The Jewett Journal
A Woman's Psychological Journey
in Jewett's "The King of Folly Island"
In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness.
--Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs
Although critics generally respect Jewett's work, few think of it as, like Hawthorne's or Twain's, struggling and succeeding mightily at interpreting the human condition.1 Most see her writing as skillfully depicting provincial life--"local color"--in nineteenth-century America, but accomplishing little more. I believe this view overlooks evidence of Jewett's using her narratives to pursue larger, more fundamental questions, particularly with respect to the psychological and sociological conditions of woman in a patrilineal world. Her stories often proceed by way of a cultured, usually middle-aged, protagonist's travelling into a remote region and coming to know its curious inhabitants and their history: such narratives, I think, in fact allegorize a woman's risking a redemptive venture to the psyche's unconscious realms, there to bring to light and, it is hoped, to transcend archaic and predominantly patriarchal constituents. One such tale, "The King of Folly Island" (1886), written in mid-career, offers an especially instructive example of her working toward greater understanding of the way cultural formations and psychology intersect in woman's development. Before summarizing this little-known story's principal events, I must first ask the reader to indulge temporarily a claim I will attempt to substantiate below, namely that Jewett uses the experiences of the tale's protagonist, John Frankfort, a man, to represent a woman's interests.
"The King of Folly Island" describes a vacationer's journey to the Maine coast and brief stay on a distant and strangely peopled island. It tells how middle-aged banker John Frankfort, world-weary, uncertain of his or any purpose in life, seeks relief on a "solitary ramble" (102) that, by chance, leads him to tiny Folly Island, a realm inhabited solely by a consumptive woman and her reclusive father. Frankfort, very much drawn to the pair, learns that, decades earlier, George Quint had quarrelled with fellow villagers, vowed never again to "'set foot on another man's land'" (110), and with wife, since dead, and daughter, Phebe, removed permanently to the uninhabited island. Frankfort discovers that in the ensuing years the self-exiled patriarch has kept his vow, despite the harsh winters and isolation that have led to his wife's early death and daughter's worsening illness. During his stay Frankfort comes to know the woman, who has never left the island, as kind and in some ways content, but nonetheless impaired--preternaturally aged and yet childlike--because of long isolation with a misanthropic father. Uncertain about his own responsibility in the matter, he vainly urges Quint to get Phebe to a more hospitable environment, and later rejects as unthinkable the father's suggestion that he consider marrying the daughter. Before departing he comes to realize that like his host he too has led a selfish life. The following spring, once-more absorbed in business affairs, Frankfort receives a letter and gift from the dying Phebe and, stirred by the provincial woman's affection and hopes, now comes more fully alive to the great importance of human relationship: in his office boy, an immediate beneficiary, Frankfort suddenly sees more than a "half-mechanical errand-runner," instead, a "hopeful, bright young face" (116) worthy of affection and support: "At that moment," observes the narrator, "a whole new future of human interests spread out before [Frankfort's] eyes, from which a veil had been withdrawn..." (114).
Readers of Jewett's story have long praised its realism and, most recently, with the lot of Phebe Quint in mind, have begun to note its interest in woman's subjection to man's familial prerogatives. Thus Josephine Donovan characterizes "The King of Folly Island" as "Jewett's comment on the patriarchal tyranny of the nuclear family in Victorian America. . . . Here the tyrant is once again a patriarch and the tyrannized a woman, his daughter" (77), and Margaret Roman includes the tale among those of Jewett dealing with "instances of male tyranny," with "men, predominantly fathers, who exercise total control over their women" (70, 73). Roman goes on to censure the protagonist, Frankfort, as one who, like the story's father, promotes man's interests at the expense of woman; says Roman, Frankfort not only "does nothing to alleviate [Phebe's] plight," but when at the end of the story, moved by Phebe's gift, he awakens to the importance of helping others, he disregards the woman, and proceeds instead to "aid [his] office boy to climb the corporate ladder" (73).
Although such claims rightly point to the story's interest in woman's subjugation, they slight, I think, the complexity of Jewett's analysis. Accordingly, I want to show that in "The King of Folly Island" the author above all works to expound the psychology of Frankfort, that she uses the islanders to personify Frankfort's unconscious concerns, and, most importantly, that in her troubled protagonist's experiences the author endeavors to represent not a man's but a middle-aged woman's revelations, specifically her working her way to earlier, now unconscious, psychological adaptations, the latter dominated by constrictive paternal figures. Several aspects of the story indicate that Frankfort's journey to the remote realm in fact dramatizes a psychological venture into unconscious domains. For one, the middle-aged financier, anxious about life's meaning, has set out on a desultory journey that leads directly, if strangely, to an archaic world, one at the "outer boundaries of civilization" (106) yet explicitly charged with personal meanings for him. Entering this region, he feels "as if he had taken a step backward into an earlier age" (106), come upon uncannily "old-fashioned" (103) people (those fashioned of old), and that all along he had proceeded as if "under some pilotage that was beyond himself" (114). Most tellingly, Frankfort clearly identifies himself with both the father and the daughter. Given these identifications, I contend and will now try to substantiate that Frankfort effectively advances not a man's but a woman's interests, that in Jewett's handling the protagonist represents a mature woman's having, for the sake of redeeming the life that remains, "step[ped] backward" into the psyche's "earlier age," there to come to terms with archaic, unconscious constituents, in particular a daughterly one constrained by a paternal figure.
My argument's assumptions rest primarily on the theoretical work of Melanie Klein, who holds that a daughter's psychological development involves a succession of conflicted, introjective identifications with parental figures.2 In effect the girl establishes a complex self made up maternal, paternal, and daughterly elements: it may happen, especially in a patrilineal culture of the sort found in nineteenth-century America, that conflict with the mother and troubled alliances with the father result in the daughter's defensively and deleteriously transmuting these psychic elements--her "self"--solely along paternal lines. Let me ask another indulgence of the reader in presenting a somewhat detailed explanation of this psychological development.
The infant daughter, it is claimed, initially exists in a kind of narcissistic harmony with the mother but as identity emerges and asserts itself, she experiences and provokes ambivalences, a conflict compounded by her increasing discovery--a blow to narcissism--that not she but the mother stands supreme as creator. Many experience the possibility of subordination, the loss of autonomy, as intolerable, and respond by working in fantasy to introject the woman's power. This appropriation sets in motion a series of mental vicissitudes that, depending on the initial intensity and subsequent environments, go far to shape the daughter's maturation and identity, for the daughter perceives the appropriation as a theft, a transgression, and hence suffers guilt and anxiety. To defend against these developments, the girl, emboldened by her purloined matrixing powers, works by means of projections to creatively divide the mother into two entities: a "good," hospitable one who loves the daughter above all and a "bad," hostile one who endlessly, unjustly accuses. But since this arrangement enables the projected hostile one to menace the good one, the daughter introjects the latter, securing her within. Klein goes on to claim that the intensely motivated daughter, contending with the hostile one, may strategically introject the persecutor, a proto-superego, as well, in effect, identifying with the (projected) aggressor. At this juncture, the conflicted psyche would consist of, on the one side, a persecutor, on the other, a creative daughter who ensconces a benevolent one that promotes relation: the daughter identifies herself with these several figures but sides most fully with the daughterly one.
Despite, sometimes because of, involvement with the actual parent, she may find the internal persecutor inordinately acquisitive, threatening to establish full mastery, a tyranny. While necessarily having to give ground to this superior force, the daughter crucially turns to the paternal figure for an ally and for sanctuary, or as Freud terms it, a "haven."3 Here, with her matrixing powers, she effectively restages the earlier relation of devoted daughter and good mother, endowing a henceforth idealized father or surrogate with maternal beneficence. Along with that endowment, however, she also informs the paternal ally with attributes of negation and containment borrowed from and turned back upon the inner tyrant. Soon, however, the daughter's insistent interest in autonomy begins to agitate the external father-daughter haven, leading to an ambivalence exacerbated by the father's disappointing her, his being incapable of satisfactorily fulfilling the part of the good mother or containing the bad one. The daughter again responds creatively to this profound disappointment--this loss that stands for the earlier losses--by "identifying with the lost object," supported by a patrilineal culture, introjectively conscripting an ideal father (powerful, loving) as an internal force in service to the devoted daughter.4 Yet this mental act, too, carries unforeseen liabilities: the daughter internally replicates the idealized external alliance of one devoted to the father, but because of the latter's attributes of negation and containment, she finds an essential element of herself contained or "colonized" in what now amounts to a severely constricted haven.5 At this point, then, the internal drama comprises the hostile one set over against a combative paternal figure who secures a faithful daughter, herself keeper of the good mother.
Her autonomy threatened by both the persecutor and the father, a daughter might draw upon her matrixing power and the paradigm of turning to the ideal male to initiate a radical intrapsychic defense--in Freudian terms, a "transvaluation of all psychical values"--a metamorphosis of her self's constituents into partially idealized male figures such that, on the one side, the hostile mother undergoes a moderating transmutation into patrilineal form and, on the other, the self identifies most fully with and thereby transcends the powerful father, the daughter in effect personifying her self as a boy. It is to the point that in "The King of Folly Island" Frankfort feels "merry as a boy on Folly Island" (114) and hears Quint declare, "'I always had an eye to the island sence I was a boy'" (107).6 We might say that henceforth all the daughter's psychological agencies proceed according to patrilineal terms. This radical reconfiguration effectively ends major intrapsychic hostilities, first, by allowing the now-moderated prosecutor authority and scope appropriate to the preeminent internal parent, second, by making this authority and the self more alike, and, third, by removing the father-daughter alliance to a remote (unconscious) region, a haven, an island, that proves a folly.7 If Jewett has it right in her narrative, then, upon these settlements the maturing daughter establishes her self--her psyche--as avatar of both parental constituents--the patrilineated bad mother and the transcended father--to some extent endlessly contending with the former and unaware of the latter and his domain, the daughter and immured good mother.
In some ways, therefore, the daughter's bid for independence results in her conscription to patriarchy: her self now consists centrally of a transcendent, maturing ego-as-boy supplanting a parental entity (maled bad mother) and an out-of-the-way father-daughter settlement. Thereafter, with the encouragement of a culture given over to the advancement of man's prerogatives, she will incline to esteem paternal elements within herself and within her world; should she suffer from these adaptations and seek to transcend them, she will find them extraordinarily daunting, for in aggressively engaging these entities she would risk, by association, transgressing culture's fundamental taboos--incest and parricide. Although such a daughter has imbued the ego with some derivatives of the good mother, effectively constituted an androgynous self, she has, with support from culture's ready images of potent patriarchs, also replicated a combative paternal figure, a self oriented toward negation and containment. This internal prejudice (Frankfort wonders, "What could have warped [Quint] in this strange way" ) expresses itself in the outer world: the combative ego possesses only attenuated relational traits of the mother and consequently tends to slight benevolent relation and to employ the inherited creativity, the matrixing capability, for selfish gain. In "The King of Folly Island" we note that Frankfort and Quint--the latter symbolizing the internal father, the former representing the woman's self as such--generally fail to gain a satisfying place in community, tend to oppose, if not oppress, others, and that each succeeds most at monetary gain: even reclusive Quint confides, "'I've got more hard cash stowed away than folks expects'" (115).
It is my argument that Jewett uses the protagonist, Frankfort, to represent the daughter we have described, grown to middle age and entirely alienated from the good mother, such that she finds herself in an apparently meaningless, rapacious world, profoundly alone: Frankfort agonizes,Was he, after all, good for nothing but money-making? The thought fairly haunted him: he had lost his power of enjoyment, and there might be no remedy. . . . [He] thought of his wealth which was buying him nothing, of his friends who were no friends at all, for he had pushed away some who might have been near, strangely impatient of familiarity, and on the defence against either mockery or rivalry. He was the true King of Folly Island, not [Quint]; he had been a lonelier and more selfish man these many years (112, 115).The protagonist, we may now say, finds existence empty because, however unconsciously, he lives a life largely determined by his earlier, finally deleterious adaptations: he treats others as if still engaged in "mockery and rivalry" with the bad mother, and, therefore, despite his longing, cannot establish meaningful relations. To redeem the life that remains, he--she--must return to hitherto unconscious domains, the psychological ground of a larger, social difficulty.
The narrative begins with Frankfort's vacationing, ostensibly travelling without a plan, but clearly hoping to reach something meaningful in life; arriving at the coast, he imagines he has come to the end of possibility, but to his surprise learns of a settlement on a group of outlying islands: "[Frankfort] could not have told himself why he was going . . . except that when he had apparently come to the end of everything on an outreaching point of the mainland, he had found that there was still a settlement beyond--John's Island, twelve miles distant--and communication [on the postmaster's boat] would be that day afforded . . . .' [A] real old fashioned crowd,' he was told" (103; emphasis added). Jewett emphasizes the psychological significance of this venture by having John Frankfort embark for John's Island (an "I" land) where reside characters "fashioned" of old, in childhood; from there he continues on to Folly Island. Frankfort, sole passenger of the postmaster, Jabez Pennell, intuits an underlying meaning of the voyage, has the uncanny sense of being involved in some preternatural communication: "It was odd to go with the postmaster: perhaps he was being addressed by fate to some human being who expected him" (103).
That the protagonist first encounters Jabez Pennell suggests the latter's having a part in the psychological unfolding. I believe Jewett in fact fashions the postmaster of John's Island--its "mail" (male?) carrier (104)--as what we would call the psyche's moderated, quasi-male authority, in other words, the inner realm's transmuted, relationless bad mother as post master. Tellingly for our argument, it was Pennell who many years before had bitterly contended with Quint for the position of postmaster, had won by vilifying the other as mentally unsound, and had then seen an enraged Quint permanently remove to Folly Island, there to become "master" (114) of that circumscribed domain. Several aspects of the postmaster indicate that he functions in the story as avatar of a dramatically moderated bad mother. Ungenerous, inquisitive, and undiscerning, but not villainous, Pennell, who has no children, predictably lacks the capacity for relation: he leads a contentious existence with the other islanders, exercising a certain "tyranny" over his "constituents" (106) and, as we should expect, over a constrained woman, the "sallow, unhappy . . . postmaster's wife" (104). Having little or no interest in relation, Pennell, like Frankfort and, to an extent, Quint, emphasizes material gain: as postmaster and chief merchant of John's Island, he has a reputation for "grasping ways" (103). Indeed, the Old Testament source of Jabez's name associates him with an acquisitiveness appropriate to the island world: "And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast" (I Chron. 4:10). This biblical source also links Jabez with woman's tribulation: "his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow" (I Chron. 4:9). In our terms, the daughter in intrapsychic conflict seeks remedy by metamorphosing the bad mother, as it were, bearing or bringing forth a Jabez and, it must often seem, ever after having to bear with him. ("Jabez" literally means "he makes sorrow" [New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, 438]).
His patronymic, Pennell, also associates him with writing, as does his being the postmaster. Jewett, as one herself very much concerned with sorting and delivering letters, thus appears to personify an element of her own endeavor in Pennell, intimating that, having constituted such a figure as an internal authority, a woman writer necessarily suffers difficulties with respect to intellectual and spiritual relations with her readers, especially women, and therefore, if she is to succeed in and disseminate an analysis of woman's being in this world, she must get beyond that post master. In the story, one "irate islander" (105) complains,"My woman has been expecting a letter [regarding her ill family]. . . an' she was dreadful put about because she got no word by the last mail. Lor', now wa'n't it just like Jabe's contrariness to go over [for the mail] in that fussin' old dory' [an inadequate boat] . . . . Folks may be layin' dyin', an' there's all kinds o' urgent letters that ought to be in owners' hands direct" (104, 105).If Jewett uses Pennell to suggest how a certain illiberal self-centeredness can arise in a woman writer, she must to an extent envision the more enlightened Frankfort as symbolizing one's working to get beyond such inner hindrances. We can see how his business, with its emphasis on the deep-drawered desk (116), "accounts" (102), and an "errand runner" (116), allows for that symbolic use, and we know that Frankfort wants to establish more meaningful relations with others. (Just before his journey to Folly Island, he had made "some liberal gifts"  to those in need.) With some irony, Jewett even has Frankfort imagining himself supplying the impoverished islanders with "presents of books and enlightenments" (104). However, by portraying Frankfort as one unable to establish direct intimacy with others, especially with women, Jewett implies that a writer needs to reach that spirit of relation, the internal good mother. Indeed, we learn that on the journey the protagonist carries a book of Wordsworth's poems which belonged to his late mother: "'Yes,'" he tells Phebe, "it does one good to read such poems'" (114). Declaring the logic impelling the protagonist's journey--mortal anxiety's urging one to regain something of the internal mother--Jewett connects the comparatively enlightened Frankfort with writing that, unlike Pennell's, opens upon larger matters.8 But she also indicates that for woman and for herself as writer the poetry of a Wordsworth finally remains inadequate to the task (perhaps Jewett cannot resist the pun on word's worth): later in the story Frankfort futilely tries to keep his mind off a woman's funeral by reading the poems: "his book closed over his listless fingers" (112). Hence, via her protagonist she would forgo or, better, subsume man's writing and proceed more immediately into her own experience--her region of being--relating her discoveries to others.
As Frankfort and the postmaster-merchant enter John's Island's harbor, they come upon George Quint in his catboat awaiting medicine ordered from Pennell. When Frankfort hears a wag on the dock urging "King George" (105) to convey Pennell's passenger on to Folly Island, the traveller discloses an underlying bond with Quint, for he immediately finds the prospect "enticing" and "eagerly" (106) accepts Quint's invitation. This "pilgrim" (108), representative of the matured daughter and of Jewett, we have argued, has effectively journeyed toward the self's earlier adaptations, endeavoring to regain the impulse of relation derived from the good mother; accordingly, he now passes from the postmaster (patrilineated bad mother/inner adult) to the internal father and, by extension, the devoted daughter, keeper of the good mother. That Pennell and Quint play these contending parts can be seen in the nature of their conflicts: Frankfort, who himself sees life as endless strife ("'the great world. . . pushes and fights and wrangles'" ), quickly observes his hosts' oddly interdependent antipathy: "It seemed to be a strange combination of dependence and animosity between the men. The King followed his purveyor with a blasting glance of hatred" (106). The guest later hears Quint characterize the breach with the postmaster in terms that, we would say, symbolize the self's break with the bad mother:"I didn't see why there was any need o' being badgered and nagged all my days . . . They'd hunt ye to death if ye was anyways their master [. . . .] I wanted to be by myself. . . . I wan't one that could stand them folks that overlooked and harried me, an' was too mean to live. They could go their way, an' I mine; I wouldn't harm 'em, but I wanted none of 'em. Here, you see, I get my own livin'" (107, 112).Interestingly, by stepping directly into Quint's boat, Frankfort, like Quint, sets no "'foot on John's island'" (105) John's Island and thereby implicitly declares the matured daughter's readiness to get beyond a self (I-land) governed by the patrilineated bad mother.
Ensuing events confirm, I believe, that Frankfort, a "pilgrim to the outer boundaries" (110), has now made his way to older, hitherto unconscious figures of himself. Like a daughter reflecting on her early psychological adaptation, Frankfort concludes, "he had been very tired and out of sorts when he had yielded to the desire to hide away from civilization, and had drifted, under some pilotage that was beyond himself, into this quiet haven" (114). Listening to Quint, the protagonist becomes "conscious of a strange sympathy and exhilaration" (107), of being "moved by a deep curiosity to know for himself the laws and charts of his new-found acquaintance's existence; he had never felt a keener interest in a first day's acquaintance with any human being" (110). Quint feels the same: "'Tain't everyone I'd pick to carry home, though,' said the King, magnificently. 'Thas been my plan to keep clear o' humans much as could be. I had my fill o' the John's Islanders a good while ago'" (107). He thinks of his guest as a "pretty man" (109), and at times the two seem to converse by telepathy, a "recognition of [one another's] thoughts" (111).9 During the voyage to Folly Island, "outermost island of all" (106), in a scene that, I think, dramatizes the daughter's initiating an internal alliance with the father, Frankfort falls asleep, dreams, and awakens to find himself taken with his new host's majestic character: "The stranger waked from his reverie before very long, and observed with delight that the man before him had a most interesting face, a nobly moulded forehead, and brave commanding eyes. There was truly an air of distinction and dignity about this King of Folly Island, an uncommon directness and independence" (107).
The scene allegorizes, I think, what we described as the daughter's introjecting an idealized paternal figure for the sake of "independence." We recall that this daughter, defending herself against an internal persecutor, endows the "new sovereign" (107) self with powers of beneficence but also a thoroughgoing negation and containment, then finds herself increasingly caught up in combativeness, consequently isolated and unable to manifest those creative, relational powers derived from the good mother. To regain authority, she identifies her maturing self most fully with the paternal ally, simultaneously transmuting all of the psyche's constituents largely in patriarchal terms and reinvesting her matrixing powers in the newly formed ego.10 Thereafter she suffers certain deprivation, but, having installed and identified herself with an ideal father--one well supported by cultural tenets--she can scarcely conceive either overthrowing that constrictive authority or getting too close to the needy daughter. In our drama, accordingly, Frankfort hesitates to confront Quint or draw too close to Phebe, until the end remaining somewhat ambivalent about both.
From a psychoanalytic standpoint, when he reaches Folly Island, he enters an archaic realm of the psyche in which the reigning father and deprived, loyal daughter have long subsisted. In earlier days she companioned with her mother, and ever after mourns the loss: "'She pines for her mother,'" Quint confides, "'they was a sight o' company for each other'" (115). Clearly in Phebe the traveller has come upon an internal intimate: the father remarks, "'I never see her take to no stranger as she has to you. I thought you might kind of have a feelin' for her'" (115). Indeed, the biblical source of Phebe's name, Paul's epistle to the Romans, urges the importance of strangers' befriending the woman: "I commend unto you Phebe our sister . . . . That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also" (Rom. 16: 1,2). In Phebe, Frankfort witnesses the effects of the father's reclusive rule. Although she enjoys a certain serenity for having escaped those "useless rivalries and jealousies" (114) we would ascribe to conflict with the bad mother, she--as well as the self at large--has paid dearly: isolated and unable to enjoy relation because long confined on an island of folly, she has supernaturally aged ("She had seemed even elderly to Frankfort when he first saw her, but he discovered from something that was said that her age was much less than his own. What a dreary lifetime!" ); and she has fatally contracted consumption, an illness symbolizing the father's consuming reign.
Frankfort learns that the man's rule has also contributed to the death of Phebe's mother: Quint tells the guest,"we've been better off here, as I view it. I was some sorry my woman should be so fur from her folks when she was down with her last sickness. . . . Now my woman wus wuth her weight in gold, an' she lays there in the little yard over in the corner of the field--she never fought me, nor argued the p'int again after she found I was sot, but it aged her fetchin' of her away from all her folks, an' out of where she was wonted. I didn't foresee it at the time" (108, 111).If the island's monarch represents an internal father who subjugates the daughter and the latter's immured good mother, then in permanently isolating these forces of benevolent relation, he fatally constricts them and the larger self needing their beneficence. When first introduced to Phebe, Frankfort had beentouched at the eagerness of his hostess to serve him, at her wistful questioning of her father to learn whom he had seen and what he had heard that day. There was no actual exile in the [father's] lot after all; he met his old acquaintances almost daily on the fishing grounds, and it was upon the women of the household that an unmistakable burden of isolation had fallen. (108)It is significant that Quint characterizes the dead mother as being "'wuth her weight in gold,'" for in a sense he has established himself, prospered, by drawing upon the mother's resources. The internal father lives upon and finally consumes the women, first the mother, then the daughter.11 Frankfort observes the father grow strong, the daughter weak--"Quint looked as hardy . . . as his daughter was pale and faded" (114)--and watches as the father almost literally reveals himself as containing a daughter: after being questioned by the guest about the wisdom of seclusion, "The King of Folly Island gave a long shrewd look at his companion [Frankfort]. . . then he blushed like a girl" (110-111).
However, one such as Frankfort, having constituted a self upon the paternal figure, predictably remains ambivalent about the elder's character; the pilgrim wants to find the patriarch worthy of continuing admiration:[The] King of Folly Island read his newspaper diligently, and doled out bits of information to his companions [guest and daughter]. Frankfort was surprised at the tenor of these. The reader was evidently a man of uncommon depth of thought and unusual common-sense. . . . It was no wonder that he had grown impatient of such society as the postmaster's; but at this point of his meditation the traveller's eyes began to feel strangely heavy, and he fell asleep in his high-backed rocking-chair. What peacefulness had circled him in! the rush and clamor of his business life had fallen away as if he had begun another existence without the fretful troubles of this present world. (109)The sentiment and imagery suggest the guest's, like the early daughter's, having redemptively entered a potential haven ("another existence without the fretful troubles") only to discover, perhaps too late, unforeseen consequences:There was something martyr-like and heroic in the exile's appearance as he spoke, and his listener had almost an admiration for such heroism, until he reminded himself that this withdrawal from society had been willful, and, so far as he knew, quite selfish. It could not be said that Quint had stood in his lot and place as a brave man should, unless he had left John's Island as the Pilgrim Fathers left England, for conscientious scruples and a necessary freedom. How many pilgrims since those have falsely made the same plea for undeserved liberty. (111)The more he learns of the daughter's pathetic fate, the more he empathizes with her, initiating real relation, something beyond the overdetermined reverence directed toward the paternal paradigm. Indeed, the guest soon becomes "conscious . . . of an antagonistic feeling" (112) developing toward the host, wondering, "Was it possible that Quint was a tyrant, and had never let this grown woman leave his chosen isle? Freedom, indeed!" (112).
Pivotally, just when Frankfort begins to feel most antagonistic toward the man, he comes upon Phebe, who, with the aid of a spyglass, watches the funeral of a kinswoman on a nearby island, in a sense, observes her own fate. In our terms the protagonist has momentarily broken with the patriarch and turned more fully to, that is, identified the self with the internal daughter. Accepting Phebe's offer of the spyglass, Frankfort experiences an intensely "strange awe and fascination in watching [the funeral's] course" (112), revealing, I would say, his deeper identification with the daughter and kinswoman. Frankfort suddenly makes a telling effort to separate himself from any implication that, like the solitary daughter, he too leads a constricted existence (with a father?) and faces imminent mortality, the ultimate dissolution of relation: he hurriedly turns to his book of poetry. We learn not only that it belonged to his mother but that her name, too, was Phoebe:"Will you let me see your book? [Phebe] asked, with a child's eagerness; and he gave it to her.Frankfort initially responds to the kinswoman's funeral by reaching via the book for the absent mother, but, existentially anxious, cannot keep his mind on Wordsworth's poetry. Jewett intimates that the protagonist might find more immediate access to a Phoebe Frankfort in Phebe Quint.12 To put it in terms of Jewett's own endeavor, the mature woman-writer might do well to forgo man's discourse and turn to her own internal constituents (or their avatars in the world?) in order to work toward an understanding of the human condition.
"It is an old copy of Wordsworth's shorter poems," he said. "It belonged to my mother. Her name was the same as yours."
"She spelled it with the o," said Phebe, radiant with interest in the discovery, and closely examining the flyleaf.
"What a pretty hand she wrote! Is it a book you like?" "I like it best because it was hers, I am afraid," replied Frankfort, honestly. "Yes, it does one good to read such poems; but I find it hard to read anything these days; my business fills my mind" (113-14)
To be sure, Jewett also intimates that too close a relation with Phebe carries risks, even beyond those involving eros. As we have seen, Phebe's way of thinking has been misshapen by a "dreary lifetime" (108) on her father's island: "'I used to wish I could go ashore and do all the things that folks in books did. But I don't care now; I wouldn't go away from the island for anything'" (114). In certain respects an arrested "child" (112), she now represents the mother primarily by way of a mourning for her. In other words, she embodies largely the desire, not the means, for relation--the desire to be loved, with too little of the means to love.13 In uniting with the daughter, Jewett suggests, one risks the possibly endless task of attending only to her and having to forsake working in the world. Thus even though suffering existential problems derived from having allied with the father, a mature, successful woman--a professional writer--might proceed cautiously with respect to the inner daughter, reasonably fearing the loss of authority and inclining to meet the need of rapprochement less literally. Accordingly, despite Phebe's desire for more intimate relation (when the guest consoles her with a "tenderness in his voice that had become quite foreign to it of late years," he makes her "gay and excited" about him ), Frankfort (and perhaps Jewett) tend to forbear any literal alliance with the daughter as a means to reach the mother. Jewett's narrative suggests a symbolic solution to the dilemma: the evening of the kinswoman's funeral, Phebe shows her guest alittle model of a meeting-house, steeple and all, which Phebe had made from card-board and covered with small shells a winter or two before. She brought it to him with a splendid sense of its art, and Frankfort said everything that could be said except it was beautiful. He even begged to be told exactly how it was done, and they sat by the light together and discussed the poor toy. . . . (114)Phebe Quint's model of the meeting house, symbol of relation, in some sense supplants Phoebe Frankfort's book of Wordsworth's poems. Although these latter offer a way toward relation, one superior to the postmaster's unsympathetic delivery of letters (sorting the mail-bag, Pennell would purposely "keep everybody waiting" ), they do so at a great remove and by way of a man's discursive experience. Phebe's more local "art" (metonymy of Jewett's local color writing)--a "poor toy" because the product of the internal "child"--better communicates the good mother's interests and therein offers a symbolic way to ally with the daughter and thereby reach that woman and others.
Only later, however, does Frankfort see the meaning in the meeting-house; until then he appears uncertain about his personal responsibility to Phebe and his attachment to Quint: he rejects the father's grotesque, money-backed proposal that he wed the daughter (a relation based not on desire for union but rather expediency), and he repeatedly, if vainly, urges Quint (not himself) to get her to better surroundings. Departing, the guestwas very sorry when he said good-by to Phebe; she was crying as he left the house, and a great wave of compassion poured itself over Frankfort's heart. He never should see her again, that was certain; he wished that he could spirit her away to some gentler climate, and half spoke his thought as he stood hesitating that last minute at the little beach. The next moment he was fairly in the boat and pushing out from shore . . . . They were on their way to John's Island, where Frankfort was to take the postmaster's boat to the main-land. Quint found his fog-bound way by some mysterious instinct, and at their journey's end the friends parted . . . . [Both] men turned more than once as the boats separated, to give a kindly glance backward. People are not brought together in this world for nothing. . . . (114, 115)Although the more-enlightened Frankfort acknowledges the significance of the needy inner daughter as such, he still sides with the self's paradigmatic father inasmuch as the latter also carries elements of the good mother (Quint always treats Phebe "fondly" ) and, as an "adult" poses fewer risks of endless entanglements. Returning to the city and his business, Frankfort "felt stronger and in much better spirits, and remembered afterward that he had been as merry as a boy on Folly Island" (114).
The conclusion of "The King of Folly Island" indicates that although Frankfort continues to want to accommodate father and daughter, he finally achieves only a compromise that still promotes patrilineal ends. Jewett, however, separates herself from her protagonist's resolution by satirizing it as an evasion: the author affirms that real redemption requires that the mature woman put away patrilineal props and risk a thoroughgoing confrontation with internal fathers. At story's end, the winter months having nearly passed, Frankfort receives a valedictory letter from Phebe, together with a gift--the model of the meeting house. Although the letter induces the man to use his imagination to envision the dying woman ("A sudden vision of the poor girl came before his eyes as he saw her stand on the door-step the day they watched the boat funeral" ), the gift impresses him as "sadly trivial and astray" (115) in his world, vaguely embarrassing in the way an unexpected manifestation of one's humble origins or childlike ways might expose one to self-doubt and ridicule: "He was entirely confused by its unexpected appearance; he did not dare to meet the eyes of an office-boy who stood near" (115-116). Inasmuch as the boy, Frankfort's "errand-runner" (116), stands at his side during this important scene, he likely represents the protagonist's earlier adaptation, the figure that, following the intrapsychic, patrilineal metamorphoses, superseded the father-daughter alliance. We may say that via Phebe Frankfort has acquired the means to better envision both mortality and the consequent requirement for relation and that he now relocates that power in his errand boy: to put it in the terms of our argument, to get free of constrictive paternal figures, the protagonist has materialized and reincorporated the daughter's legacy (the good mother's benevolence) by effectively using it to reincarnate an important if hitherto atrophied element of the adult's ego--one personified in the boy. Accordingly, the narrative immediately associates the errand-boy with Phebe when "with unexpected forbearance and sympathy" (116), he identifies himself with the daughter's gift: he confides to his employer, "'I used to see one o' them shell-works where I come from, up in the country,'" (116). Indeed, it is the boy's recognition that induces an epiphany in the protagonist, revives a vital interest in establishing relation. When Frankfort "drop[s] the embarrassing gift, the poor little meeting house, into a deep lower drawer of his desk" (116), he suddenly realizes that[he] had hardly thought of the lad before except as a willing, half-mechanical errand-runner; now he was suddenly conscious of the hopeful, bright young face. At that moment a whole new future of human interests spread out before his eyes, from which a veil had been withdrawn, and Frankfort felt like another man, or as if there had been a revivifying of his old, uninterested, self-occupied nature. Was there really such a thing as taking part in the heavenly warfare against ignorance and selfishness? Had Phebe given him in some mysterious way a legacy of all her unsatisfied hopes and dreams? (116).In this development the protagonist has incorporated the daughter's and mother's benevolent powers by transferring to, and thereby "revivifying," the internal boy, in effect, matrilineating that potentially arrogant figure (the boy's humbling himself, his "forbearance" was "unexpected") and generating a "whole new future of human interests." No wonder the redeemed Frankfort "felt like another man."
If Jewett herself has been drawn this way, she now questions such inclinations, for she clearly satirizes her own literary and intellectual project not only in Frankfort's embarrassment at being associated with Phebe's crude art (Jewett emphasizes that he "dropped the embarrassing gift. . . [into] his [writing?] desk") but also in his planning to supply the impoverished people of Maine with "presents of books and enlightenments" and "a Punch and Judy show or a panorama" (104). Such bathos in fact finds expression in the narrative's many instances of playful mock-heroic characterization, as, for example, when the traveller first arrives on Folly Island: "the King of that isle led the way to his castle, haddock in hand. Frankfort and the dog and cat followed after. . . . The King stepped carefully up the narrow pathway, and waited on the step for his already loyal subject to enter" (108). Beyond the self-reflexive bathos, however, the author above all derides the protagonist's glorying in a "new future" that has no part for woman. With a melodramatic thrust designed to catch our attention, Jewett has poor Phebe herself justifying--too earnestly--her own demise, asking only that it be done for the greater good and thus allowing Frankfort to favor the internal boy and to some extent the father so long as all henceforth work benevolently in service to others: Phebe's letter closes, "You must keep your promise and come back to the island; [father] will be lonesome, and you are one that takes father just right. It seems as if I hadn't been any use in the world, but it rests me, laying here, to think what a sight of use you must be. And so good-by" (116).14 Plainly the author recognizes the hypocrisy of such altruism and the authority it serves.
In "The King of Folly Island" Jewett has probed the psychological and social maturation of woman in a patrilineal world and, given the story's conclusion, finds much more to do: on the one side the protagonist clings to boylike resolutions, on the other, the increasingly less sympathetic author has begun to mock such resolutions, in effect, to challenge the king of Folly Island. In a number of subsequent narratives, she presses the matter further. For example, in "The Landscape Chamber" (1887), she develops her protagonist as a middle-aged businesswoman who, travelling, by chance comes upon the isolated dwelling of a father and daughter. In The Country of the Pointed Firs the author establishes a first-person narrative in which a woman--a professional writer--tells how she journeys to remote coastal Maine and intimately comes to know several parental figures: in a pivotal scene, one prepatory to her encountering a fatherly elder, the woman watches a boat (the Miranda) in jeopardy in the bay because the boy at the tiller has fallen asleep; when the boy is comically thrown overboard, the Miranda safely finds its way just as the narrator finds her way to a transcendent encounter with the patriarch.15 In such narratives Jewett suggests that although a matured daughter has already introjected the father, she can, with courage, return to and transform that configuration, transcending the patrilineal adaptations and allying with internal and perhaps external daughters to the advantage of all.
Joseph Church is a member of the English Department at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000. This essay first appeared in Essays in Literature 23 (1996). It is reprinted here with the permission of the author.
© 1996 Joseph Church.
This article may not be reprinted in any part or form without permission of the author.
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1 I allude to Willa Cather's observation, "If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life, I would say at once, 'The Scarlet Letter,' 'Huckleberry Finn,' and 'The Country of the Pointed Firs.' I can think of no others that confront time and change so securely" (xviii).
2 See Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-Analysis 1921-1945 (London: Hogarth, 1950).
3 In "Femininity" Freud claims that the daughter "enters the Oedipus situation as though into a haven or refuge" 114. I discuss Jewett's critique of such havens in "Transgressive Daughters in Jewett's Deephaven."
4 Calvin S. Hall explains, "When a person has lost or cannot possess a cathected object, he may attempt to recover or secure it by making himself like the object. This type of identification may be called object-loss identification. . . . If one adopts the characteristics of the missing person that person becomes thereby a part of one's personality. The personality in the course of development becomes stamped with the imprint of many lost object-cathexes" (77).
5 Arriving at John's Island, Frankfort "felt as if he had taken a step backward into an earlier age--these men had the look of pioneers or colonists" (106).
6 A John's Islander characterizes Quint as having been as "clever a boy as there was," but adds, "George's mother's folks did have a kind of a punky spot somewhere in their heads, but he never give no sign o' anything till Jabe Pennell begun to hunt him an' dare him" (105). This account again connects Pennell with the bad mother--the internal persecutor who would "hunt" and "dare" the daughter--and it also establishes the father, Quint, as inheritor of the archaic bad mother, the daughter's paternal grandmother being associated with derangement: "punk" means something "decayed, rotten"; it also means "prostitute." In Jewett's A Country Doctor (1884) the protagonist, Nan Prince, declares to her adopted father, Dr. Leslie, "I used to wish over and over again that I was a boy, when I was a little thing down at the farm, and the only reason I had in the world was that I could be a doctor, like you" (135).
7 The taboo against incest would help precipitate this removal of the father and daughter to an out-of-the-way island. In nineteenth-century America, "folly" means "foolishness; weakness of intellect; imbecility" as well as "depravity; wickedness." Also, pertinent to the daughter's psychological endeavor, "folly" is a term applied to "a work begun by its projector on a scale too large for his resources" (Universal Dictionary of the English Language).
8 Jewett often depicts characters proceeding under, and having to transcend, the influence of man's literary masterpieces: in Country of the Pointed Firs Littlepage (and the narrator) greatly admire the writings of Shakespeare and Milton; in "The Landscape Chamber" the woman traveller carries work by Sterne. In Transcendent Daughters in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994), I discuss Jewett's analysis of woman's being mastered by such works.
9 It could be argued that the internal father--an element of the psyche--seeks to help the daughter by drawing the matured ego back into relation, in other words, that Quint brings Frankfort to the island for purposes of uniting the two: the danger, however, is a lifelong attachment to Folly Island. In the marriage negotiation Quint proposes, "'I could git a cousin o' mine, a widow woman, to keep the house winters, an' you an' the gal needn't only summer here'" (115).
10 Jewett dramatizes this transmutation in several ways: in one instance, having characterized the conflict between Pennell and Quint as a "gran' flare up" (105)--a sort of psychic explosion--she calls attention to the way the surrounding geography allegorizes the newly formed psyche: "There was a serious look to the dark forests and bleak rocks that seemed to have been broken into fragments by some convulsion of nature, and scattered in islands and reefs along the coast. A strange population clung to these isolated bits of the world" (107). In another instance, she depicts a gathering of three John's Islanders as if it were a reenactment of the psyche's patrilineation: "Almost at the same moment two men appeared from different quarters of the shore, and without apparently taking any notice of each other, even by way of greeting, they seated themselves side by side . . . . In a few minutes a third resident of the island joined them, coming over the high pasture slope, and looking for one moment giant-like against the sky" (104). The "giant-like" figure I take to be the emergent ego. In one last instance, Jewett's portrayal of Frankfort's revelation on the voyage marks the father chronologically as the "man before him"--the predecessor of the matured ego: "The stranger waked from his reverie . . . and observed with delight that the man before him had a most interesting face . . . an air of distinction and dignity" (107).
11 In "The Landscape Chamber" the miserly father starves the wife and daughter; in Jewett's "Dark New England Days," the enslaving father keeps the daughters' earnings. I discuss the latter tale in "Fathers, Daughters, Slaves: The Haunted Scene of Writing in Jewett's 'Dark New England Days.'"
12 Jewett suggests that reading should lead to action. Phebe's books had inspired her desire for larger relation but, there being no opportunity for that development, she has evidently given it up. The O in the mother's name (Phoebe) may refer to Sarah Orne, the paternal grandmother for whom Jewett was named. Early on Jewett seems to have identified with this grand mother (and not her "step" grandmother, her grandfather's later wife), as if Sarah Orne came to represent the good mother. In a drawing made just after Jewett's eighteenth birthday, the author personifies her monogram, depicting the S and J as menacing serpents, the O as a young woman endeavoring to escape the threat; she captions the drawing, "My monogram with 'O' in trouble." (See illustration.)
13 In The Country of the Pointed Firs the matriarchal Mrs. Todd declares, "'There's more women likes to be loved than there is of those that loves,'" (49).
14 From our psychoanalytic standpoint, Frankfort's siding with the boy receives symbolic support from Phebe's attaching the letter to the meeting house's phallic steeple--an image worthy of Lacan.
15 I discuss these issues in detail in Transcendent Daughters in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs.
Cather, Willa. Preface to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925.
Church, Joseph. "Fathers, Daughters, Slaves: The Haunted Scene of Writing in Jewett's 'Dark New England Days.'" American Transcendental Quarterly 5:3 (1991): 205-24.
-----. Transcendent Daughters in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1994.
-----. "Transgressive Daughters in Jewett's Deephaven." Essays in Literature 20 (1993): 231-50.
Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Ungar, 1980.
Freud, Sigmund. "Femininity." New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1965.
Hall, Calvin S. A Primer of Freudian Psychology. New York: Penguin, 1982.
Jewett, Sarah Orne. A Country Doctor. New York: Penguin, 1986.
-----. The Country of the Pointed Firs in The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. Ed. Mary Ellen Chase. New York: Norton, 1981.
-----. "The King of Folly Island." Harper's New Monthly Magazine 74 (1886): 102-116.
Klein, Melanie. Contributions to Psycho-Analysis 1921-1945. London: Hogarth, 1950.
The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. Henry Snyder Gehman. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970.
Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama Press, 1992.
The Jewett Journal