Jewett, Sarah Orne

views updated May 23 2018

JEWETT, Sarah Orne

Born 3 September 1849, South Berwick, Maine; died 24 June 1909, South Berwick, Maine

Also wrote under: Caroline, A. C. Eliot, Alice Eliot, Sarah O. Sweet

Daughter of Theodore H. and Frances Perry Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett's life and works are rooted in the southern tier of Maine. Her own life was a favored one: born into relative wealth, she was educated at Miss Raynes's School and at Berwick Academy in South Berwick. She was, however, a somewhat listless student and later remarked that her real education came from her father, a country physician whom she often accompanied on house calls. He imparted his extensive knowledge of nature and literature to her, and it was to some extent through these house visits that she came to know the people of her region so intimately.

Jewett earned success and modest fame as a writer at an early age. When she was eighteen, her story "Jenny Garrow's Lovers" was published in a weekly Boston periodical, The Flag of Our Union. Jewett was sustained throughout her life by a group of intimate female friends. In her earliest diaries (1867-79) she describes her intense emotional attachment to several young women. Her most important liaison was with Annie Adams Fields of Boston. Jewett lived part of each year at Fields's Charles Street home, and the two traveled extensively together. Hundreds of letters remain to document the significance of this friendship; it seems likely many of Jewett's stories were written at least in part for Fields's amusement. Jewett also knew and corresponded with an extensive circle of artists, including Marie Thérèse Blanc, Violet Paget, Sara Norton, Sarah Wyman Whitman, Louisa Dresel, Louise Imogen Guiney, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Celia Thaxter, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

In her later years Jewett's reputation was firmly established. Younger writers sought her advice, which she generously supplied. Her face was one of the few women writers on the "Authors" card deck of the time, which is supposedly where the young Willa Cather learned of Jewett. Some of Jewett's most perceptive and poignant advice may be found in her letters to Cather, who later acknowledged the influence of her mentor by dedicating O Pioneers! (1913) to her, noting that in Jewett's "beautiful and delicate work there is the perfection that endures." Cather estimated Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896, latest reissued 1997) as one of three American works guaranteed immortality.

Deephaven (1877), Jewett's first book-length collection of stories, deals with a series of experiences and characters met by two young women during a summer vacation on the coast of Maine. The relationship between the two is handled somewhat sentimentally, but the character sketches display Jewett's genius for the genre, although she later regarded this work as juvenile. Contemporary reviews were slight and mixed. Reviews were increasingly favorable for three subsequent story collections.

Jewett's first novel, A Country Doctor (1884, latest reissue 1999), perhaps her most feminist work, is semiautobiographical. It is a classic bildungsroman concerning the growth to maturity of a young woman whose ambition is to become a doctor. The woman faces considerable prejudice and discrimination in her pursuit. Eventually she rejects a suitor and resolves to pursue her career.

A White Heron, and Other Stories (1886, 1997) marks the beginning of Jewett's mature phase. Her mastery of style and a sophisticated sense of craft are quite evident in several of these stories, including the much-anthologized title story, "Marsh Rosemary," and "The Dulham Ladies." The title story, "A White Heron" is set in rural Maine and reflects Jewett's intimate awareness of the natural environment. It concerns the dilemma a young country girl, Sylvia, faces when an ornithologist arrives at her farm looking for a rare white heron for his collection of stuffed birds. Sylvia is for awhile tempted to reveal the bird's location, as she is swayed by the sophistication and authority of the urban visitor. However, she remains loyal to her woodland friend and preserves the secret of its whereabouts, as well as the sanctity of her pastoral world.

This story expresses several of Jewett's central themes. One is the clash between urban and rural values. In posing the clash as a male-female confrontation, she suggests what was a fairly common 19th-century notion, namely, that women are more in tune with life than men and are repulsed by killing, guns, and violence. The popularity of the story continues. A film version was produced in 1978 by Jane Morrison Productions, New York.

In the decade following "A White Heron" Jewett put forth several further collections, and her best work is to be found among these. The Country of the Pointed Firs, generally considered Jewett's masterpiece, is difficult to classify by genre. It is more unified than a collection of sketches but much looser than the traditional novel. Like Deephaven it uses the structural device of the relationship between two women, which anchors the character sketches to a continuing narrative event. The power of the work resides in the sense of mysterious personal depth many of the characters seem to possess. The protagonist, Mrs. Almiry Todd, one of Jewett's enduring characters (prefiguring in many ways Willa Cather's Antonia), is the town herbalist. She has a singular capacity for healing spiritual as well as physical ills, and is one of the prime sustainers of a sense of communication and of community among the scattered residents of the coastal settlement. Jewett's own extensive knowledge of herbs is seen in this and other works.

The Country of the Pointed Firs includes several vignettes of characters who have lost touch with the mainstream of human relationship. Jewett's tone is elegiac; the lament is for these failed lives, and perhaps ultimately, as many critics have suggested, for the general economic and social decline of New England in the latter half of the century. There is, moreover, a sense of the fragility and fleetingness of human bonds, seen in the poignant parting scene between Mrs. Todd and the narrator, a thinly disguised persona for Jewett. But the work is not a tragedy, nor does it espouse the pessimism and fatalism of contemporary naturalistic novels. Rather, it conveys a sense of celebration, a sense of the triumph of the human community against the forces of spiritual destruction.

Jewett's last major work, a historical novel, The Tory Lover (1901), was by far her most popular (it went into five printings in its first three months), but it has received the least critical approbation. Jewett also wrote some verse published in her lifetime, a few selections of which were collected in a posthumous volume, Verses (1916). One of these lyrics, "Boat Song," was set to music. She also wrote several works for children.

Jewett was writing in the heyday of realism (the critical principles of her editor at the Atlantic Monthly, William Dean Howells, were those of the realists), but she can be classified as a realist only with qualifications. In her own critical comments she rejected slice-of-life "objectivity" as an artistic ideal and insisted personal point of view was an essential ingredient of competent fiction. Jewett wrote about ordinary people with gentle humor, respect, and compassion. Her mastery of style—her ability to fuse technique and content with her personality—has ensured her work will survive for years to come (many of her titles were reprinted again in the late 1990s).

Other Works:

Play Days (1878). Old Friends and New (1879). Country By-Ways (1881). The Mate of the Light, and Friends Ashore (1884). A Marsh Island (1885). The Story of the Normans (1887). The King of Folly Island, and Other People (1888, reissued 1998). Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls (1890). Strangers and Wayfarers (1890). Tales of New England (1890, reissued 1997). A Native of Winby, and Other Tales (1893). Betty Leicester's Christmas (1894, reissued 1990). The Life of Nancy (1895). The Queen's Twin, and Other Stories (1899). The Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett (edited by A. Fields, 1911, reissued 1994). Sarah Orne Jewett Letters (edited by R. Cary, 1967). The Uncollected Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (edited by R. Cary, 1971). The Dunnet Landing Stories (1996). The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (1996). Novels and Stories (latest reissue, 1996). The Country of the Pointed Firs; and, The Dunnet Landing Stories (latest reissue, 1997). The Complete Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett (1999).

The most extensive collection of Sarah Orne Jewett's papers is housed in the Houghton Library of Harvard University.


Auchincloss, L., Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists (1965). Baum, R. M., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Sarah Orne Jewett Collection: The Parkman Dexter Howe Library (1983). Bicksler, M. R., "Women in the Fiction of Sarah Orne Jewett" (thesis, 1995). Blanchard, P., Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work (1994). Buchanan, C. D., Sarah Orne Jewett: Stories (1994). Buseman, L. J., "The Realism of Sarah Orne Jewett's Characterization of Men" (thesis, 1993). Cary, R., ed., Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett (1973). Cary, R., Sarah Orne Jewett (1962). Donovan, J., Sarah Orne Jewett (1980). Dullea, G. J., "Two New England Voices: Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman" (thesis, 1996). Evans, M. A., "Deep Havens and Ruined Gardens: Possibilities of Community and Spirituality in Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman" (thesis, 1992). Ferris, R. M., "Pure or Perverse? Women's Romantic Friendships and the Life and Fiction of Sarah Orne Jewett" (thesis, 1996). Fields, A., ed., Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett (1911). Frost, J. E., Sarah Orne Jewett (1960). Gale, R. L., A Sarah Orne Jewett Companion (1999). Hoffman, P. E., "The Search for Self-Fulfillment: Marriage in the Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett" (thesis, 1991). Hulme, C., Sarah Orne Jewett: A Great, and Greatly Underestimated, Writer (thesis, 1988). Harkins, E. F., and C. H. L. Johnston, Little Pilgrimages Among the Women Who Have Written Famous Books (1902). Matthiessen, F. O., Sarah Orne Jewett (1929). McCauley-Myers, J. P., "The Silent Influences in the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett" (thesis, 1991). McGuire, M. A., "Sarah Orne Jewett" (thesis, 1995). Nagel, G. L. and J. Nagel, Sarah Orne Jewett: A Reference Guide (1978). Sargent, R. S., Always Nine Years Old: Sarah Orne Jewett's Childhood (1985). Sherman, S. W., Sarah Orne Jewett, an American Persephone (1989). Silverthorne, E., Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer's Life (1993). Sparks, L. V., Counterparts: The Fiction of Mary Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin (1993). Stoddart, S. F., "Selected Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett: A Critical Edition with Commentory" (thesis, 1988). Thorp, M. F., Sarah Orne Jewett (1966). Weber, C. C., and C. J.

Weber, A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett (1949). Westbrook, P. D., Acres of Flint, Writers of Rural New England 1870-1900 (1981).

Reference works:

AA. AW. American Short Story: A Collection of the Best Known and Most Memorable Short Stories by the Great American Authors (1994). DAB. Great American Short Stories I (1995). Great Women Writers: The Lives and Works of 135 of the World's Most Important Women Writers, from Antiquity to the Present (1994). Modern American Women Writers (1993). NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Rediscoveries: American Short Stories by Women, 1832-1916 (1994).

Other references:

Sarah Orne Jewett Conference (1986). Sarah Orne Jewett's Best Short Stories (recording, 1994). Stories of New England, Then & Now (recording, 1996).


Jewett, Sarah Orne (1849-1909)

views updated May 17 2018

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)



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.


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).

Jewett, Sarah Orne

views updated May 29 2018

JEWETT, Sarah Orne

JEWETT, Sarah Orne (b. 3 September 1849; d. 24 June 1909), writer.

Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born and raised in South Berwick, Maine, the second of three daughters in a close-knit, wealthy New England family. She particularly adored her father, Theodore Herman Jewett, a respected physician who encouraged her wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and love of books, and often invited her to accompany him on his rural rounds. Her relationship with her mother, Caroline Perry, is less well documented but was certainly shaped by Perry's chronic illness; from her, Jewett likely first learned to attend to the feminine intricacies of Victorian social engagement. Jewett herself was unwell for much of her childhood; she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis throughout her life. Pain, in combination with a general disinterest in formal education (she often chided herself for "laziness"), resulted in frequent absences from school and pushed her outside into the fields and woods of Maine. She was, in this and other respects, a tomboy, but never at the expense of her social duties. This combination of individual freedom and female ritual animates the best of her writing; her stories and sketches are populated by intelligent women who are both hardy and independent and, whatever their station, genteel.

Jewett published her first story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers," in 1868, but her first major work was Deephaven (1877), compiled from a series of sketches originally published in The Atlantic Monthly. The story concerns two young Boston women, Kate Lancaster and Helen Denis, who spend an unchaperoned summer together exploring a Maine seacoast village. As with most of Jewett's writing, she drew from life to paint the village and its environs, and also the romantic friendship that existed between the work's two protagonists. Throughout her young adulthood, Jewett developed a succession of passionate romantic friendships with other young women; it is widely considered that Kate Birckhead, with whom Jewett was especially close while she was writing the early Deephaven sketches, was a significant model for the fictional Kate.

Jewett never seriously considered marriage. On top of her family wealth, she achieved literary success early

enough to be fairly comfortable, and she adeptly managed her own finances. More broadly, Jewett considered it important that women should have a choice whether or not to marry and was a vocal advocate for women's education and entry into the professions. Her novel A Country Doctor (1884), considered her most autobiographical, was also the most strongly feminist in this regard; protagonist Nan Prince, following on the heels of her adoptive father, becomes a rural physician but is clearly forced, in the process, to choose career over marriage. Although almost none of Jewett's other major works address these issues so overtly (one exception is the often-anthologized story "A White Heron" [1886]), her writing throughout her life, while conservative on many counts, is filled with independent women protagonists who thrive in female-dominated circles of influence. Her best-known work, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), contains particularly strong depictions of the vitality and variety of women's relationships in rural Maine society. Indeed, Jewett advised her young friend Willa Cather in 1908 that Cather should avoid writing from a man's point of view altogether.

Jewett was not, as some ill-informed critics claim, a lonely spinster; she was involved, from 1882 until her death, in a "Boston marriage" (some call it the Boston marriage) with philanthropist Annie Fields, widow of Atlantic publisher James Fields. Although the relationship is not generally understood to have been sexual, there is no doubt that it was committed and intense and sustained both of them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They wrote passionate letters to one another (Jewett was, unsurprisingly, the more effusive correspondent); they lived and traveled together; they shared literary, political, and personal decisions. As a result, they developed a supportive and strongly egalitarian relationship, each woman complementing the other's talents. In addition, in the famed Victorian library of 108 Charles Street, they were at the center of a formidable international literary and intellectual circle. Many of their close friends also lived in Boston marriages; Fields and Jewett were part of a group of influential women educators, social reformers, authors, artists, and philanthropists, some of whom shared Jewett's particular desire to live a useful life in the company of other women.

Jewett published prolifically despite the fact that she found writing difficult in the midst of her many other activities (she also had to divide her time between Boston and the Jewett home in Maine, where she still held responsibilities), and despite often being in considerable pain. Her other major works include Country By-Ways (1881), A Marsh Island (1885), Strangers and Wayfarers (1890), The Queen's Twin and Other Stories (1898), and The Tory Lover (1900).


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

Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Ungar, 1980.

——."The Unpublished Love Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett." In Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Edited by Gwen L. Nagel. Boston: Hall, 1984.

Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992.

Catriona Sandilands

see alsocather, willa; literature; romantic friendship and boston marriage; smashes and chumming.

Sarah Orne Jewett

views updated May 23 2018

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. □

Jewett, Sarah Orne

views updated May 11 2018


(1849 - 1909)

(Full name Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett; also wrote under the pseudonyms A. C. Eliot, Alice Eliot, and Sarah O. Sweet) American short story writer, novelist, and poet.


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