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DEEPHAVEN: SARAH ORNE JEWETT'S EXPLORATORY METAFICTION Judith Bryant Wittenberg Hood College Sarah Orne Jewett and her critics have made relatively modest claims for the importance of Deephaven, her first book, which she published in 1877 after William Dean Howells suggested that she pull together a collection of her magazine sketches. Less than comfortable with the process of producing it, Jewett was also, retrospectively , less than positive about the result, although it includes several memorable episodes and makes effective use of the unifying device of a narrator-observer. She modestly referred to it as "little Deephaven"1 and deprecated it in her preface to the 1893 edition, noting the work's "youthfulness," admitting it contained "sentences which make her feel as if she were the grandmother of the author of 'Deephaven' and her heroines," and inviting readers to "smile with her" at its "callow" quality.2 Nevertheless, although critics have overlooked these authorial judgments and have paid tribute to the work's strengths,3 many have found it of interest primarily as a precursor to Jewett's masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs.4 However, what also makes Deephaven significant is its status as a metafiction, a work in which the author overtly considers various aspects of her narrative craft, exploring such basic artistic issues as the posture of the writer vis-à-vis her material and the psychosocial function of narrative. As Michael Holstein points out, the first issue, that of writerly "stance," lies behind what he calls the "secondary narrative" in Jewett's culminating 1896 work,5 yet in the much earlier Deephaven one can see her contemplating not only this but several other metafictive topics. In this regard, Jewett's inaugural work has special implications for all of her subsequent fiction; at the same time, it anticipates important twentieth-century American novels that also investigate the process of fictional creation. To be sure, the most obvious intentions of Deephaven are delineated by the author in her 1893 preface, where she expresses her wish to ensure that the growing numbers of summer visitors to the seaside communities of Maine and the year-round inhabitants learn to "understand one another" and "to profit by their new relationship " (p. 3). They are also evident in the text itself, where the narrator asserts that even in small towns such as Deephaven "romance and tragedy and adventure" may be discerned by those who are willing "to study life and character" and who "find pleasure in thought 154Judith Bryant Wittenberg and observation of simple things" (pp. 75—76). Nonetheless, from the outset it is apparent that the narrator, Helen Denis, and her close friend, Kate Lancaster, not only function as visitors attempting to comprehend the local mores and to perceive the excitement and pathos evident behind the quiet routines of many townspeople but also, in their quest to ferret out and to reconstitute the various human stories available in Deephaven and its environs, serve as authorsurrogates . Indeed, because Kate has family ties to the town while Helen is thoroughly an outsider, at least one critic has suggested that Kate and Helen constitute Jewett's "splitting" of her self into two parts, the appreciative returned native and the objective working writer.6 Certainly, the double-voiced and implicitly authorial discourse of the young women, examined in conjunction with a number of other provocative elements in the work, tends to suggest that Deephaven constitutes an investigation of crucial aspects of the writerly endeavor. To begin with, there are the several narratorial references to other writers that to some degree "frame" Deephaven and somehow imply that the work is being consciously inserted into the literary tradition. In the opening section, a tale of Kate's reminds Helen "of the story of a Chinese procession which I had read in one of Marryat's novels" and Kate's song is "from one of Jean Ingelow's verses" (pp. 12—13), while the closing pages cite an eclectic array of literary works all listed under the rubric of the young women's "pet books," everything from children's stories to volumes of sermons to William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Thackeray (pp. 297-98). Thus establishing the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 153-163
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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