is institutionalized. To pay for the care, villagers sell most of the household's furnishings, believing her to be permanently incapacitated; but to their great surprise some months later she returns more or less herself. However, when she enters the unexpectedly empty house, she suffers an immediate relapse and never recovers, remaining, as Kate and Helen find, a gentle, mildly insane woman who very much lives in the past of her "girlhood" (156).

Since these events make plain that her seeing the father's house empty (the mother's end is never mentioned) precipitates her derangement, we can further infer that the intactness of that dwelling--as it were, the daughter-father configuration--means so much to her that she develops a sort of living fantasy of its being unchanged--she is especially insistent that none of her intimates have died. Thus she not only lives permanently in her girlhood but refuses to leave the father's house. Even her "random" reading from the Bible suggests the same: "Miss Sally had opened the great book at random and read slowly, 'In my Father's house are many mansions';. . . she repeated it: 'In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you'" (157). Finally, her being "proud as Lucifer" may similarly if more subtly allude to the daughter's oedipal confinement. The phrase echoes the "proud . . . Lucifer" of Milton's Paradise Lost (9.423-24), a work central to Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs and one much concerned with father-daughter deformations: out of his own head Lucifer gives parthenogenetic birth to his daughter and then, taken by her beauty, repeatedly ravishes her, forever confining her to a severely contracted state. In terms pertinent to Irigaray's and Gallop's claims concerning the law of the father's conscription of the daughter, Milton has her insist that her forgetful father remember her origins:

Hast thou forgot me then, and do I seem
Now in thine eye so foul, once deem'd so fair
In Heav'n, when [. . .]
Out of thy head I sprung [. . . .]
Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing
Becam'st enamor'd, and such joy thou took'st
With me in secret, that my womb conceiv'd
A growing burden. (2.747 ff.)
In effect Sally Chauncey internally replicates the Embargo that turns the family disastrously inward, in a sort of self-embargoing permanently confining herself to the father's ruined house. Indeed, when villagers persuade her to spend the winter in a better dwelling, the surprisingly strong woman, at the cost of her life, escapes back, crawling through a half-frozen cellar to regain entry, as it were a grotesque parody of escaping the embargo as she makes her way through an unconscious fixation (the frozen cellar) and dies of its effects upon her. Thus even in their first meeting Kate and Helen envision her as a "ghost" and the house "haunted" (151), for in the senses we have been considering, the embargoed daughter-as-girl and the paternal figure continue to inform, to haunt, the ruined archaic dwelling.10

A determined daughter bound up in the oedipal union, we concluded earlier, would likely suffer the loss of both her own mental autonomy and her beneficial relations with the mother. Miss Chauncey's derangement testifies to the former and her failure to mention the end of her mother speaks to the latter. In one poignant scene she sees her mother in young Kate:

[Miss Chauncey] sat for some time watching Kate with a bewildered look, which at last faded away, a smile coming in its place. "I think you are like my mother," she said; 'did any one ever say to you that you are like my mother? Will you let me see your forehead? Yes; and your hair is only a little darker. . . ." Miss Chauncey turned to me, saying, "Look up at the portrait and you will see the likeness too, I think." But when she turned and saw the bare wainscotting of the room, she looked puzzled, and the bright flash which had lighted up her face was gone in an instant, and she sat down again in the window seat. (155)
Evidently the villagers had sold the mother's portrait to support the daughter's care, an act symbolically declaring that the daughter's psychopathic oedipal contraction (lasting an "indeterminate length of time") effectively and perhaps irretrievably negates or sacrifices the maternal figure within the psyche (house).11

Inasmuch as the young protagonists would develop beyond such an impasse, they must perceive Miss Chauncey's pathetic life in Deephaven as a caution. In that respect Helen's keen interest in one of the father's furnishings, a chest, testifies indirectly to her awareness of the issues; like her own writing desk, the chest contains documents hidden in secret drawers:

There was a tall, handsome chest of drawers, which I should have liked much to ransack. Miss Carew had told us that Miss Chauncey had large claims against the government, dating back sixty or seventy years, but nobody could ever find the papers; and I felt sure that they must be hidden away in some secret drawer. . . . I wanted to climb up and look into the upper part of this antique piece of furniture, and it seemed to me I could at once put my hand on a package of "papers relating to the embargo." (156)
In our terms Sally Chauncey's claims against the embargoing government signify the daughter's indictments against the law of the father and its subtle constraints. The fact that Helen believes that she, unlike all the others, could "at once" locate the "papers relating to the embargo" where they lie "hidden away in some secret drawer" declares her own visceral connection to these issues; again, I hold that similar matters relating to internal embargoes may be found in her writing desk's secret drawer, more precisely in her and Jewett's text, transgressive Deephaven. It is worth noting that Helen depicts the father's furnishing as a kind of embodiment of the archaic paternal figure himself--"tall, handsome . . . antique," literally an inheritance of the daughter's past--and, in imagery betokening eros and aggression, she seems prepared almost to attack the structure, to "climb up" its side and "ransack" its contents, in some sense, to de-idealize it in order to liberate a daughter.

Kate and Helen attain another means to reconceive archaic relations when the young women develop an intimacy with the retired shipmaster, Captain Sands, who "had a reputation in town for being peculiar and somewhat visionary" (93). His several tales of escaping embargoed Deephaven, we recall, speak symbolically to the women's underlying concerns as do, we now add, his curious "old warehouse" (93) and the strange story of his father. One rainy day he invites them into his ancient storehouse, where Sands, like a writer with her secret drawer or a mind with its hidden compartments, "'has got a lot of old stuff stowed away'" that proper people "'don't want up to the house'" (93).12 The women look over his many maritime curiosities--strange shells, old ship's rigging, a figurehead--but find themselves finally drawn to an odd sailor's chest upon which are carved letters; Sands tells them its history, how it had belonged to a first-rate "foreign fellow," now deceased, with whom the captain had become good friends. In the chest the women find papers (a development relating the scene to the papers in Sally Chauncey's chest and Helen's writing desk), specifically the foreigner's forged "protection paper," which falsely certified him as "John Jones," a "citizen of the United States" (96). Captain Sands explains that such devices, quite common, allowed foreign sailors to take passage in American ships without being apprehended by authorities. The captain, himself an experienced embargo runner and, in that respect, a representative of the women, adds, "Sailors are great hands for false names" (97). If, as we have been maintaining, these young women--Jewett's determined daughters--would transgress the oedipal haven in their lives and, what amounts to the same thing, in their signifying practices (writing), then they would and, here, do, attend carefully to the mariners' stratagems, for the daughter-writer must, like the disguised sailors, herself proceed by way of "false names," counterfeit "protection papers," and fictitious dimensions in order to make her way past inspectors and beyond Deephaven.

Postulating this notion of a woman's travelling in disguise, we can now consider how her interests might find expression in Sands' strange story of his father, Matthew, indeed, how the latter--"he"--actually represents "her."13 As a young man Matthew Sands, we learn, had been apprenticed to a mean-spirited uncle and had subsequently run off to sea. Years having passed without a word regarding his fate, he had been thought dead by all except his mother, who, one night dreams that he will soon return to Deephaven, though he will look strange because of having "'long hair, like a horse's mane, all down his shoulders'" (128). The vision proves true: that day she and Matthew's father (the captain's grandfather) learn that a whaler has put into Boston after a four-year's voyage, Matthew among its crew; like the others aboard, he has let his hair grow "wild," "'down over his shoulders . . . just as his mother saw it in the dream'" (129).

Insofar as this story disguises the young women's interests, proceeds by "false names," we might conclude, given the fact of his being the captain's father, that Matthew stands in as a paternal figure, but since the central incident takes place before his marriage, when he was a youth in relation to mother and father, we should, I submit, consider Matthew as a figure of the daughter. This possibility, to be developed below, seems more likely when we simply note the association of his hair with that of important figures of women in the narrative: he has "'long hair . . . all down his shoulders'" as does the figurehead in the captain's warehouse, "a woman's head with long curly hair falling over the shoulders" (94) and as does mythical Demeter in one of Kate's stories, the goddess's "'hair waving over her shoulders'" [130]. In short, then, I propose that we conceive of Matthew as a representative of the daughter--Kate and Helen--as it were, an agent that facilitates the smuggling of material out of Deephaven.14

If we allow this possibility, then we can interpret Matthew's running away from Deephaven as a possible transgression of the oedipal union, the crossing of a boundary. In that light we note that during the adventure Matthew "'and another man had lived alone on an island for months, and the whole crew had grown wild in their ways of living'" (129). Granted that Matthew stands in for the oedipal daughter, we would have to consider his "wild" living with this man as betokening her erotic, aggressive, and transgressive embracing of the father, a handling that, as Chasseguet-Smirgel, Irigaray, and Gallop suggest, effectively de-idealizes the paternal figure, breaches the oedipal haven, and holds out the possibility of transcendence.15

Our logic having held that the daughter's transcending of the oedipal union should result in a meaningful rapprochement with the mother, we must pay special attention, first, to Matthew's returning from his "wild . . . living" with the man on the island directly homeward, now "'dwellin' on . . . mother'" (129) and, second, to her simultaneously envisioning the youth's return and transfiguration, her supernaturally seeing the long hair that symbolizes, I believe, a transgressive, now more autonomous, daughter. Matthew, to commemorate the vision, to signify the supernaturalness of it all, decides to keep the hair long, henceforth wearing it in a queue. This shaping gesture, with its quasi-phallic aspect, seems to signify the transformation of a wild new growth (as it were, a new daughter) into a proper figure of culture; in effect the daughter now wears the queue as a sign of her transcending the father, of her own supernatural character.16

We can see how this transfiguration empowers one when we consider Matthew's part in locating the figurehead that eventually comes to rest in the warehouse. Helen notes that in addition to the sea-chest with its bogus protection paper they

discovered first an old battered wooden figurehead of a ship,--a woman's head with long curly hair falling over the shoulders. The paint was almost gone, and the dust covered most of what was left: still there was a wonderful spirit and grace, and a wild, weird beauty which attracted us exceedingly; but the captain could only tell us that it had belonged to the wreck of a Danish brig which had been driven on the reef where the lighthouse stands now, and his father had found this on the long sands a day or two afterward. "That was a dreadful storm," said the captain. "I've heard the old folks tell about it; it was when I was only a year or two old. There were three merchantmen wrecked within five miles of Deephaven. This one was all stove to splinters, and they used to say she had treasure aboard." (95)
Taken together these events indicate that the Matthew who symbolizes the strong daughter finds this figurehead because transcendent ones--transgressive daughters, risk-taking writers--attain a special perspicacity, here signalized by an affinity: the long haired and lately "wild" Sands discovers it in the "sands," "wild" with "long curly hair over the shoulders," in other words, recovers an image of the emergent, puissant daughter. Indeed, the captain's account of the vessel's sinking, transposed into our idiom, allegorizes a break up of the oedipal union and the emergence (however "battered") of a symbol of the transcendent daughter, for he remarks that in the "dreadful storm" the "merchantmen" and "she" go under at the same time, only the synecdochal figurehead surviving, a part for the whole below.17

It makes sense, then, that in Sands' warehouse Kate and Helen find themselves "attracted . . . exceedingly" to this nearly concealed figure; in it they must recognize features of their own desire, aspects of themselves, most of all, a supernatural ("wild, weird") puissance that carries beyond the supposedly natural haven. Although this figurehead seems to figure forth the young women's underlying concerns, it evidently does so only as an image that must be realized: the narrative asserts that, inasmuch as the figurehead properly adjoins a now submerged treasure vessel, the daughter's task and end entails making the image a reality in order to recover the precious material that survives a foundering in Deephaven.18 The captain effectually voices such a longing when recalling a "youthful dream" of braving the rocks to locate the treasure. By way of her narrative Helen (and Jewett) more successfully risk symbolic elements to discover and deliver bounty, as it were, rejoining it and the figurehead in the writing that we find before us.

Jewett makes it clear that in the nineteenth century the aspiring daughter confronts a range of subtle and unsubtle hazards, that she must elude not only the fathers' governance but the mothers' possible tyranny. Not infrequently in her writing Jewett depicts disenfranchised maternal figures who would enact what little power they have by curtailing the daughters'.19 Significantly, then, some time after discovering the figurehead, Matthew loses his first wife (the captains' mother) and marries a woman who proves unable to abide the "'looks of [the queue]'"; enraging Matthew, ""she come up behind him one day and cut it off with the scissors'" (129). Deephaven contrasts this delimiting stepmother with that mother who, satisfied with her own powers, envisions her child reborn and transcendent.20

The cutting off of the queue may also allude to matters of writing. After all, a queue signifies a "line" and echoes the letter Q. (In his dictionary, Dr. Johnson derives the "letter Q, or cue, from queue, French, tail; its form being that of an O with a tail" [OED].) Moreover, in shaping a queue or a Q one translates nature's immediacy (hair, ink, raw existence) into culture's mediations (queue, letters, meaningful signs); its being arbitrarily cut off would thus imply censorial redaction. Given the narrative's interest in writing's transgressive possibilities, in false names and figureheads, we should expect instances of Jewett's working her Q's, her letters, past excising authorities by means of disguise, the tropological conversion of the queue/Q into other forms, other letters. Such work occurs, I think, in Kate's and Helen's story of long-haired Demeter and in the account of the woman who operates the Deephaven Light, Mrs. Kew.

After hearing the story of Matthew, Kate and Helen retire to their room and immediately take up the myth of Demeter and Demophoon as if working to translate Matthew's experience and their part in it into another, more productive discursive context, in effect, to remediate the queue: of the tale of Demeter, Kate remarks, "'I am always finding a new meaning in it'" (130), intimating that the myth allows for new permutations, disguises. In the tale Demeter, searching for her lost daughter, disguises herself as an old nurse and tries to make a surrogate human child immortal with sacred fire, but, apprehended and angered by the child's mother, she departs. Kate comments,

"I always thought that part of the story beautiful where Demeter throws off her disguise and is no longer an old woman, and the great house is filled with brightness like lightning, and she rushes out through the halls with her yellow hair waving over her shoulders, and the people would give anything to bring her back again, and to undo their mistake. . . . I was just thinking that it may be that we all have given to us more or less of another nature, as the child had whom Demeter wished to make like the gods. I believe old Captain Sands is right, and we have these instincts which defy all our wisdom and for which we can never frame laws." (130)
We can see immediate parallels between this productive tale and Matthew's. Demeter, like the runaway's mother, has a vision of a reborn, powerful child but finds that another woman cuts off that development. Abandoning her disguise--one that allowed her to work her will--Demeter proves "'no longer an old woman,'" rather a sort of Matthew-like transcendent daughter, the long hair over the shoulders connecting the two as well as her transgressive character (running out of the house). Kate's and Helen's retelling of the myth asserts that every daughter has been given the potential for supernatural powers, has been informed with "'another nature [and] instincts which defy all our wisdom and for which we can never frame laws": in some sense their narrative elaboration also dramatizes their powers by figuratively reconstructing the queue. Importantly, when late that night they conclude the tale of Demeter's special "brightness," they find that "all Deephaven" (131) lies in darkness save for the steadily burning "lighthouse lamp" of Mrs. Kew.

The narrative has in fact woven Mrs. Kew's part with Matthew's recovery of the figurehead, for, as the captain explains, the treasure ship went down "'on the reef where the lighthouse stands now.'" If Mrs. Kew signifies a resonating transformation of the queue, then it is entirely appropriate that her presence enlightens others at the site where woman might founder with her treasure lost, in Deephaven, that potentially dangerous oedipal haven: the Light would facilitate transgressive voyaging, smuggling, and thus perhaps make less necessary the catastrophic breaking up of vessels in the psyche's "dreadful storm." Symbolizing her transcendent character, the narrative goes so far as to shape Mrs. Kew and her dwelling along the lines of a queue: she appears "large, thin" (40), and her lighthouse "so slender a thing" that the women fear for its safety during a storm, which, like some final test of their development, descends at the end of their stay:

All night long the breakers roared, and the wind howled n the chimneys, and in the morning we always looked fearfully across the surf and the tossing gray water to see if the lighthouse were standing firm on its rock. It was so slender a thing to hold its own in such a wide and monstrous sea. (159)
Given these associations, we must conclude that to some degree Mrs. Kew realizes what lies potential in the symbol of the figurehead and queue, that in her provincial way she represents the daughter who transcends. (Interestingly, she cannot conceive of herself as a citizen of Deephaven proper: "'I shall always be a real upcountry woman if I live a hundred years'" [41]; throughout the narrative she appears only outside Deephaven, and she resides offshore, the lighthouse reachable only by boat.) Most importantly, her symbolic queue-light, unlike Matthew's, remains intact and accessible. In this regard Mrs. Kew's appeal to the young women, that they "'come out to the Light'" (41) carries special implications about their need to follow her.

The narrative affirms that Mrs. Kew, like Matthew, has special insight with respect to women's predicaments, emphasizing her perspicacity by way of her being a teacher (51), a skillful, critical reader (42), and, more symbolically, the keeper of the Deephaven Light. Mrs. Kew's powers take dramatic form when she, Kate, and Helen travel to the circus and unexpectedly wind up as spectators in a side show that features an obese woman, the "Kentucky Giantess."21 Kate and Helen politely avert their eyes but surprisingly find Mrs. Kew conversing with the woman, Marilla, whom she knew in years past. Had it not been for Mrs. Kew's recognition of the pathetic figure, Kate and Helen would have politely ignored her and her bearing on their own lives; instead, they discover more about how a "'real ambitious'" and "'high-tempered girl'" (108) can be rendered powerless when remaining ignorant of life's subtle machinations. They learn that as a young married woman Marilla had been "spare" (106), but that, suffering emotional and financial ruin, she began to behave compulsively; she declares to Mrs. Kew,

"I was a good ways from this when you knew me, wasn't I? But father he run through with every cent he had before he died, and 'he' took to drink and it killed him after awhile, and then I began to grow worse and worse, till I couldn't do nothing to earn a dollar, and everybody was a coming to see me, till at last I use to ask 'em ten cents apiece, and I scratched along somehow till this [circus] man came round and heard of me, and he offered me my keep and good pay to go along with him." (106-07)
If for our purposes we allow that the husband stands in for the father (as was common in the nineteenth century she calls him "father") then we can consider how Marilla's calamities might allegorize the consequences of a daughter's abiding in the oedipal state. Probably enraged, certainly impoverished, by the wasteful union, Marilla begins to eat compulsively as if simultaneously dramatizing her rage and poverty; however, by doing so she renders herself dependent, immobile, unable to work; consequently, at the moment of possible freedom (the death of "father"), she effectively imitates his own consuming excesses, incorporates him within herself, and thus remains a man's permanent dependent. In our terms these developments can be seen to allegorize the oedipal union's impoverishing of the daughter, its leaving her disposed to cling to its figures: even her aggression, which holds out the possibility of transformations, only replicates his authority because it is directed at displacements (food) and therefore turns round on herself.22

It follows a certain dismal logic that the circus man hears of Marilla and employs her: immobile in herself, she now circulates as a spectacle for others. She attracts, we suspect, she appears supernaturally large, as if she had another in her. In a sense Marilla did what the determined daughter must do, materialize the paternal figure in order to transcend it, but she (not unlike Sally Chauncey) replicates it fully within herself. Like an ambitious vessel that would run the embargo but, too overloaded, can neither conceal its cargo nor falsify its dimensions, she finds herself arrested and on display, a caution and an object of derision. (Helen observes, "it must have been horrible to be stared at and joked about day after day" [106].) Marilla, we learn, wishes to modify her dimensions but finds that society itself uses false representations of woman's grossness to have its way with her: of the poster describing the "Kentucky Giantess" Marilla explains,

"that was a picture the man bought cheap from another show that broke up last year. . . . Between you and me I don't weigh so much as that, but you mustn't mention it, for it would spoil my reputation, and might hender my getting another engagement." And then the poor giantess lost her professional look and tone and said, "I believe I'd rather die than grow any bigger. I do lose heart sometimes . . . . (107)
Unlike the falsely dimensioned vessel or the forged "protection paper" that the daughter-writer manipulates to circumvent authorities, this fictitious commercial poster--caricaturing an engrossed, ambitious daughter--remains out of woman's hands: men circulate it; Marilla, to survive, must more or less conform herself to its dimensions.

Mrs. Kew's perspicacity has brought to light a special danger for someone like Helen, who evidently aspires to be a professional writer (an entertainer of sorts), the danger that an ambitious daughter might unconsciously so identify with the paternal figure that she cannot transcend his eminence and so becomes merely an entertaining curiosity herself. Helen, the narrative suggests, will instead develop an autonomy along the lines of a Mrs. Kew. Jewett's imagery captures the special relation between the two at the beginning of the novel when Mrs. Kew, riding in a coach toward Deephaven with the young women, makes it known that she does not care to sit facing rearward; Helen changes places with her, remarking that she did "not mind riding backward" (41). Understood in the terms we have been developing, the exchange signifies that the mature Mrs. Kew need no longer return to archaic matters, whereas for a time Helen must go back to work through and beyond a Deephaven.


Joseph Church is a member of the English Department at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000.  This essay first appeared in Essays in Literature 20 (1993).  It is reprinted here with the permission of author.

© 1993 Joseph Church.
This article may not be reprinted in any part or form without permission of the author.

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Notes

1Since Jewett establishes no meaningful difference between Kate and Helen, I take them to represent one figure.

2In my essay on Jewett's "In Dark New England Days" I discuss how that narrative similarly, if more critically, associates the psyche with a symbolic writing desk, one whose hidden drawer contains haunted signs of the father.

3Jane Austen, a lifelong interest of Jewett's (Cary, 22 n7), has one woman in Persuasion announce, "'Oh! I lay no embargo on any body's words. If you will have such ideas!'" (219). In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth "wanted to talk, but there seemed an embargo on every subject" (175).

4In Jewett's A Country Doctor Nan Prince, a daughter much bound up in oedipal issues, remembers her late father as the handsome young naval officer, Jack Prince. Renza discusses the pervasive oedipal imagery in Jewett's "A White Heron."

5Kate's story of her Uncle Jack suggests the danger of pining away in such a union; when he dies at sea she falls "ill": "'[For] a long time I thought he might not be dead, after all, and might come home any day'" (105). A more mature approach occurs when a woman transforms this internal image of the father into that of a transcendent daughter, an event I discuss below with respect to Matthew Sands' mother: she thought Matthew "might not be dead, after all" and her vision proves true.

6Bettelheim notes, "It is not all that long since, in certain peasant cultures, when the mother died, the oldest daughter took her place in all respects" (175). In The American Scene James slyly comments on artistic imputations of incest in nineteenth-century New England, of a "shade of the darkness of Cenci-drama" (47).

7Helen betrays a daughter's anxiety about negating the father when she remembers how she and Kate had entered an acquaintance's home but, thinking him gone out, departed, only to learn that he actually lay dead in the next room: "we wondered how we should have felt if we had gone farther into the room and had found the dead man in his coffin, all alone in the house" (146).

8Partly impelling the idealization of the father is the daughter's desire to deny any hostile aims toward the mother; to aggress against him would be to resurface anxiety and guilt about her; thus the idealized father is doubly protected.

9In A Country Doctor Jewett compares Nan Prince to a confined ship, the impaired Highflyer: Nan remarks,

"I wonder if the old Highflyer will ever go out again?. . . Captain Parish told me some time ago that he had found her more badly damaged than he supposed. A vessel like that belongs to the high seas, and is like a prisoner when it touches shore. I believe that the stray souls that have no bodies must sometimes make a dwelling in inanimate things and make us think they are alive. I am always sorry for that ship" (227).

In an observation related to our interest in the necessity of escaping a Deephaven, the narrator of A Country Doctor speaks of one passive character who "was like a ship which will not be started out of port by anything less than a hurricane" (215).

10Continuing a matrilineal inheritance, Mrs. Lancaster (Kate's mother) comes into possession of her aunt's ancestral home; in it Kate and Helen explore archaic maternal issues but cannot remain permanently in that dwelling because of its setting: Helen observes, "'I suppose if we really belonged in Deephaven we should think it a hard fate'" (160).

11In a related incident Kate and Helen rescue the portrait of a young woman who, they playfully claim, appears to have offended parental figures in the ancestral home:

There was a young girl who seemed solitary and forlorn among the rest [of the portraits] in the room, who were all middle-aged. For their part they looked amiable, but rather unhappy, as if she had come in and interrupted their conversation. We both grew fond of her, and it seemed, when we went in the last morning on purpose to take leave of her, as if she looked at us imploringly. She was soon afterward boxed up, and now enjoys society after her own heart in Kate's room in Boston. (47)

12Perhaps hinting at Sands' part in writing and in archaic familial issues, Jewett's preface to the 1893 edition of Deephaven praises George Sand's work, specifically her call in Legendes Rustiques for writers to explore the "'temps ante-historique . . . la nuit profonde des ages primitifs'" (33).

13Pertinent is Deephaven's quoting As You Like It (146), a tale of a young man's playing a woman's playing a man's playing a woman. In my essay on "Dark New England Days" I discuss Jewett's use of male characters to represent women's interests.

14Another reason we can surmise that Matthew represents the daughter is that normally the son's oedipal narrative has but one father figure (see Bettelheim, 114); Matthew has two, the absent good father and the too-present, mean-spirited uncle. Thus "his" situation very much resembles the maturing daughter's, with her two mothers (good mother and cruel stepmother).

15In Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs her narrator's agent, Littlepage, likewise lives isolated with a man in wild circumstances, but to unproductive ends: in that later work Jewett's daughter-writer must more immediately engage the father.

16The phallocentric symbology reflects an era not an essence. Interesting in that respect, the young women experience the culture's conventional and institutionalized prejudice when they attend a "free lecture" in the local church on the "Elements of True Manhood." The speaker describes the way to self-reliance and authority but directs all his commentary to the needs of young men. Pointedly, Helen remarks, "He went on and on, until it seemed as if I had been there ever since I was a little girl" (110). She answers him symbolically by not-so-accidentally "knocking over a big hymnbook" (110), as it were, attacking "him" and his book.

17In my essay on Jewett's "Foreigner" I consider a similar oedipal break up, the old husband's and his young wife's sinking together.

18The foundering may ultimately benefit one, but Jewett seems to prefer less destructive, more symbolic means, such as smuggling contraband; that transgression requires, as we shall see, a lighthouse.

19See, for instance, A Country Doctor's aptly named Mrs. Fraley, a mother who subtly holds captive a daughter.

20As Bettelheim's commentary on Cinderella makes clear, the conventional good mother (fairy godmother) effectively supplies the daughter to the father's surrogate. If only a disguised wish, Jewett's good mother envisions the daughter's autonomy. Perhaps shedding light on the stepmother's cutting the queue, in "Fetishism" Freud comments on the unusual castratory act of persons' sneaking up on others and snipping off "plaits of hair" (203-04). Coincidentally, Helen observes of the people of Deephaven, "'they have a kind of fetichism'" (130).

21We recall that Kate's Uncle Jack took her into a circus's side show but clearly he did not, as Mrs. Kew does, bring her to knowledge concerning woman's precarious circumstances.

22In this respect Marilla anticipates Faulkner's Emily Grierson, who, grown "bloated" after the death of her father (and his surrogate), seems to have almost literally incorporated the dead man and thereby immobilized herself. In terms applicable to a Marilla, the narrator concludes, "we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will" (356). Similarly, in Anderson's "The Egg," another tale with oedipal concerns, the impaired narrator self-reflectively laments, "People who have few possessions cling tightly to those they have. That is one of the facts that make life so discouraging" (27).


Works Cited


Anderson, Sherwood. "The Egg." In Classic Short Fiction. Ed. Charles H. Bohner. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. London: Penguin, 1981.

_____. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York: Norton, 1966.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage, 1977.

Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett Letters (Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1967).

Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine. "Feminine Guilt and the Oedipus Complex." In Female Sexuality: New Psychoanalytic Views. Ed. Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1964: 94-134.

Church, Joseph. "Absent Mothers and Anxious Daughters: Facing Ambivalence in Jewett's 'The Foreigner.'" Essays in Literature 17 (1990): 52-68.

_____. "Fathers, Daughters, Slaves: The Haunted Scene of Writing in Jewett's 'Dark New England Days.'" American Transcendental Quarterly 5:3 (1991): 205-24.

Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." In Classic Short Fiction. Ed. Charles H. Bohner. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Freud, Sigmund. "Femininity." New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1965.

_____. "Fetishism." Collected Papers 5. New York: Basic Books, 1959.

_____. An Outline of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1969.

_____. "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes." In Peter Gay, ed. The Freud Reader. New York: Norton, 1989.

Gallop, Jane. The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982.

Irigaray, Luce. The Speculum of the Other Woman. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.

James, Henry. The American Scene. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1968.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. A Country Doctor. [orig. 1884] New York: Penguin, 1986.

_____. The Country of the Pointed Firs. In The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. Ed. Mary Ellen Chase. Intro. Marjorie Pryse. New York: Norton, 1981.

_____. Deephaven. In Deephaven and OtherStories. Ed. Richard Cary. New Haven: New College and University Press, 1966.

_____."The Foreigner." Atlantic Monthly 86 (August 1900). In The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. Ed. Mary Ellen Chase. Intro. Marjorie Pryse. New York: Norton, 1981.

_____. "In Dark New England Days." Century Magazine 40 (October 1890); rpt. Strangers and Wayfarers. Boston: Houghton, 1891.

Kofman, Sarah. The Enigma of Woman: Woman in Freud's Writings. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.

Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957.

Renza, Louis A. "A White Heron" and the Question of Minor Literature. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984.


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