Sarah Orne Jewett House

A Marsh Island

A lesser known Jewett work, “A Marsh Island” (1885), was written directly after Jewett’s successful “A Country Doctor” (1884). The story develops as a romantic triangle between city artist Dick Dale, rural woman Doris Owens, and yokel Dan Lester.

The blossoming romance of Dick and Doris turns platonic, however, and Doris marries boorish Dan Lester, while Dick Dale returns to the city, where he tells his male companion, “It really was a lovely old place. I used to wish for you with all my heart.”

The novel also has undertones of an impulse to freedom, as if some part of Doris (or her author) were fighting an inner calling for her to remain unmarried. As Lester waits to speak with serious intention, “[Doris] would have been thankful to find a way of escape.” (Chapter XV, “A Marsh Island”).

Dr. Don James Brown, Assistant Professor of 19th-Century American Literature at the University of Tulsa, asserts that “A Marsh Island” is the first American gay novel.