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Romantic flight in Jewett's "White Heron".

Mr. Howells thinks that this age frowns upon the romantic, that it is no use to write romance any more; but dear me, how much of it there is left in every-day life after all. It must be the fault of the writers that such writing is dull, but what shall I do with my "White Heron" now she is written? She isn't a very good magazine story, but I love her....--Sarah Orne Jewett, letter to Annie Fields (ca. 1885)

Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron" (1886) tells the story of Sylvia, a young girl who spends her first years in an oppressive manufacturing town, then, at eight, to her great joy, goes to live with her grandmother on a farm in coastal New England. There, amid animals and forest, she begins to feel at home and express her affectionate nature. The following year, however, she faces a new difficulty when, walking in the woods, she meets a stranger, an amateur ornithologist, lost gunning for birds, who asks for and obtains lodging from the girl and her grandmother. Although Sylvia at first fears the tall young man, she soon becomes comfortable, indeed infatuated, with the "charming" and "handsome stranger." (1) Thus, the next day, though troubled by his killing of birds, she joins him in the hunt, and when she learns he has come into their region pursuing the rare white heron, she resolves to surprise and please the youth by climbing a tall pine early the next morning and locating the heron's nest for him. As it happens, atop the tree at dawn, she discovers the nest in a hemlock far below, but then watches in awe as the heron itself rises "through the golden air" (239) and alights on a branch near hers. Thereupon, in a brief conjunction, the rapt girl and the bird behold "the sea and the morning together" (239). Later, making her way home to disclose the nest's location, Sylvia finds her moment with the bird become so affecting that despite the urging of the grandmother and the hunter, she "cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away" (239). The young man leaves "disappointed" (239), and, long after, Sylvia continues to miss him. The story ends with the narrator's sympathetic plea: "Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been,--who can tell? Whatever treasures were lost to her, woodlands and summertime, remember! Bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child!" (239).

Although "A White Heron" can be read as a species of realism--nothing in the story appears inconceivable--the tale is best understood, I believe, as a romance. (2) In her rendering, Jewett pays little attention to particularities and instead establishes the setting and characters as largely symbolical, representative: a manufacturing town, dark woods, an affectionate girl, a kindly grandmother, a nameless hunter. Romance of course requires that we work to determine what these elements symbolize, what the romance allegorizes. Critics of "A White Heron" have generally agreed that Sylvia represents an innocent, aspiring girl, newly awakened to sexuality, who finds herself greatly attracted to a charming but finally dangerous young man, that this scientist-hunter typifies man's egotism and arrogance with respect to nature and women in nineteenth-century America, and that the heron embodies an eminent expression of nature, of a world apart from man's dominion and worthy of the girl's devotion.

From this perspective, then, Sylvia's ominous relation to the hunter allegorizes the predicament of young women in Jewett's culture. Girls desire a transcendent life, but, growing up in a patrilineal culture, they find themselves constrained to seek ascendancy in what often prove destructive alliances with men. Sylvia has escaped the oppression of a manufacturing town, has gotten free of a "great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her" (229), and thus for now avoided her impoverished mother's fate (a "houseful of children" [228]). She has begun life anew in a rural, essentially maternal world; but soon she longs for greater scope: having largely mastered her little domain, she wants to "see all the world" (234). When she meets the cultured young man, she imagines transcendence with him. The urging of incipient sexuality furthers this vision. (The story makes it evident that her grandmother unwittingly supports man's interests and thus cannot guide her granddaughter toward other ends.) As many have noted, Jewett's tale indicates that in such relationships aspiring girls typically risk either subordinating or losing themselves altogether, for the author depicts the hunter as dangerously if subtly destructive. Accordingly, Elizabeth Ammons characterizes the young man, with his phallic "gun-wielding science," as representative of patriarchy's "heterosexual predation ... violence, voyeurism, and commercialism," (3) and Richard Brenzo defines him as a "type of dominating, threatening lover" who would have Sylvia metaphorically "caught, raped, killed, stuffed, and put on display in a man's house, a provocative satirical image of the condition of late nineteenth century wives." (4) Most conclude, then, that Sylvia's willingness to protect the heron and, however reluctantly, forfeit the hunter signifies her having escaped ruin by preferring, at least for now, nature above man: in her affiliation with the bird Sylvia finds a form of transcendence that enables her to delay and perhaps avoid self-loss in man's world.

On the whole I accept this conclusion, but I want to amplify its implications by concentrating on the story's psychological and autobiographical elements. To my mind, Jewett structures "A White Heron" as a kind of Hawthornean allegory, a psychological romance reminiscent of "Young Goodman Brown." In Hawthorne's story the protagonist, a newlywed apprehensive about sexuality, goes into the sensual woods at night (symbolically his wedding night) and meets a powerful devilish stranger who offers a phallic staff to the uncertain young man. Hawthorne's romance appears to allegorize the youth's ambivalence about sexuality--in the aggressive stranger, who bears a family resemblance, Brown meets an incarnation of his own unconscious interests and fears. Like Brown, Sylvia goes into the sensual woods at night and meets a powerful stranger who carries a phallic implement, and she, too, experiences ambivalence about its use: "Sylvia would have liked him vastly better without his gun" (233). (5) Jewett implies that in the phallic stranger the girl, like Hawthorne's protagonist, in fact confronts an unconscious part of herself. I hope to show that as a psychological romance "A White Heron" dramatizes a girl's difficult internal maturation in nineteenth-century America--her experience of an inner ego-division into female and male components, the latter dangerously in the ascendancy, the former, associated with genuine affection, in decline--and that Sylvia's turning from the hunter to the white heron (with her all-important surmounting of the phallic "great pine"[234]) symbolizes her replacing the allurement of a masculine ego with a desirable entity in nature, specifically her own (clitoral) body, autoerotically, with all that implies for the expression of affection and consequently for transcendence.

With far-reaching social implications "A White Heron" functions as a kind of autobiographical romance. Obviously Sylvia represents some of Sarah Jewett's personal interests, for example, her great affection for nature and concern for transcendence. (6) But in Sylvia's passion for the young man, the girl at first seems quite unlike the author. We know that in her own life Jewett romantically loved women, not men. Her biographer Paula Blanchard tells us that "Jewett's deepest affections were always centered on women" and that she "fell in love many times" before establishing a lifelong companionship with an eminent literary woman, Annie Fields. (7) In "The Unpublished Love Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett," Josephine Donovan puts it simply: "Jewett's emotional orientation was lesbian." (8) And in "Reading Deephaven as a Lesbian Text" Judith Fetterley concurs; with acuity, Fetterley shows how Jewett's early writing, particularly her first novel, Deephaven (1877), implicitly explores the possibility and meaning of a successful lesbian life in patriarchal nineteenth-century America, how the author uses her fiction as a kind of "lesbian space" in which "to imagine" ways of developing "her life's choice." (9) It is in this light that I view "A White Heron" as Jewett's mid-career reflection on certain increasingly pressing problems and opportunities in her personal life. In this tale Jewett gives dramatic form to her own inner conflict between a resurrected affectionate girl and a comparatively masterful "male" figure. Early in life she yielded herself to an alienated and alienating male orientation--an aggressive, masculinized part of her ego that has persistently undermined affectionate relationships with women and thus now threatens to subvert her newly established and potentially transcendent relation with Annie Fields. In Sylvia's choosing the heron over the hunter, choosing her clitoral body over the phallicized psyche, the author imagines a way to get beyond what has proven a misguided and harmful adaptation, and conceives a way toward an uplifting and lifelong relationship with Fields.

"A White Heron" as a Psychological Romance

From a psychological standpoint, when Sylvia enters the dark woods and meets a disturbing but attractive stranger, Jewett's story dramatizes the girl's confronting a hitherto unknown and aggressive constituent of her unconscious mind, one she encounters because of emergent desire and one she must forsake in the interest of authentic maturity. If she allows "him" to succeed, if the ego yields itself to the hunter, she risks eventually becoming one who would overmaster the feminine in a similarly masculine-phallic way. To understand Jewett's story in these terms requires that we first account for the girl's somehow having not only a male, but an older male, component within her psyche. I begin with two assumptions: first, that all of us have the potential for expressing the full range of human behavior normally divided according to gender: thus Freud assumes an essential "bisexuality" that culture constrains along certain lines, and Jung assumes an essential "contrasexuality" (men have a feminine side, the anima, and women a masculine one, the animus) whose presence must, despite cultural constraints, be recognized, integrated, and expressed. (10) Second, that all of us desire to transcend our finitude, and to a great extent we do so by identifying with and transcending initially superior versions of ourselves. A model for this endeavor is the child's relation to the parent: a girl loves the ascendant mother in whom she sees herself, and for the sake of transcendence she wants to master the woman and her superior ways. In a culture such as Jewett's, girls (and boys) typically begin life in a kind of thoroughgoing, comparatively blissful fusion with the mother. As the gift develops, she discovers the mother's superiority, and at first understands it as her own, but soon learns otherwise. She experiences this difference as a painful lack, and she endeavors to overcome it by asserting herself to possess, to master, the mother's regard. But, given life's difficulties, she necessarily suffers frustrations in her longing for the mother's full attention, and she responds with ambivalence--feelings of antipathy alongside those of affection. Her antipathy produces guilt, and she begins to seek relief from that pain and from the agony of longing for what to the child's dramatic mind may appear an unreachable woman.

In a patrilineal culture a girl usually turns to the father for aid. In him she sees not only an eminent being but one who, with society's traditional and legal support, stands superior to the mother. By affiliating with him, she sustains her requirement for transcendence and diminishes her interest in, or at least the significance of, her ambivalent attitude toward the mother. But she finds that with him she faces new problems--the possible curtailment of transcendence and thus the abridgement of a human requirement. A patriarchy constrains her to divide the world rigorously into female and male constituents and to ascribe forms of behavior to each, for example, affectionate self-abnegation to the former, dispassionate self-assertion to the latter. As a consequence, she must set about dividing herself, must see the father as the proper possessor of certain worthy qualities, and know him as essentially different. As a girl, then, she can never fully unite with him--can never master him--unless she psychologically manipulates her bisexuality in such a way as to replicate culture by subordinating the inner female and elevating the male side. Many forgo this maneuver, their reasons varying greatly with personal disposition and social environment. Some girls adhere to the properly feminine part to meet the demands of insistent paternal figures. Others, when they repress their aggression toward the mother, simultaneously suppress a good portion of their assertiveness in general, giving the latter over to an approving father; then, with the advent of sexuality, they, like Cinderella, more fully establish themselves as the affectionate, unassertive ones, waiting for the male who completes them.

But some, Jewett among them, I think, internally subordinate the female and elevate the male side of the psyche. Again, personal disposition and social environment play a decisive part in this development. Perhaps, like Jewett, one has both an extraordinary interest in transcendence and an uncommonly supportive father. In general a little girl with an especially intense yearning to surmount limitation initially experiences a correspondingly strong desire for an ascendant relation with the mother. Such a girl first seeks to assert her interests with and go beyond this preeminent one. Because of her great impulse toward transcendence, however, when she meets the usual difficulties in gaining the mother's full regard, she suffers inordinate frustration, and reacts with equally intense ambivalence. To escape these difficulties--both the great yearning and guilt-laden antipathy for the woman--she turns her attention and affection to an accommodating father. She sees in him a master of woman (the culture ensures that), yet one who supports her assertiveness. By replacing her mother with him, she can sustain her interest in a relation with a superior figure and work to suppress her disturbing ambivalence toward the woman. At this juncture she begins to identify more fully with the male figure; in effect, she begins to boy a part of herself, dividing her psyche into a girl who feels affection for mother and father and increasingly a boy (as it were, a tomboy) who both aspires to ally with the father and remain defensively indifferent to the mother.

With the emergence of sexuality, however, she confronts new problems. In her culture she usually meets condemnation for autoerotic interest and thus works to suppress that activity. (11) Sexual feelings persist, however, and together with ontological desire for transcendence, urge one to take pleasure with another. But she has established a psychological arrangement that greatly complicates such ends: sexuality presses the inner affectionate girl toward the father and the assertive inner "boy" toward the mother, both of these impulses producing great anxiety--fear of incest with the paternal one, rapaciousness (expressing patriarchy generally) with the maternal one or her surrogates. To defend against this development, the developing adolescent can arrest and in some sense forsake or abandon the girl part (now a child forever pre-sexual) and further elevate the male part (now a young adult preoccupied with higher callings, forever indifferent to sexuality except as sublimation). However, this division, with its sublimation, restricts the aspiring girl ontologically: as an adult she can never wholeheartedly ally with another because she cannot express intimate affection. Worse yet, she discovers that the sublimation, because it works without regard for real, correcting relations with others, allows the more aggressive sexual interests to dominate in a concealed way and that, to her dismay, the sublimation comes under increasing pressure to give way to more direct action. (12) To overcome this predicament, the maturing young woman must somehow return for and restore the abandoned inner girl, help her transcend the impasse and the male adaptation.

"A White Heron," I believe, dramatizes these constituents of the psyche and imagines the restoration of the affectionate female. (13) Nine-year-old Sylvia I take to be the hitherto arrested girl, the hunter the older, sublimating male, and the narrator the woman who seeks and pictures a remedy for a misguided masculine adaptation. In this psychological context, the girl's initial difficulty in the manufacturing town with the "great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her" signifies an early conflict between the two parts of the psyche, again, one aggressive, one affectionate. We can surmise that in the town, lost amid a "houseful of children," Sylvia experienced great frustration in her desire for affiliation with the mother and that, fatherless, she turned toward and identified with available masculine adaptations, initially the crude boy who responds to frustration by actively, even rapaciously, chasing the feminine (with his great red face he gives the appearance of a tumescent penis). (14) But she finds association with this figure frightful, far removed from transcendent interests, and represses it accordingly. When she eventually moves to the farm, close to wild nature, she becomes identified with her absent uncle, Dan--she "takes after him," effectively replaces him--but Sylvia wants actual human companionship. (15) Later, she experiences nascent sexual feelings, and in the darkening woods ("already filled with shadows" [227] because of her earlier effort at adaptation) she meets and joins an appealing and cultured young man.

Psychologically, he appears a refined development, a kind of displacement, of the red-faced boy, one who has learned to overcome frustrated desire for the feminine by sublimation, by "making a collection of birds ... ever since [he] was a boy." Because Sylvia (the girl-ego part of the psyche) fears eros, she inclines to yield authority to this figure (the male, hitherto unconscious part) who seems indifferent, somehow above sensual passion. But we and the narrator know his sublimation cannot hold: already he confides, "I have lost my way, and need a friend very much," and moved by the thought of "his day's pleasure" (239) he looks ready to ravish the girl (as it were, the unconscious overcoming the ego): he menacingly concludes, "she must really be persuaded" (239). If the girl now gives herself up to this adaptation, later, as a young adult, she risks expressing an aggressive sexuality that drives eminent others away and therein subverts ontological transcendence. Sylvia must forsake that way without following her wandering uncle in his affectionless solution: Dan breaks with both the father and the mother (he never communicates). The story urges that Sylvia instead express her own passion and thereby hold out the possibility of affectionate relations with others. This she does, by mounting the great pine and affiliating with the white heron, symbolically the recognition of her sensual body and its autoerotic implications.

When Sylvia climbs the pine and beholds the heron, although inspired by her desire to win the young man's admiration, she effectively turns (or returns) to elements of nature for the sake of gaining transcendence. From the first, despite the prospect of self-impairment, she has been disposed by cultural circumstances and by nascent sexual interest to seek transcendent affiliation with males; appropriately, then, she now turns to a nature symbolically informed with ascendant masculine figures--a tree and bird. The story suggests that by affiliating with and proving superior to these more accommodating, less threatening, versions of maleness (she masters the tree and, like a parent, protects the bird), the affectionate Sylvia now develops her own powers to the point where she can go on, however reluctantly, without the youth. (16) By instinctively if unintentionally supplanting the hunter with two of nature's preeminent figures, Sylvia loses his companionship; but in her enhanced affection for higher symbolic forms of nature she avoids becoming an isolate, a "desert-islander" (Sylvia receives a phallic gift from the hunter, "a jack-knife, which she thought as great a treasure as if she were a desert-islander" [233]). Moreover, in her transcendence of these male figures the girl positions herself to love, if she chooses, rather than subordinate, an ascendant female.

Jewett's romance associates the tree and heron with both transcendence and masculinity. Contemplating her ascent, Sylvia experiences exultation: "What a spirit of adventure, what wild ambition! What fancied triumph and delight and glory!" (234-35); later, "tired but wholly triumphant, high in the tree-top," she beholds the sea, ships, distant villages, "a vast and awesome world" (236); and finally in transcendent wonder she communes with the "solemn heron" (238) itself. The towering pine, humanized by the narrator, explicitly takes a male form, appears a kind of helpful grandfather:
   There was the huge tree asleep yet in the paling moonlight, and small and
   hopeful Sylvia began with utmost bravery to mount to the top of it.... The
   old pine must have loved his new dependent. More than all the hawks, and
   bats, and moths, and even the sweet-voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating
   heart of the solitary gray-eyed child. And the tree stood still and held
   away the winds that June morning while the dawn grew bright in the east.
   (235, 236)


The narrator calls attention to the bird's also being an attentive male: "the heron has perched on a pine bough not far from [Sylvia's], and cries back to his mate on the nest, and plumes his feathers for the new day!"; disturbed by catbirds, the devoted heron "goes back ... to his home in the green world beneath" (238). The narrative, many have observed, emphasizes the tree's and the bird's being phallic. Although Blanchard demurs, "Certainly Sarah Orne Jewett would be appalled, not to say horrified, at finding the lofty old pine of `A White Heron' widely interpreted as a phallic symbol" (Jewett, 234), George Held quips that some "call the great pine the largest phallic symbol in American literature." (17) Climbing among the "pine's [anagram for penis] green branches"(239), Sylvia finds it "harder than she thought.... The tree seemed to lengthen itself out as she went up, and to reach farther and farther upward" (236). As Karen K. Moreno observes, it "is as though it were a phallus becoming erect" and the girl becoming sticky with "semen-like pitch." (18) Then Sylvia watches as the bird, a traditional symbol of the phallus, itself lifts upward toward her, "grows larger, and rises ... [with] outstretched slender neck and crested head" (238). (19)

To some extent, we may say, the girl's climbing the phallic tree constitutes a kind of sexual experience with a close, symbolic male, intimacy with a tree-(grand)father that allows her to proceed regardless of inhibitions and taboos. (20) Heretofore, we recall, Sylvia has worked to suppress nascent sensual desire in part because of the risk of subjugation to a powerful male, but in suppressing desire she confines her affectionate nature, her own developing self, and thus contravenes her deeper transcendent interest. (21) In her brave climb she incipiently overcomes this self-restriction and positions herself for further development. Brenzo puts it this way: "At the beginning of her climb the twigs catch her--another reminder of the pursuit of the red-faced boy and the hunter's shooting of birds. But later, the tree becomes a friend who aids her ascent, as well as a father-lover with a new "dependent" ("Free," 39). As Brenzo makes clear, Sylvia's ascent actually has two phases: first she suffers and overcomes the pine's resistance and, then, having done so, she wins its affection (the "pine must have loved [her]"). In a way, as Carol J. Singley maintains, the girl has sexually overmastered "him"; already a kind of tomboy, Sylvia asserts herself as the phallic lover: "Sylvia's climb to the top of the old pine is a virtual appropriation of the traditional role of the phallus. In this climactic scene, Sylvia is not only an active participant in nature, she is master of her natural world and her own will." (22)

In a culture like Jewett's, an aspiring girl, one already interested in boying herself to avoid subjugation, must be tempted to appropriate the "role of the phallus." But, Jewett indicates, one doing so pays a dear price: she eventually learns that the phallic figures live in a kind of affectionless isolation, without loving mates, and thus without the opportunity to attain transcendence by way of wholehearted affiliation with eminent others. The great pine, like the great red-faced boy, the hunter, and Dan, exists alone: "at the farther edge of the woods, where the land was highest, a great pine-tree stood, the last of its generation. Whether it was left for a boundary mark, or for what reason, no one could say; the woodchoppers who had felled its mates were dead and gone long ago" (234). (23) For a young woman to be the phallus, then, ends her affectionately being for others.

Sylvia begins to get beyond this deleterious adaptation, however, when she encounters and, in her way, identifies with the heron. In part this development betokens her drawing closer to a transcendent entity--not the human being she ultimately desires--but one nonetheless superior in some respects to those currently in her experience. (Many readers have noted the identification of the heroine and the heron, the girl's body and the bird's--both are "pale," have "long thin legs" (232), and ascend to the top of the tree--but have failed to account for their apparent difference in gender.) Unlike the hunter, the bird embodies not only a kind of egoless ascendancy but apparently also a phallic sexuality that devotes itself to another, its mate. (24) It follows that by affiliating with the heron Sylvia transforms her potentially isolate phallicism into a more transcendent, relational one. Still, one objects, if she identifies with a male bird, she remains bound up in a patrilineal adaptation.

Sylvia avoids this fate, I maintain, because in the heron she in fact recognizes no gender. Unlike the narrator, the gift thinks of it only in genderless terms: "she knew that strange white bird" (239); "she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away" (239). How could Sylvia distinguish a male from a female heron? As Margaret Roman explains, and as Jewett would have known,
   With the small white heron or snowy egret, it would be impossible to tell
   whether it was a male or female bird Sylvia saw that brilliant morning.
   Outwardly, both sexes develop ornamental plumage in time for mating. The
   snowy egret is "an adaptable species," where both the male and the female
   aid in building the nest, in incubating the eggs, and in feeding the young.
   Whether the "mate on the nest" the heron "cries back to" is male or female
   is an insuperable question. (25)


Thus Jewett's romance invites us to qualify the heron's phallic nature and, therefore, Sylvia's identification. To be sure, "the little white heron" (232) appears phallic enough, but I believe it actually stands for a part of the girl's own body, her clitoris. Having experienced the exhilaration of surmounting and proving herself superior to the great pine, being now higher in "consciousness" (238), the girl identifies herself with the heron in such a way as to revise her sense of the animal and self from phallic to clitoral: in the bird, she represents a part of her body as sensually but affectionately assertive, a part that, unlike the always erect pine, rises from and returns to its home in the nest. If so, in her ascent Sylvia has begun to get beyond a masculine to a feminine figure: she has discovered an ascendant, sensual (autoerotic) element of herself that can, if she wants, involve another, a mate. Desiring transcendent affiliation, the girl learns that for now she need not choose only between the material world and man: she can find a form of transcendence in her own body, a union of nature and human being.

In "Critical Clitoridectomy: Female Sexual Imagery and Feminist Psychoanalytic Theory," Paula Bennett discusses the efforts of several nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American women writers (Jewett not among them) to represent their bodies, specifically to develop clitoral imagery as a means of gaining "independent female sexual and textual power": "without a notion of clitoral symbolism," Bennett argues, "it has been impossible [for criticism] to establish just how autonomous and independent of male sexual symbology [such writing by women] actually is." In her readings, Bennett suggests a number of clitoral images, among them littleness, wildness, whiteness, and birds--imagery in this context obviously relevant to Jewett's wild "little white heron." "However small or hidden it is," Bennett writes, "the power [of the clitoris] like its pleasure is located finally within itself. [It is a] littleness that is paradoxically great." (26)

Bennett notes that clitoral imagery often involves whiteness to imply an "innocent" or egoless pleasure in the body. Commenting on Hannah Gould's "The Crocus Soliloquy" (1833), she draws attention to the poem's "white flower" and "white bud": "Like the clitoris, which becomes erect with stimulation, the bud, or little seed, is a spear; it is sheathed; it possesses a hood; it trembles and pulses; it is tender, soft, and white" ("Critical," 246). And in her commentary on Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers" (1917)--a story in which a man kills a bird dear to a young woman--Bennett characterizes the tale's all-important bird as "specifically clitoral" ("Critical," 256).

If the heron symbolizes the clitoris, it is important to note that Sylvia sees the bird on the ground before she meets the hunter: she "had once stolen softly near where it stood in some bright green swamp grass, away over at the other side of the woods. There was an open place where the sunshine always seemed strangely yellow and hot ... and her grandmother had warned her that [there] she might sink in the soft black mud underneath and never be heard of more" (232). As anatomical imagery, this scene appears to refer to the girl's body--the "open place" the vagina, the bird, the clitoris--and implies that she has gained some knowledge of the latter, but uncertain and influenced by her grandmother (a victim of the "horned torment" [228] that leads woman to "family sorrows" [232]), she fears that becoming intimate with it leads only to descent and absorption in nether sensuality. (27) At first she tries to avoid the issue by subordinating herself to the young man, but discovers that if she attains a higher standpoint, she can guiltlessly enjoy the body's pleasure. The way requires a difficult surmounting of the phallic pine, getting past its "angry talon" and "thorny bough" (236). When she reaches the top (the "stately head" [234], with its vast vision), the elevated and elated girl finds that the (clitoral) bird "grows larger, and rises."

In this respect the clitoris affords the possibility of transcendent autoerotic pleasure. It makes her potentially not only independent of man but positioned to love a woman romantically if she desires: she has inchoately found a way toward higher development that involves affection, that forgoes either yielding to or overmastering an other. Sylvia's experience atop the tree appears to allegorize an autoerotic revery, one that leads to a picture of the girl's eventually pairing with another like herself. For "trembling" and "triumphant" aloft, "gray-eyed" Sylvia watches two hawks flying toward the rising sun, their "gray feathers ... soft as moths; they seemed only a little way from the tree, and Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds" (236). It is then that she finds the white heron rising and feels "well satisfied" (236) before descending. Her interest in the young man still strong, she almost yields her "secret" (238)--ominously "he waits to hear the story she can tell" (239)--but moved by her experience atop the pine, she keeps silent, and suffers his leaving. Jewett makes it clear that Sylvia, though "lonely" again, has in fact developed greater powers, including the capacity to love more as she, not culture, chooses, to ally with an exceptional male or an exceptional female like herself.

Throughout this romance, the narrator of "A White Heron" has existed as a kind of caring, ghostly character who sees but cannot communicate all. (28) Thus, at the top of the tree, when Sylvia at first fails to locate the bird, the narrator urges (whether heard or not we do not know), "look down again.... look, look! ... And wait! wait! do not move a foot or a finger, little girl" (238). Construed in our allegorical terms, the storyteller appears an adult version of the comparatively innocent girl, a wise woman who perhaps had mistakenly sided with the masculine and now wants to regain and guide the abandoned inner girl--the affectionate figure--by directing her toward aspects of her own body. It is to the point that the narration begins when Sylvia has begun to experience sexual impulse, the interested narrator as it were arriving as a greatly interested, mental presence in the girl's world. She cannot compel her--they are both mental percepts of sorts--but she can, as it were, think aloud ("look, look! ... And wait! wait!"), hoping the inner young one will hear and respond to the voice of wisdom. With that objective, the storyteller, who pointedly calls the hunter the "enemy," would have, but cannot make, her character reject him: she can only express her strong feeling that the girl "must keep silence!" (239). Jewett implies, however, that to some degree the woman, having herself grown up in a patriarchal society, unwittingly continues, like the grandmother (who seems to ally with the hunter), to view progress in masculine terms: it is the mature narrator who anthropomorphizes the pine into a fatherly figure that "loved his new dependent," and it is she who genders the heron as male: "there where you saw the white heron once you will see him again" (238). In the narrator's defense we can suppose that she wants the girl to come to consciousness of and thus finally transcend a need for masculine figures--wants Sylvia to replace a need for dangerous human males with these more accommodating ones in nature. Either way, Jewett's ultimate goal seems to be the girl's attaining transcendence without continually turning to or into a male figure.

"A White Heron" as an Autobiographical Romance

In this narrative the author allegorizes her own psychological concerns, specifically her desire to restore and develop the affectionate "little girl" within. Jewett develops as a woman who romantically loves other women, but, I propose, she has established the principal part of herself as a kind of masculine figure (the sublimating hunter) and thus suffers both from an incapacity to express (sexual) affection and from an inclination, precariously managed by the sublimation, to overmaster other females. (29) In her "White Heron," she imagines a reversal, the forsaking of the young man in the restoration and elevation of the girl. The latter has found a way to express passion without yielding herself to patrilineal adaptations; she now stands ready to love a preeminent woman--for Jewett, Annie Fields.

I offer the following conjecture about Jewett's psychological development. Constitutionally, from the first she had an uncommonly strong interest in transcendence and a correspondingly strong desire for a transcendent relation with her mother, but in Caroline Perry Jewett she found one already occupied in the home with a husband, as well as with her husband's father and grandfather, and another daughter (Mary) and, several years after Sarah's birth, yet another daughter (Caroline, named for the mother). Thus Sarah met with the usual difficulties in gaining the mother's full regard, but because of her great impulse toward transcendence she suffered inordinate frustration and reacted with intense antipathies. To escape these difficulties, she turned to an accommodating grandfather and father, the elder a wealthy adventurer and his son an esteemed physician, both preeminent figures who welcomed her affection and supported her already ardent assertiveness. Initially in this adaptation she could establish better relations with the mother--she could express mild daughterly affection--but by identifying herself with men who stood in especially masterly relations to women (her romantic grandfather, the family patriarch, married four times, and her father specialized as a gynecologist), she increased her desire to possess and subordinate the maternal figure. In order to diminish or at least sublimate that intensifying interest, she identified all the more with the males (she first wanted to go to sea as her grandfather had done; later, she aspired to become a doctor). According to Blanchard, as a girl Sarah Jewett maintained a "conscious androgyny," enjoyed unrestricted "tomboyishness," and nicknamed herself "Dear Boy" (Jewett, 32). This psychological development enabled her to further diminish her ambivalence toward the preeminent woman. As a tomboy Sarah might remain more or less indifferent to her; like Sylvia, Sarah roamed the woods, attaining forms of transcendent mastery over that powerful entity, mother nature.

Nascent sexuality, however, impelled her into new difficulties, a dangerously incestuous desire for the father (the grandfather died when Sarah was ten) and more aggressive interest in maternal ones and their younger surrogates. (30) To defend against this disturbing development, she began the study of transcendentalist philosophy, and identified all the more with her father, not only arresting the internal affectionate girl (hence, her lifelong devotion to her father and her famous confession at forty, "I am always nine years old") but also promoting the inner boy. (31) Jewett portrayed this attempted elevation, or sublimation, in her autobiographical novel, A Country Doctor (1884), when her stand-in, Nan, confides to the foster father, "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" (Country Doctor, 135). But eros insists, and to her distress she found herself aggressively pursuing other young women, at first in the manner of the crude red-faced boy, later like the charming hunter who precariously sublimates. (Her aggression, together with the need for sublimation, declares itself in a "fit of rage" when, following what I interpret as a lover's rejection, the nineteen-year-old Sarah confides in her diary, "Got mad and stayed up in my room an hour or two after I came home, bit my lip and my hand guess I was crazy!" [quoted in Blanchard, Jewett, 49, 50].) Donovan notes that in her early twenties, Sarah developed a great passion for an aristocratic Bostonian, Kate Birckhead, also in her twenties and probably the model for Kate Lancaster in Deephaven. In her relationship with Kate Sarah saw the possibility of ontological transcendence: a diary entry reads, "I know that it all comes from God, but I am so glad the `way' is Kate" ("Jewett and Swedenborg," 733; italics in original). She failed to succeed with Kate, however, and fell into despair: in her diary she confides, "I believe I am not like other people in anything, and it will never amount to anything--all this trouble and perplexity and sorrow I have gone through with.... I have all that old feeling back which used to come so often when I first knew Kate--when I used to wish with all my heart I could die & end it all" ("Jewett and Swedenborg," 733). The problem remained: how, given her adaptations, to establish a transcendent relation with another woman.

In the early 1880s, after some years of unsuccessful love affairs, Jewett entered upon an intimate relationship with Annie Fields, an attractive older woman and one of the most important literary figures in America. (32) It is my belief that she saw in Fields the desired ascendant figure--one who would facilitate transcendence by being a kind of superior mirror of Jewett's own aspirations--but that she continued to suffer the relational difficulties deriving from her psychological adaptations. Jewett had somehow to rearrange her internal world in such a way that the inner male receded and the affectionate girl advanced. (Early on Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, named for her grandfather and father, both Theodores, anticipated this psychological project when she elided her patronymic, becoming simply Sarah.) This rearrangement required that the inner girl somehow assert her sexuality.

I read "A White Heron," written during Jewett's first years with Fields, as a dramatization of this sought-for psychological reorganization. In the story the author symbolizes her desire to reverse her adaptation and get beyond the internal grandfather, father, and masculinized ego; when Sylvia executes her "great design" (235) and makes the "dangerous pass" onto the pine, she knows that now "the great enterprise would really begin" (235). Via the ascending protagonist, Jewett envisions mastering a grandfatherly figure that had originally oriented her: the "great pine [was] the last of its generation. Whether it was left for a boundary mark, or for what reason, no one could say.... But the stately head of this old pine towered above [all] and made a landmark for sea and shore miles and miles away" (234). And she confronts and surpasses the father in both the hunter and, in some respects, in the heron. As Sarah Way Sherman puts it, "In the hunter are merged the figures of both father and lover. Older than Sylvia, he leads and patronizes easily." (33) Jewett's father was himself "learned in ornithology" and as a girl Sarah "used to follow him about silently, like an undemanding little dog, content to follow at his heels." (34) (In "A White Heron," we recall, Sylvia "could have served and followed [the hunter] and loved him as a dog loves.") In Jewett's romance the heron carries a number of meanings (we have already noted its spiritual and anatomical symbolism), but all imply the ascendancy of the feminine: here the heron seems to represent the domestically devoted father, functioning as a paternal image for the narrator and the author. The aspiring girl's becoming its parent-like protector consequently signifies a revisionary appropriation and transcendence of its nature. In effect Jewett works to get beyond her identification with her father, just as in A Country Doctor Nan Prince worked to succeed her foster father.

More than that, by elevating her affectionate self, she effectively transforms the heron from a masculine to a potentially feminine figure. (Again, the gender characteristics of the heron, or snowy egret, permit such a possibility.) The evolved bird now also represents aspects of Annie Fields, signifying that woman's succession in Jewett's life. As Sherman writes, in Fields Jewett found more than a "lover and literary advisor" (American Persephone, 82): "Jewett's attachment to the older woman seems to have replaced her attachment to her father. As mentor, Annie Fields assumed the authoritative role that Dr. Jewett had played earlier" (American Persephone, 83). Like the heron, Fields was pale, "small" and, as a Bostonian cynosure, "rare" in both her accomplishments and in her visits to Jewett's rural area. (35) In Jewett's sketch "The Friendship of Women," which Sherman interprets as describing the author's developing relation with Fields, the author uses imagery resembling that used to depict Sylvia and the white heron "watch[ing] the sea and morning together": "We never thought of kissing each other in those first weeks [but] once she put her arm about my shoulders as we stood looking down at the sea" (American Persephone, 79-80). I suspect that befitting her complex relation with the woman, Jewett embodies Annie Fields both in the white heron and in the two gray hawks that Sylvia mentally embraces: "Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks" (236). In the older woman Jewett discovers a lofty figure worthy of transcendent affiliation and a kind of twin or mirroring image. The gray birds, signifying a middle-aged pair, remain indistinguishable from one another as they fly east across the sea, perhaps emblems of Jewett's and Fields' journeying to Europe just before the writing of "A White Heron" (see Blanchard, Jewett, 138). According to Judith Roman, the polyvalenced Jewett found an equally complex woman in Fields: Roman tells of "Sarah's perception of the different selves contained within herself and Annie," and makes it clear that the women eventually played a range of roles in each other's lives, including "parent/child ... male/female ... [and] patient/doctor.... [It was] a relationship in which the women's roles were highly flexible and interchangeable." (36)

A number of writers have commented on the transcendent value of such mirroring relationships for women. In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir writes that ideally "Between women love is contemplative; caresses are intended less to gain possession of the other than gradually to re-create the self through her; separateness is abolished, there is no struggle, no victory, no defeat; in exact reciprocity each is at once subject and object, sovereign and slave; duality becomes mutuality." (37) Taking a similar view in "The Alchemy of Women Loving Women," Karin Lofthus Carrington uses Jungian concepts in describing a need for women in a patrilineal society to transmute the "internalized masculine," to transcend its inclination to be a "misogynist, womanizer, and in many cases, abuser and tyrant" in order to establish genuinely affectionate relations with each other:
   women come to their emotional and sexual love of one another through the
   twinning of the Self by another woman who is very much like them. There is
   a familiarity in this pattern of loving, a natural flowing of active and
   passive exchange, and a deep intuitive understanding and nurturance between
   women in love.... [A] woman remembers her deep Self through the
   consummation of a procreative union with her twin and brings forth into the
   world a creative/spirit child birthed from this profound exchange. (38)


In "Reading Deephaven as a Lesbian Text," Fetterley characterizes the relationship between the novel's two heroines as Jewett's incipient rendering of just such twinning: "In Deephaven, the lesbian relationship is one of harmony and accord based on a similarity of interests, tastes, and values. It develops through shared experience and is enabled by both talk and silence. Kate and Helen do everything together and see everything the same way, and Deephaven articulates the attraction of sameness" (176). (39)

If, as I have speculated, Jewett herself experiences some of the hunter's latent aggressiveness toward younger females, she has all the more incentive to subjugate that inner male figure, locate and elevate the abandoned affectionate girl, and thereby attain the loftier, mirroring relation with one such as Annie Fields. In her very early story "The Girl with the Cannon Dresses" (1870), the author develops a nineteen-year-old protagonist who spends a summer in a rural world where she meets and finds herself inordinately drawn to a nine-year-old girl, Dulcidora Bunt. At the end of the tale she confides, "After I got home, they used to tease me about Miss Bunt; but I always think and speak with the greatest affection of poor little Dulcy, and I never mean to forget her ... Dulcy, no doubt, treasures sundry photographs, of which I am the original; and I have a large square tintype of her framed in my room." (40) Strikingly, Dulcidora tells her, "I wish I'd been a boy" ("The Girl," 20). In a study of Jewett's increasing interest in and sharing of transcendental philosophy, Donovan writes, "Jewett came to see herself as something of a missionary and a mentor to others, particularly young women. This seems to be one way she discovered of channeling her intense feelings for other women into what she saw as morally productive practice ... `I think I have no greater wish or ambition [Jewett writes in 1877, at twenty-eight] than to be a good friend to younger girls and I hope to be of more and more use in this way as I grow older'" ("Jewett and Swedenborg," 735). That year she met Annie Fields, and slowly developed what we know proved an ascendant, lifelong companionship. Along the way Jewett had first to amend masculine adaptations derived from personal and social circumstances, and in "A White Heron"--in its aspiring, re-born girl--she imagined a way. Little wonder she says of the story, "I love her." In this romance, she sees transcendence.

Notes

(1) Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron," in The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, ed. Mary Ellen Chase and intro. Marjorie Pryse (New York: Norton, 1981), 233. Hereafter cited parenthetically. My epigraph comes from Annie Fields, Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), 60.

(2) In my thinking about this story and about Jewett in general I owe much to Louis A. Renza's "A White Heron" and the Question of Minor Literature (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984); Renza considers the tale's romantic aspects intermittently throughout his study. For other discussions of romance elements in "A White Heron" see James Ellis, "The World of Dreams: Sexual Symbolism in `A White Heron,'" Nassau Review, 3 (1977), 3-9; Kelley Griffith, Jr., "Sylvia as Hero in Sarah Orne Jewett's `A White Heron,'" Colby Quarterly 21 (1985), 22-27; Karen K. Moreno, "`A White Heron': Sylvia's Lonely Journey," Connecticut Review 13 (1991), 81-85; Annis Pratt, Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1981) and "Women and Nature in Modern Fiction," Contemporary Literature 13 (1972), 476-90; Carol Singley, "Reaching Lonely Heights: Sarah Orne Jewett, Emily Dickinson, and Female Initiation," Colby Library Quarterly 12 (1986), 75-82; and Jules Zanger, "`Young Goodman Brown' and `A White Heron': Correspondences and Illuminations," Papers on Language and Literature 26 (1990), 346-57. Interestingly, in her introduction to Jewett's The Only Rose and Other Tales (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), Rebecca West argues that "Miss Jewett was not in the least degree a romantic; she never treated of experiences as yet unanalysed, she never contemplated her fellow-men when they spoke without logic and tried to guess what hidden hungers were speaking through them. It was her preference [to deal with] fully recognized motives" (10). But West does concede "the Hawthorne-like ecstasy of `A White Heron'" (13).

(3) Elizabeth Ammons, "The Shape of Violence in Jewett's `A White Heron,'" Colby Library Quarterly 22 (1986), 10.

(4) Richard Brenzo, "Free Heron or Dead Sparrow: Sylvia's Choice in Sarah Orne Jewett's `A White Heron,'" Colby Library Quarterly 14 (1978), 41.

(5) For a discussion of Brown's unconscious sexual conflicts, see, for example, Edward Jayne's "Pray Tarry With Me Young Goodman Brown," Literature & Psychology 29 (1979), 100-113. Zanger compares "A White Heron" and "Young Goodman Brown" but does not take up psychological correspondences. In "Women and Nature in Modern Fiction," Annis Pratt writes that Sylvia "differentiates between boy and bird, perceiving him and nature as separate aspects of her psyche which in some way endanger each other" (479); but Pratt offers nothing further on how he exists as an element of the girl's psyche.

(6) For an account of Jewett's studies in transcendental thought, see Josephine Donovan, "A Woman's Vision of Transcendence: A New Interpretation of the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett," Massachusetts Review 21 (1980), 365-80; and Josephine Donovan, "Jewett and Swedenborg," American Literature 65 (1993), 731-50, hereafter cited parenthetically.

(7) Paula Blanchard, Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1994), 54, 55. Hereafter cited parenthetically.

(8) Donovan, in Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett, ed. Gwen L. Nagel (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984), 107.

(9) Judith Fetterley, "Reading Deephaven as a Lesbian Text," in Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism, ed. Susan J. Wolfe and Julia Penelope (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993), 170, 165.

(10) On bisexuality in Freudian theory, see Marjorie Garber, Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), passim; and Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (New York: Vintage, 1975), 60 ff. On Jungian contrasexuality see Naomi Goldenberg, "A Feminist Critique of Jung," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2 (1976), 443-49; Claire Douglas, The Woman in the Mirror: Analytical Psychology and the Feminine (Boston: Sigo, 1990), 111 ff.; Andrew Samuels, Jung and the Post-Jungians (London: Routledge, 1985), 212-15; and Demaris S. Wehr, Jung & Feminism: Liberating Archetypes (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), 117-26.

(11) Freud argues that girls who masturbate sometimes allay attendant guilt by fantasizing a "child being beaten," a mischief-maker duly punished: in the fantasy, the "child which is being beaten (or caressed) may ultimately be nothing more nor less than the clitoris itself so that ... the statement will contain a confession of masturbation" (qtd. in Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, 113-14). Interestingly, the girls usually see the clitoris-child as "a boy" (113).

(12) One thinks of the sadistic Aylmer's erupting in Hawthorne's "Birthmark"; see Judith Fetterley, "Women Beware Science," in The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1981), 22-33.

(13) In a related way several of Jewett's stories portray a despairing narrator's trying to rescue an affectionate woman from confinement with an eccentric father. See my "A Woman's Psychological Journey in Jewett's `The King of Folly Island,'" Essays in Literature, 23 (1996), 234-50; and "Daughters Unfathered in `The Landscape Chamber,'" in my Transcendent Daughters in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1994), 161-79.

(14) Jewett hints at this in the girl's silence about the mother, the girl's silence toward the grandmother (in the story she never speaks to the woman), and in her searching for Mistress Mooley: "Sylvia had to hunt for her ... and call ... with never an answer ... until her childish patience was quite spent" (227-28).

(15) See Margaret Roman's discussion of Dan's "female side" in Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1992), 201.

(16) Renza discusses Sylvia's becoming a kind of parent to the heron ("A White Heron," 107).

(17) George Held, "Heart to Heart with Nature: Ways of Looking at `A White Heron,'" in Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett, ed. Gwen L. Nagel (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984), 68.

(18) Moreno, "A White Heron," 83.

(19) In Surfacing (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), Margaret Atwood describes a heron in similarly phallic terms, "neck and beak craning forward and long legs stretched back, winged snake ... [it] rises higher" (70). In a development pertinent to Jewett's tale, Atwood's narrator tells how hunters gratuitously kill a heron, she seethes, "it was hanging upside down by a thin blue nylon rope tied round its feet and looped over a tree branch, its wings fallen open.... Why had they strung it up like a lynch victim, why didn't they just throw it away like the trash? To prove they could do it, they had the power to kill" (133, 134).

(20) Robert D. Rhode catalogues Jewett's many "personifications" of trees, and discusses her belief that "trees have their own souls and personalities that are analogous to ... human beings"; see "Sarah Orne Jewett and `The Palpable Present Intimate,'" in Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: 29 Interpretive Essays, ed. Richard Cary (Waterville: Colby College Press, 1973), 232, 235.

(21) Sylvia "could have served and followed [the hunter] and loved him as a dog loves" (229) because that relation precludes sexuality.

(22) Singley, 79.

(23) The great pine resembles the orienting tree in Hawthorne's "Roger Malvin's Burial."

(24) Some critics assume that the girl identifies herself with the (female) mate in the nest. Brenzo, for example, contends that "Sylvia is moving from an idea of sex as purely frightening and destructive, to a realization that generosity and kindness are also part of the male temperament ... The heron calling to his mate represents an image of a calm, harmonious marriage, far different from [Sylvia's] relationships with the hunter and the red-faced boy ... [thus, to her the] images of defloration and death are no longer frightening" (38, 40). But most agree that the girl primarily identifies with the (male) heron. Terry Heller represents this view when he observes Jewett's "repeatedly describing Sylvia as birdlike: her hands and feet like claws, her climbing upward as in first flight, her being at home in the trees, her desire to fly. And images emphasizing her paleness connect her specifically to the heron, as do images that connect both her and the heron with the rising sun.... To give the heron away has become tantamount to ... giving herself away." "The Rhetoric of Communion in Jewett's `A White Heron,'" Colby Quarterly, 26 (1990), 188.

(25) Roman, 203. Shed Joseph discusses Jewett's membership in the Audubon Society in "Sarah Orne Jewett's White Heron: An Imported Metaphor," American Literary Realism 27 (1995), 82-83.

(26) "Critical Clitoridectomy: Female Sexual Imagery and Feminist Psychoanalytic Theory," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18 (1993), 255,254. Hereafter cited parenthetically.

(27) Spurred on by Freudian claims, much controversy surrounds the erotic significance of the vagina and clitoris (see Bennett, "Critical," 249-51, and Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, 105-8). Significantly, in "A White Heron" the hunter seems more interested in the nest than in the bird. A nest is a traditional symbol for the vagina; see, for example, in Romeo and Juliet, when the nurse tells the gift, "Now comes the wanton blood up in your cheeks ... [I go to] fetch a ladder, by the which your love / Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark" (II.5.70-74). Jewett calls the great pine a "monstrous ladder reaching up, up, almost to the sky itself" (235)--as if the phallus were "almost" the only way for the aspiring girl to reach the infinite. Jane Gallop notes that "most women manipulate their clitoris and not their vagina in masturbation"; see Thinking Through the Body (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1988), 97. Bennett speaks of female masturbation as "the ultimate symbol of private freedom and atomistic individualism" ("Critical," 241), and lists "berries" (236, 243) as frequent clitoral symbols; in "A White Heron," the narrator tells us, "Soon it would be berry-time, and Sylvia was a great help at picking" (231). Jewett also develops clitoral imagery in the "coral pin" that circulates in The Country of the Pointed Firs (see my Transcendent Daughters, 89-91) and in the ruby button of "Martha's Lady." Martha, a rural girl who could "climb the cherry-tree like a boy," begins to transcend her limitations when she affiliates with Helena, an eminent young woman of Boston; when Helena later marries and travels the world, Martha dreams of being with her: "A worn old geography often stood open at the map of Europe on the lightstand in [Martha's] room, and a little old-fashioned gilt button, set with a bit of glass like a ruby, that had broken and fallen from the trimming of one of Helena's dresses, was used to mark the city of her dwelling-place." The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, ed. Mary Ellen Chase and intro. Marjorie Pryse (New York: Norton, 1981), 261,273. See Glenda Hobbs's helpful commentary on this story in "Pure and Passionate: Female Friendship in Sarah Orne Jewett's `Martha's Lady,'" Studies in Short Fiction 17 (1980), 2129. See also Renza (112) for an important discussion of the metafictional character of autoerotic imagery in "A White Heron."

(28) For discussions of the narrator's being a character in her own story, see Heidi Kelchner, "Unstable Narrative Voice in Sarah Orne Jewett's `A White Heron,'" Colby Quarterly 28 (1992), 90; and Elaine Orr, "Reading Negotiation and Negotiated Reading: A Practice with/in "A White Heron" and `The Revolt of "Mother,'.... Critic 53 (1991), 54, 56. Renza (106) views the narrator as a "paternalistic" entity, a male-like agent of writing that expresses the culture's discursive practices and, for Jewett, keeps the father present. Sherman (120) takes the opposite view: "Like an ideal mother, the narrator guides her `daughter''s vision toward the crucial epiphany."

(29) See my discussion of this effort in "The Healing Arts of Jewett's Country Doctor," Colby Quarterly 34 (1998), 99-122.

(30) Like Sylvia, Nan Prince experiences a disturbing emergence of passion: "She had believed herself proof against such assailment [but] she had been suddenly confronted by a new enemy, a strange power, which seemed so dangerous that she was at first overwhelmed by a sense of her own defenselessness.... She hated love, it was making her so miserable." A Country Doctor, intro. Joy Gould Boyum and Ann R. Shapiro (New York: Signet, 1986), 222, 232.

(31) Fields, Letters, 125.

(32) For discussions of Jewett's efforts to establish a successful relationship, see Blanchard, 51-55, 125-30; Donovan, "Unpublished Love Poems"; Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (New York: Morrow, 1981), 190-203; Judith A. Roman, Annie Adams Fields: The Spirit of Charles Street (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1990), 108-18.

(33) Sherman, 157.

(34) "Looking Back on Girlhood," in The Uncollected Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewen, ed. and intro. Richard Cary (Waterville: Colby College Press, 1971), 6. Charles Miner Thompson describes the father's ornithology in "The Art of Miss Jewett," in Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewen: 29 Interpretive Essays, 37.

(35) Judith Roman notes Fields's being "small" in "A Closer Look at the Jewett-Fields Relationship," Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett, 130, and in her Annie Adams Fields, 153. Blanchard (138) remarks that Fields's visits to Jewett's South Berwick home were "few and short."

(36) Roman, Annie Adams Fields, 117; "A Closer Look at the Jewett-Fields Relationship," 124, 125.

(37) Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, tr. and ed. H. M. Parshley and intro. Deirdre Bair (New York: Vintage, 1989), 416.

(38) Karin Lofthus Carrington, "The Alchemy of Women Loving Women," Psychological Perspectives, 23 (1990), 76, 81.

(39) In "Reading Deephaven as a Lesbian Text," Fetterley discusses the importance of Helen's lacking maternal paradigms: there are "no models that show Helen how she might live an adult life based on an intimate and permanent connection with another woman"; the story suggests that if the gift "had [an effectual] mother she would not fear becoming a freak" (180). In Jewett's late story "The Green Bowl" (1901), the author depicts a successful amorous relationship between two women, one that emphasizes a mentoring older woman and transcendent twinning in the anatomical imagery of the "sister bowls" (in The Uncollected Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, 355).

(40) In The Uncollected Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, 24.
Joseph Church
Binghamton University--State University of New York
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Author:Church, Joseph
Publication:Studies in American Fiction
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Date:Mar 22, 2002
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