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Jewett, Sarah Orne (1849-1909)

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)

Novelist

Sources

Inheritor of a Sentimental Mantle. When Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896 at the age of eighty-five, her twin daughters sent a photograph of their mother and a small, ornamental box in which the author of Uncle Toms Cabin (1852) had stored her postage stamps to a woman whom their mother had considered a friend and a literary protegé: Sarah Orne Jewett. Although nearly half a century apart in age, the two authors were products and champions of New England domestic culture. Stowe and Jewett were also witnesses to the distinctive character of the northernmost state in the region. During the early 1850s Stowe had lived for a year in the coastal town of Brunswick, Maine, while her husband spent two terms as professor of theology at Bowdoin College. Stowe wrote Uncle Toms Cabin, the novel that helped to launch the Civil War, in Brunswick, and her The Pearl of Orrs Island (1862) was based in large part on her memories of the rugged Maine seacoast. The Pearl of Orrs Island was an early, largely unheralded example of local-color fiction: a forni of literature that aimed to represent, through close observation and muted sentiment, the patterns of regional life in America. In the 1890s, her own career in full ascent, Jewett identified those delightful early chapters of The Pearl of Orrs Island as a model for her own work. She praised Stowe for writing about people of rustic life just as they were. The work of Sarah Orne Jewett, like that of Harriet Beecher Stowe before her, combines the most powerful elements of sentimental and realistic fiction in celebrating the lives of ordinary Americans.

Explorations. Born on 3 September 1849 in the southern Maine village of South Berwick, Sarah Orne was the middle child in a family of three daughters. As a young girl, she often joined her father, a doctor, on his rounds, and on her own she roamed the banks of the Piscataqua River, observing a natural landscape as varied as the social milieu she explored with her father. Jewett concluded her formal schooling in 1865 and began to devote more and more of her time to writingfirst poetry, later fiction. An intimate knowledge of the New England culture and countryside animated Jewetts prose. In 1868, when she was nineteen, Jewetts short stories began appearing in the Riverside Magazine for Young People, The Atlantic Monthly, and other popular magazines. Jewetts breakthrough came in 1873, when The Atlantic published The Shore Housethe first in a series of local-color sketches that showcased her distinctive style and subject matter.

Partnership. Although Jewett did most of her writing in Maine, she also became something of a habitué of Boston literary society. After the death in 1881 of editor and publisher James T. Fieldswhose firm, Ticknor and Fields, published the works of such New England worthies as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and John Greenleaf WhittierJewett settled into the position of companion to Fieldss widow, Annie Adams Fields. A cultural arbiter in her own right, Annie Fields (1834-1915) wrote poetry and presided over a literary salon, a regular, informal gathering of writers and critics. Jewett and Fields enjoyed an affectionate, intimate friendship, dividing their time together between Fieldss home in Boston and Jewetts home in Maine.

A Professional Feminist. Jewett derived a sense of pride from her identity as a professional writer, which during the 1880s and 1890s developed hand-in-hand with a feminist sensibility. The protagonist of Jewetts novel A Country Doctor (1884) chooses a career in medicine over a womans traditional career of marriage. Her later novels and short-story collectionsincluding A Marsh Island (1885), A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), and The King of Folly Island and Other People (1888)explore the frustrations, desires, and achievements of New England women. The interlocking tales of Jewetts masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), describe the rituals of a rural, female-centered world.

An Everyday Author. How seldom a book comes that stirs the minds and hearts of the good men and women of such a village as this, Jewett once mused, apropos of her South Berwick neighbors; the truth must be recognized that few books are written for and from their standpoint, she continued, venturing that whoever adds to this department of literature will do an inestimable good, will see that a simple, helpful way of looking at life ... in what we are pleased to call its everyday aspects must bring out the best sort of writing. Jewett knew, of course, that change was encroaching on her beloved Maine countryside. In the course of her lifetime, she saw South Berwick transformed from a sleepy village to a bustling vacation retreat. As one of the foremost American local-color writers, she helped to celebrateand thereby preservethe everyday aspects of a vibrant, vanishing culture.

Sources

Paula Blanchard, Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994);

Richard Cary, ed., Sarah Orne Jewett Letters, revised and enlarged edition (Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1967);

Joan D. Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

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Sarah Orne Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett

The American Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) was a regional novelist whose work depicted Maine settings and personalities.

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in the village of South Berwick, Maine, on Sept. 3, 1849. Because she suffered from arthritis and could not attend school regularly, her formal education at Berwick Academy was intermittent. Her father, a distinguished obstetrician, encouraged her to read widely in his library, and she accompanied him on his visits to patients in the countryside. She read the major English and European writers and also important American authors, such as Emerson, Lowell, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Talks with her father about the country and the seacoast and about his patients' lives and characters, and talks with the patients in their homes saturated the budding author with firsthand information. Her adoration of her father was so strong, apparently, that it prevented her from ever falling in love.

Jewett's first story was published in 1868, when she was 19, and the next year another story initiated her long association with the Atlantic Monthly and other prestigious magazines. William Dean Howells, an editor of the Atlantic, encouraged her to collect several sketches and connect them with a fictional framework. These became the novel Deephaven (1877). Outstanding collections of stories and sketches followed: Old Friends and New (1879), Country By-ways (1881), A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), and A Native of Winby and Other Tales (1893). At intervals Jewett wrote successful books for children, including Play Days (1878), The Story of the Normans (1887), and Betty Leicester (1890). Her novels included A Country Doctor (1884), A Marsh Island (1885), and the book generally considered to be her masterpiece, The Country of Pointed Firs (1896).

Jewett's best fiction portrayed the area surrounding and including the town of her birth and childhood, a home to which she always returned after her wide-ranging travels and where she died on June 24, 1909. "My local attachments," she wrote, "are stronger than any cat's that ever mewed." In the state of Maine the end of the importance of clipper ships had led to the abandonment of shipyards and wharves. Villages much like South Berwick were almost deserted by the men and by the young of both sexes, leaving as inhabitants mostly older women. Jewett wrote about this dying world and the isolated or the elderly who find deep meanings in local customs and private experiences. She wrote realistically but gently, creating what many critics regard as the best fictional narratives to come out of New England during a period when regional writing flourished there.

Further Reading

Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett was edited by Annie Fields, a close friend (1911), and Sarah Orne Jewett Letters by Richard Cary (1956). There are two illuminating critical studies: Francis Otto Matthiessen, Sarah Orne Jewett (1929), and Richard Cary, Sarah Orne Jewett (1962).

Additional Sources

Blanchard, Paula, Sarah Orne Jewett: her world and her work, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1994.

Keyworth, C. L. (Cynthia L.), Master smart woman: a portrait of Sarah Orne Jewett: based on the film by Jane Morrison in collaboration with Peter Namuth, Unity, Me.: North Country Press, 1988. □

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Jewett, Sarah Orne

Sarah Orne Jewett, 1849–1909, American novelist and short-story writer, b. South Berwick, Maine. Her studies of small-town New England life are perceptive, sympathetic, and gently humorous. After contributing to periodicals, she published her first collection of stories and sketches, Deephaven, in 1877. It was followed by such collections as The King of Folly Island (1888) and her masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896). Her novels include The Marsh Island (1885) and The Tory Lover (1901); her best-known novel, A Country Doctor (1884), relates the conflicts of a woman physician.

Bibliography

See her letters (ed. by R. Cary, 1956, rev. ed. 1967); biographies by S. Sherman (1989) and P. Blanchard (1994); studies by F. O. Matthiesen (1929, repr. 1965), R. Cary (1962), and J. L. Donovan (1980).

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"Jewett, Sarah Orne." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Jewett, Sarah Orne." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jewett-sarah-orne