sarah o. jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3, 1849June 24, 1909) was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for her local color works set in or near South Berwick, Maine, on the border of New Hampshire, which in her day was a declining New England seaport.


Jewett's family had been residents of New England for many generations. Her father was a doctor, and Jewett often accompanied him on his rounds, becoming acquainted with the sights and sounds of her native land and its people. As treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that developed in early childhood, Jewett was sent on frequent walks and through them also developed a love of nature. In later life, Jewett often visited Boston, where she was acquainted with many of the most influential literary figures of her day; but she always returned to South Berwick, the "Deephaven" of her stories.

Jewett was educated at Miss Olive Rayne's school and then at Berwick Academy, graduating in 1865. She supplemented her education through an extensive family library. Jewett was "never overtly religious," but after she joined the Episcopalian church in 1871, she explored less conventional religious ideas. For example, her friendship with Harvard law professor Theophilus Parsons stimulated an interest in the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and theologian, who believed that the Divine "was present in innumerable, joined forms—a concept underlying Jewett's belief in individual responsibility."

She published her first important story in the Atlantic Monthly at age 19, and her reputation grew throughout the 1870s and '80s. Her literary importance arises from her careful, if subdued, vignettes of country life that reflect a contemporary interest in local color rather than plot. Jewett possessed a keen descriptive gift that William Dean Howells called "an uncommon feeling for talk—I hear your people." Jewett's most characteristic works include the novella The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896); A Country Doctor (1884), a novel about a New England girl who rejects marriage to become a doctor; and A White Heron (1886), a collection of short stories. Some of Jewett's poetry was collected in Verses (1916), and she also wrote three children's books. Willa Cather described Jewett as a significant influence on her development as a writer, and "feminist critics have since championed her writing for its rich account of women's lives and voices."

Jewett established a close friendship with writer Annie Fields (1834-1915) and her husband, publisher James Thomas Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly. After the sudden death of James Fields in 1881, Jewett and Annie Fields lived together for the rest of Jewett's life in what was then termed a "Boston marriage." Some modern scholars have speculated that the two were lovers. In any case, "the two women found friendship, humor, and literary encouragement" in one another's company, traveling to Europe together and hosting "American and European literati." Jewett never married.

On September 3, 1902, Jewett was injured in a carriage accident that all but ended her writing career. She died three months after being paralyzed by a stroke in 1909. The Jewett family home in South Berwick, built in the late eighteenth century, is preserved as a National Historic Landmark.

Selected works

  • Deephaven, James R. Osgood, 1877
  • Play Days, Houghton, Osgood, 1878
  • Old Friends and New, Houghton, Osgood, 1879
  • Country By-Ways, Houghton-Mifflin, 1881
  • A Country Doctor , Houghton-Mifflin, 1884
  • The Mate of the Daylight, and Friends Ashore, Houghton-Mifflin, 1884
  • A Marsh Island, Houghton-Mifflin, 1884
  • A White Heron and Other Stories, Houghton-Mifflin, 1886
  • The Story of the Normans, Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1887
  • The King of Folly Island and Other People, Houghton-Mifflin, 1888
  • Tales of New England], Houghton-Mifflin, 1890
  • Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls, Houghton-Mifflin, 1890
  • Strangers and Wayfarers, Houghton-Mifflin, 1890
  • A Native of Winby and Other Tales, Houghton-Mifflin, 1893
  • Betty Leicester's English Christmas: A New Chapter of an Old Story], privately printed for the Bryn Mawr School, 1894
  • The Life of Nancy, Houghton-Mifflin, 1895
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs, Houghton-Mifflin, 1896
  • The Queen's Twin and Other Stories, Houghton-Mifflin, 1899
  • The Tory Lover, Houghton-Mifflin, 1901
  • An Empty Purse: A Christmas Story, privately printed, 1905


Further reading

  • Bell, Michael Davitt, ed. Sarah Orne Jewett, Novels and Stories (Library of America, 1994) ISBN 978-0-94045074-5
  • Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work (Addison-Wesley, 1994) ISBN 0-201-51810-4
  • Renza, Louis A. "A White Heron" and The Question of Minor Literature ((Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1985)) ISBN 978-0-29909964-0
  • Sherman, Sarah W. Sarah Orne Jewett, an American Persephone ((University Press of New England, 1989)) ISBN 978-0-87451484-1

External links

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