© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 6: Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)
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( scanned from Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Sarah Orne Jewett: A biography of the author of the country of the pointed firs. NY: The Overlook press, 1993. page 129)
Tom's Husband, 1882, A Country Doctor, 1884; A White Heron and Other Stories, 1886; The Landscape Chamber, 1887; Deephaven, 1887; The Country of Pointed Firs, 1896; A Dunnett Shepherdess, 1899; In the Dark New England Days, 1900; The Foreigner, 1900;
Letters, with an introd. and notes by Richard Cary. Waterville, Me.: Colby College P, 1967. PS2133 .A3
The best stories of Sarah Orne Jewett; selected and arranged with a pref. by Willa Cather. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1959 c1927 . PS2130 .A2
The country of the pointed firs. by Sarah Orne Jewett; with a preface by Willa Cather. London: J. Cape, 1951. PS2132 .C6
Novels and stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. NY: Penguin Books, 1994. PS2131
The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. Ed. JackMorgan. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1996.
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction. Olson, Ted (introd. and notes). NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005.
A Country Doctor. Wegener, Frederic (ed. and introd.). NY: Penguin, 2005.
Abate, Michelle A. Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 2008.
Breitwieser, Mitchell. National Melancholy: Mourning and Opportunity in Classic American Literature. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2007.
Church, Joseph. Transcendent Daughters in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1995.
Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. NY: F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1980. PS2133 .D6
Elbert, Monika. "Women's Charity vs. Scientific Philanthropy in Sarah Orne Jewett." in Bergman, Jill and Bernardi, Debra. eds. Our Sisters' Keepers: Nineteenth-Century Benevolence Literature by American Women. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005.
Joseph, Philip. American Literary Regionalism in a Global Age. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2007.
Mobley, Marilyn S. Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison: The Cultural Function of Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1991.
Morgan, Jeff. Sarah Orne Jewett's Feminine Pastoral Vision: The Country of the Pointed Firs. Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2002.
Nagel, Gwen L. Critical essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1984. PS2133 .C74
Palmer, Stephanie C. Together by Accident: American Local Color Literature and the Middle Class. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008.
Petrie, Paul R. Conscience and Purpose: Fiction and Social Consciousness in Howells, Jewett, Chesnutt, and Cather. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005.
Sawaya, Francesca. Modern Women, Modern Work: Domesticity, Professionalism, and American Writing, 1890-1950. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.
Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.
Westbrook, Perry D. Acres of flint: Sarah Orne Jewett and her contemporaries. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow P, 1981. PS243 W4
A Student Project by Kerrie Shaffer
The coastline of Maine provided a means of subsistence through shipping and trade that brought along with it profit and a way of life for those who chose to settle in the rural state. The Embargo of 1807 and the Civil War served as major factors in the transformation of this way of life. It is in the midst of this transformation in New England that Sarah Orne Jewett was born on September 3, 1849. Born in South Berwick, Maine, the descendent of sea captains, traders and physicians, Jewett became an "unwilling spectator to a tragedy of regional obsolescence." (Cary, 17)
Her family and environment proved to be profound factors which influenced Jewett's way of thinking and writing. As a young girl, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett aspired to be a physician as were her father and grandfather; however, because of poor health throughout her childhood, this wish could not be fulfilled. Sarah had a close relationship with her father, who often took her with him on medical calls which "provided her, by her own account, with material throughout her writing career." (Lauter, 130)
For her elementary education, Jewett attended Miss Rayne's school with Mary Jewett, one of two sisters. This education was supplemented at Berwick Academy from where Jewett graduated in 1865. It is during her studies at the academy, that Jewett is first introduced to the writing's of Harriet Beecher Stowe whose The Pearl of Orr's Island is indicated by Jewett as a book which "conspired to channel her esthetic energies." (Cary, 23)
After graduation, Jewett began writing. Although she wrote poetry, children's stories, including the volume Play Days (1878), three children's novels, an historical romance, The Tory Lover (1901), short fiction proved to be her preference. Writing about basically regional subjects such as the decline in the stature of South Berwick, Maine, some argue that Jewett rejects easy classification into any sole category of Realism, Regionalism or Local Colorism. "The tendency for many regional writers had been to depict landscape, dialect and character as all together unique often resulting in exaggeration." (Nagel, ix) Jewett's purpose in writing was to inform others about her home and surroundings . She portrays scenes, characters and customs with native understanding, without the romantic slant taken by other writers who preceded her. "Subconsciously she avoids the thin particularization that marks most local-color writing and bears down on the universal grain that underlies the veneer." (Cary, 27)
Jewett receives her first serious review from William Dean Howells who upon reading Deephaven (1877), in the Atlantic Monthly, describes her work in a most favorable light. As the editor of the Atlantic, Howells' review helped shape critical responses to Jewett's work. A year later, Horace E. Scudder gave a positive review of Jewett's Play Days, but he also pointed out what seems to be a continuing flaw in her fiction; her problems in plot and structure. Jewett was already recognized as an important writer by the early 1880's, and reviews of her work were consistent in referring to the author as an established writer, emphasizing the artistic quality of the content of her work.
In 1878, Jewett's father, the man who helped teach her about nature, people and books, died. In 1880, Sarah Jewett established, what became her closest friendship throughout her life, with Annie Fields. Jewett and Fields traveled extensively, taking four trips to Europe in 1882, 1892, 1898 and 1900. The two lived a majority of the year together, spending part of their time in Boston, and the rest in South Berwick. "The house in Boston became a kind of literary center, where well-known figures in the publishing world...visited and gathered." (Lauter, 131)
Sarah Orne Jewett remained unmarried throughout her life, however, she sustained friendships with several men, most of whom shared her literary and professional interests. Howells, Scudder, Whittier, Holmes and Longfellow, only a few of the many influential writers and editors who associated with Jewett.
Jewett was known for her regional, realistic depiction of the environment in which she lived. She is also said to have impacted the women's literary movement by "connecting two generations of women writers." (Lauter, 131) Her already mentioned reverence for Stowe's work impacted Jewett's fiction which placed her in the tradition of the female writers of the nineteenth century, including Celia Thaxter, Julia Ward Howe, Willia Cather and Mary Wilkins Freeman.
In 1902, Jewett sustained serious head and spinal injuries resulting from a carriage accident. Following the incident she found it difficult to write, publishing only a couple more short stories before suffering a stroke which killed her in 1909. After her death, "Jewett's reputation quickly stabilized into a pattern which continues" relatively unchanged today. (Nagel, xi) Jewett is compared to Mary Wilkins Freeman, and the two have been called the foremost regional writers of New England in their time. "In 1913, Edward M. Chapman compared Jewett's local color writing favorably with that of Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. Henry James thought Jewett's work to be exceeded only by the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bliss Perry." (Nagel, xi)
Beside being known for her regional style of writing, Sarah Jewett is recognized today for her portrayal of feminine characters. Her characters are usually elderly, women, and rarely dynamic young men. (Nagel, x) With the development of Women's Studies as a field of scholarship in colleges and universities, a new awareness of Jewett's writings came about. In her most famous work, The Country of the Pointed Firs, are the themes of mother-daughter love and sisterhood bonds "suggesting her vision of an alternative world - woman-centered,...existing outside of masculine America." (Lauter, 131) Another influential work of Jewett's in the realm of women's studies is A Country Doctor (1884), the main character is a woman who decides to pursue a career in medicine rather than marry. The theme of female initiation or the idea of women breaking out of male dominated society can also be interpreted in Jewett's "A White Heron" as well as in other works.
Sarah Orne Jewett developed a style of fiction all her own. As her writing matured with time, she guaranteed herself a lasting and favorable reputation among the most respected regional and local color writers.
Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1962.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. third edition. vol. 2. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
Nagel, Gwen L. and James Nagel. eds. Sarah Orne Jewett: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall & CO., 1978.
1. Compare and contrast Jewett's Sylvy in A White Heron with May Bartram of James's The Beast in the Jungle.
2. The tree, the hunter, the cow, and the heron all seem to possess mythical significance in A White Heron. Choose to discuss one of them in relationship to Sylvy, and explore the way Jewett combines elements of folk or fairy tale and literary realism.
3. Compare and contrast the relationship between James's governess/narrator and Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw with the relationship between the narrator and Mrs. Todd in Jewett's The Foreigner.
4. Read T. B. Thorpe's The Big Bear of Arkansas (NAAL, Volume 1). Viewing the Southwest humorists as precursors of the late-nineteenth-century local color writers, contrast Thorpe's attitude toward the bear hunt with Jewett's attitude toward Sylvy's search for the bird in A White Heron. Or imagine A White Heron told from the point of view of the young ornithologist, and explain why this other story might have been accepted for publication in the sporting magazine of the Southwest humorists, The Spirit of the Times.
5. Unlike Clemens, Howells, and James, Jewett did not write essays about writing or reading. Fill in the gap in literary history, using the two anthologized stories as a foundation, and write the essay that wasn't: "How to Tell a Story," by Sarah Orne Jewett. You may also choose to title the essay, "Fiction-Writing and Fiction-Reading" or "The Art of Fiction."
6. In an attempt to differentiate between regionalism and realism, compare and contrast Jewett's The Foreigner and James's The Turn of the Screw as ghost stories.
7. Research other writers in the regionalist tradition and write about work by Alice Cary, Rose Terry Cooke, Harriet Beecher Stowe (The Pearl of Orr's Island), or Mary Austin, all of which are available in paperback texts.
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 5: Sarah Orne Jewett." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap5/jewett.html (provide page date or date of your login).
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