In Deephaven, Sarah Orne Jewett presents two American identities in the hope that they could explain each to the other. Deephaven is a sleepy Maine village more akin to York and Wells than to the South Berwick in which the author grew up and lived for much of her life. The town is twelve miles from the railroad and is described as being more English than American, the result perhaps of Jewett’s having, in 1874, read and been much influenced by Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1853).
Deephaven is a composite of thirteen sketches that Jewett revised considerably and wove into a novel. The narrative is supplied by two summer visitors from the city, Helen Denis and Kate Lancaster, each twenty-four years old. Katherine Brandon, Kate’s great-aunt, has died and left her house in Deephaven to Kate’s mother, who grants the two young ladies use of it for the summer. In the course of the summer, Kate and Helen come to know a considerable gallery of locals, whom Jewett presents in authentic detail. They range from two retired sea captains to a fisherman to the widow Patton to Mrs. Kew, an earth mother who lives in the lighthouse, to Miss Honora Carew, who expresses her gratitude that Deephaven has “no disagreeable foreign population,” to Olive Grant, the obligatory gossip who serves the author’s need to reveal many facts.
The result of this summer is that two disparate camps begin to know, understand, and sympathize with each other. Recent critics have also suggested that the book has to do with the sexual identities of Kate and Helen, who might be inferred to have sexual feelings for each other, much as Jewett is thought to have had for many of her female friends.
Many of the characters in Deephaven are grotesques when compared with people in mainstream society. In Deephaven, however, they have established their identities and are accepted on an equal basis with their less eccentric fellow citizens. The people in town have been raised around one another and accept one another, each according to his or her own singular identity.
Kate Lancaster’s grandaunt, Katherine Brandon, had died, leaving to Kate’s mother a charming old house and the family estate, including wharf rights, at Deephaven, a quaint sea town that had known better days. Since Kate’s family was scattering for the summer, she asked Helen Denis, a friend, to spend the season with her in the old house on the Maine coast. They took two maids with them who came from that part of New England, and they left Boston without regret.
Riding with them in the stagecoach from the railway station was a large, weather-beaten but good-natured woman who turned out to be Mrs. Kew, the wife of the lighthouse keeper. She was a keenly observant person but so warmhearted that the girls knew that she meant her invitation to visit the Light, and by the end of the summer, they knew that wherever she was, there was always a home and a heart for them.
Grandaunt Brandon’s house was a sedate and imposing one, full of furnishings brought home by generations of seagoing ancestors. Its closets were filled with china, and its walls were covered by family portraits. The girls rummaged the place from cellar to attic until they felt that they knew Katherine Brandon as well as if she were still alive. Then they started to learn their way around the shore, out to the lighthouse, through the town, and out into the country.
People who had known Katherine Brandon and Kate’s mother felt themselves the girls’ friends by inheritance, and the girls were never lonely. Those people had held Katherine Brandon in great respect and with fond admiration. The girls tried to do nothing to hurt the Brandon name. Through Widow Jim Patton, they realized that Kate’s aunt had been a thoughtful, generous soul, who remembered in her will her less fortunate neighbors.
To the girls, it seemed as though the clocks had stopped long ago in Deephaven and that the people continued repeating whatever they had been doing at that time...
(The entire section is 1,625 words.)