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Start by pressing the button below! With her husband she edited Modern Writing. These subtle "sketches," as she called them, do not contain the whole of New England but they distill its essence. Here are the qualities which made New England great, which spread its influence across the continent, which had so much to do with the shaping of those midwesterners who, Miss Jewett herself thought, would be the typical Americans of the future. Miss Jewett was an integral part of the society she described. Her father was a country doctor, her grandfather a sea captain and an owner of merchant ships.
The Jewett family was important in the community of South Berwick, Maine. Among her relatives Sarah Jewett could study most of the New England traits she liked to dwell on: a sense of duty writing she came to think was her duty , independence, courage, endurance, an enjoyment of work, an imperious conscience.
Her sketches set these qualities in many different lights though she does not deliberately begin with a characteristic and build her story on that. She starts with a character or a place and the virtue, sometimes not even named, appears along the way. In "The Hiltons' Holiday," for instance, "the magnitude of the plan for taking a whole day of pleasure confronted [John Hilton] seriously.
She does not dwell on these, or on the hidden passions in New England life, but she knew that they were there.
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- University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers.
- Sarah Orne Jewett - American Writers 61 : Margaret Farrand Thorp : ;
When the title character of her Country Doctor tells a medical friend from the city a curious story about his ward's mother, the visitor exclaims, "I tell you, Leslie, that for intense, self-centred, smouldering volcanoes of humanity, New England cannot be matched the world over. What she did want to accomplish in her sketches she liked to explain by a dictum of Plato's: that the best thing one can do for the people of a state is to make them acquainted with one another.
She wrote her first book because she wanted to do this for her own state of Maine, to explain its natives to the summer visitors from other parts of the country who disturbed her by the way they misunderstood her neighbors.
She did not like to hear people laugh at eccentricities which she knew were, more often than not, indications of admirable qualities. She found that she had the power to elucidate her neighbors and to make people like them; and doing this in writing she enjoyed. She understood her world more deeply than most of her contemporaries because her responses to it were more delicate and subtle. One is constantly struck by this as one reads her; what she sets down are not the observations of a reporter but impressions recollected in tranquillity. Her memory is very sure and strong for details of appearance, of voice, of manner.
She may not have 6 Sarah Orne Jewett been able to trace back to its source each trait with which she built up a character but she knew that each trait was true.
With an equal fidelity she remembered vividly all sorts of sense impressions: the color of marsh rosemary — "the grey primness of the plant is made up from a hundred colors"; the quality of a song sparrow's note; the mingled scents of balsam, fir, and bayberry coming over salt water. Her sense of smell was particularly keen. She did not describe a landscape; she created it from remembered pieces so that many of her readers were sure they knew exactly which village or stretch of seacoast she had in mind — and were always wrong.
It is this power of re-creating impressions which makes Sarah Jewett something a little larger than a local colorist, which makes one want to read her for other reasons beside the desire to comprehend New England.
Sarah Orne Jewett by Margaret Farrand Thorp (ebook)
Her Maine people are not simply authentic Down Easters; they are kin to people of other times and places. The funeral procession in A Country Doctor might have been "a company of Druid worshipers. Hight in "A Dunnet Shepherdess" has "the features of a warlike Roman emperor. Her scepter was a palmleaf fan. Todd, the herbwoman, who is the narrator's guide to Dunnet Landing, is spoken of as a "huge sibyl," a caryatide, an "Antigone alone on the Theban plain. There was another idea Miss Jewett wanted her stories to demonstrate: the importance of the commonplace.
She wanted to write about ordinary life as though she were writing history. She took deep pleasure in the commonplaces of her own daily existence but she was discriminating in what she enjoyed and this taught her to distinguish in her writing between the significant and the merely precise detail, another point at which she differs from many of the local colorists. One reason why Sarah Jewett was able to describe New England characteristics accurately was that she had many of them herself.
Consider, for instance, the sense of duty, that trait so often puzzling to the outlander who calls it the New England conscience. There is a particularly effective presentation of this in "A Dunnet Shepherdess. Esther has been in love for years with William Blackett, a fisherman who lives on one of the outer islands, but she cannot marry him because she must take care of her paralyzed mother. Hight, a very energetic woman, had in middle life a stroke which left her almost helpless, except for her left hand.
At about the same time her husband died, leaving her a rocky and heavily mortgaged farm. Esther, her only child, was sure that the best use that could be made of the land was sheep farming and set herself to find ways of making that profitable. Her neighbors in the high country above the Landing had been discouraged because so many of their sheep were killed by dogs and Esther became convinced that what was needed was shepherding.
Sarah Orne Jewett - American Writers 61: University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers
Instead of leaving the sheep to shift for themselves in the stony pastures she determined,, hard though it might be, to watch over them by day and even on moonlight nights when the dogs were likely to roam about. She had physical as well as moral stamina and her sheep prospered. There was a good route to the Boston market for the wool and her flock became locally famous so that sheep breeders 8 Sarah Orne Jewett paid well for her lambs. She worked off the mortgage on the farm and began to put money in the bank.
The teller of the story learns these facts when William, the fisherman, takes her on a trout-fishing expedition into the high country, and she guesses at the romance though neither of the lovers mentions it. While Esther and William spend a happy afternoon together the narrator has a long talk with the old mother who puts the situation to her simply: "It has been stubborn work, day and night, summer and winter, an' now she's beginnin' to get along in years.
Later there is a revelatory word from Esther herself, speaking to her visitor.
Peet who meets on the train a good friend she has not seen for a long while and details all her present circumstances and the reason for her journey. A hard-dealing nephew persuaded her husband, just before his death, to make over the farm to him in payment for a loan.
Peet will not stay there and be dependent on the hypocritical young man so she is seeking asylum with some nieces in Shrewsbury, but she has no intention of being a burden on anyone. Misanthropy has nothing to do with this state of mind. Miss Jewett presents this effectively in "Aunt Cynthy Dallett.
Her spinster niece lives in the village and so is not isolated like her aunt though much of her daily life is spent without company. Each of them is lonely but neither can quite bear to give up her independent way of life. Finally the niece agrees to come up the hill and spend the winter. She walked alone; she rode alone; she made boating excursions alone on the Piscataqua River. She has left records of many of these expeditions in her essays and some of the stories have their source in an autobiographical journey. But for all her delight in solitude and admiration for many of those who practiced it Sarah Jewett could sympathize with the opposite state of mind.
She watched it with affectionate amusement among the Irish immigrants who were beginning to flock into Maine in large numbers. One of her Irish stories, "Bold Words at the Bridge," tells of two neighbors whose violent disagreements brought them almost to blows and who once became so angry with each other that for weeks they refused to speak.