We were putting the finishing touches on this issue's cover story when word came in that longtime Down East Books author Elisabeth Ogilvie had passed away at the age of eighty-nine. Her faithful readers will be comforted to hear that she died peacefully at her home in Cushing. The author of forty-six books, including national bestsellers High Tide at Noon and My World Is An Island, Ogilvie left behind a body of work that I think has been misunderstood by critics who dismissed her as a writer of romantic potboilers.
Elisabeth Ogilvie was born in Boston, but she summered as a girl on the Maine island of Criehaven and later lived there year-round. At the time Criehaven was the most remote inhabited outpost along the eastern seaboard, and to say this sea-pounded island captured Ogilvie's imagination is an understatement. Over a writing career that spanned six decades, she wrote about the peculiar nature of isolated, close-knit communities with penetrating insight. (Anyone who has moved to Maine "from away" and found the natives here baffling will find her novels especially resonant.) Ogilvie's characters feel very real, rough edges and all. And her descriptions of Maine's natural beauty are among the best I have read. But what she wrote about most beautifully were the emotions of island women dealing with that special breed of man, the working island fisherman.
Along with logging and construction, fishing is among the world's most hazardous professions, as Down East contributing editor Rob Sneddon reports this month in "Maine's Most Dangerous Jobs," page 64. Workplace fatalities garner headlines, but the newspapers often miss the victims left behind. What made Elisabeth Ogilvie's novels so moving is that she intuited how a single death ripples outward, becoming a tragedy not just for one but for an entire community.
Back in 1946 she wrote an essay about lobstermen's wives and the chronic anxiety of their existences, waiting each evening for husbands to return home safely from treacherous seas. "I wonder who was the first man who dared to eat a lobster," she wrote with exquisite tartness. "Doubtless many a woman, when her man is overdue and she can imagine almost anything happening to him, wishes that someone had strangled that daring soul in his infancy. Ask her about the price of lobsters. She will tell you that no matter how high it may go, it will never really be high enough."