Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Author of twenty books, Jewett was the most accomplished of the American writers associated with literary regionalism and a major force in the creation and development of an American women’s literary tradition.
The second of three sisters, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born into an established and wealthy family in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849. Her grandfather, Captain Theodore Furber Jewett, had prospered in the West Indies trade in the early part of the century, leaving the family financially independent.
Although Sarah received her formal education at Miss Raynes’s School and at Berwick Academy in South Berwick, much of her true education came from her father, a country doctor. She was her father’s frequent companion on his house calls, especially when bouts of ill health kept her out of school. As they moved from house to house, he shared with her his close observations of the surrounding landscape as well as his thoughts on life and literature. Later, Sarah, by now an accomplished writer, would credit her father with pointing out to her that really great writers do not write about people and things, but describe them just as they are.
Young Sarah read widely in her parents’ substantial library, and when, at the age of seventeen, she read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862), she found in Stowe’s portrayal of scenes from Maine life a hint of the possibilities of the regionalist fiction in which Sarah herself would excel.
Sarah’s first published story, “Jenny Garrow’s Ghost,” appeared in The Flag of Our Union, a Boston weekly, on January 18, 1868. The nineteen-year-old author, unwilling at this point that others should know of her literary activities, used the pen name “Alice Eliot.” In December of the following year, after two polite rejections, the prestigious Atlantic Monthly published her story “Mr. Bruce,” confirming Sarah’s conviction that she was at least an apprentice writer.
She continued to write for the Atlantic and other publications. Finally, William Dean Howells, the novelist and editor, suggested to Sarah that she organize some of her sketches and short stories into a book. Sarah found this work painfully difficult, but the result, Deephaven (1877), marked her arrival at maturity as a writer.
The death of her father in 1878 was a difficult blow for Sarah Orne Jewett. Until his death, her relationship with him had been the most important of her life. Her closest adult emotional relationships were her friendships with women. The most important of these was with Annie Fields, whom Sarah met in the 1870’s, when Annie was married to the publisher James T. Fields, Annie’s senior by some seventeen years. After Fields’s death in 1881, Sarah and Annie’s friendship flowered into a “Boston marriage.” The term denotes a virtually spousal—although not necessarily, or even usually, sexual—relationship between two women. Sarah and Annie lived together for part of each year, they traveled together, and, when physically separated, kept in touch by letter. To their friends, it became natural to think of them as a couple.
In the years following Deephaven, Sarah continued to develop as a writer. She enjoyed her greatest success in the sketches and short stories set in her native Maine. That her life as an adult involved long periods of residence in Boston and of foreign travel seemed to strengthen her imaginative possession of the Maine setting. Her own experience justified the advice she later gave the younger novelist Willa Cather, that to know the parish one must first know the world.
She was mastering a form that was very much her own: a short narrative devoid of plot in terms of dramatic event and linear structure. The form allows for patient observation of the gradual unfolding of human relationships and the interrelationship of the human and the natural in places Sarah had known since childhood. Many of her stories have a conversational quality: a speaker, usually a woman, moves, by what seems superficially like random association, toward a clarification of emotional, spiritual, or moral truth that is the heart of the story.
She had less success with the more conventional sort of novel. Most readers find The Country Doctor (1884) her most interesting work in the novel form because of its content, the relationship of Nan Prince and Doctor Leslie, with its intriguing autobiographical resonance, and Nan’s determination to enter the medical profession, which was regarded by her contemporaries as a male preserve. Yet the novel achieves only limited dramatic power.
Still, Sarah continued to develop as a literary artist. Her progress was dramatically displayed in the collection A White Heron and Other Stories, published in 1886. The title story of the collection, perhaps Jewett’s most famous short story, exemplifies its author’s respect for the reader’s share in the...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jewett’s fiction has become increasingly admired as literary scholars give more attention to the functions of women in American culture. Her stories are mainly about women and girls creating their identities in relation to nature and to others and about the intimate communion with others that is one of the central values of social life. They thoughtfully show a feminine side of nineteenth century American culture. Jewett’s best fictions are beautiful, moving, and often humorous tales of quiet, ordinary people in rural areas who create rich and full lives, often out of slender resources.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Sarah Orne Jewett spent most of her life in South Berwick on the Maine coast, where she was born on September 3, 1849. Daughter of a country doctor, she aspired to medicine herself, but moved toward writing because of early ill health (which led her father to take her on his calls, for fresh air), the special literary education encouraged by her family, and her discovery as a teenager of her “little postage stamp of soil” in reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862). Her father, especially, encouraged her to develop her keen powers of observation, and her grandfathers stimulated her interest in storytelling. After the death of her father in 1878, she began a lifelong friendship with Annie...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849, the second of three daughters of a country doctor. The colonial mansion in which she was born and reared had been purchased and lavishly furnished by her paternal grandfather, Theodore Furber Jewett, a sea captain turned shipowner and merchant whose fortune enabled Sarah to live in comfort and to travel and write at leisure throughout her life. Her father and maternal grandfather were both practicing physicians, and they imbued her with a love of science and an interest in studying human behavior as well as a passion for literature.
Jewett’s formal education was surprisingly sporadic: Since she had little patience with classroom procedures and...
(The entire section is 733 words.)
Living at a time when women were overshadowed by the men in their lives, Sarah Orne Jewett as a girl began to establish her identity as an individual by observing closely and recording her observations in writing. As a child, she often accompanied her father, a physician, on his house calls, thereby coming into contact with the total community of South Berwick, with which she always strongly identified.
Jewett began publishing (as A. C. Eliot) when she was eighteen. Her first melodramatic story, “Jenny Garrow’s Lovers,” is set in England and is preposterous in its details although stylistically impressive....
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett lived a quiet and happy childhood distinguished by the fact that she developed a keen interest in people and an insight into culture through traveling about the countryside with her father, who was a country doctor. Her interest in the people of Maine never diminished, even though she later traveled widely. She seems to have been much more interested in the people of the coastal villages and upland farms of Maine than she was in such friends as William Dean Howells, Annie Fields, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich, famous literary personages of the time. Jewett never married, nor did she go to college, although Bowdoin College awarded her an honorary Litt.D....
(The entire section is 844 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849, the second of three daughters of Caroline Frances Perry Jewett and Dr. Theodore Herman Jewett. Her family was wealthy, thanks to an inheritance and to her father’s successful medical practice. She remained financially independent throughout her life and, therefore, felt little pressure to marry or to work for an income.
Jewett’s childhood experiences growing up in southern Maine became the main source of her stories. South Berwick in her time was an abandoned seaport, with memories of grand days when ships from the Maine coast...
(The entire section is 871 words.)
Known primarily as a regional writer, Sarah Orne Jewett spent most of her life on the rugged Maine coast that is the setting for much of her work. She was born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3 1849, one of three daughters of an old and prosperous New England family. Both of her parents were readers, and they wanted their daughters to be welleducated— somewhat uncommon in the nineteenth century. For a time, Jewett even considered becoming a physician like her father; however, poor health made it impossible for her to complete rigorous medical training. Instead, she turned to her talent for writing.
Jewett often accompanied her father on his rounds and loved to hear him talk about books and ideas. At age eighteen she published her first short story, a melodramatic tale of love. This early success led to what would be her true calling: writing honestly and simply about the richness and poignancy of the common folk of Maine. From the beginning, her focus was on lonely, misunderstood people, particularly women, and their relationships; her stories often have little in the way of exciting or dramatic plot and action but are nonetheless powerfully moving.
In 1878 Jewett’s father died, and Jewett was left without her dearest friend, whom she later described in the novel A Country Doctor (1884). Shortly after her father’s death she began an intimate and lifelong relationship with Annie Fields, the wife of publisher James T. Fields. Through the Fieldses, Jewett became acquainted with many of the most noted writers of the day, including Celia Thaxter, George Eliot, Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne. After James Fields’s death, Jewett and Annie became closer, forming what was known as a ‘‘Boston marriage;’’ they did not always share a home, but they were treated as a couple by their friends.
Jewett continued writing, attracting a larger audience as her stories appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s magazines. ‘‘A White Heron,’’ rejected by the Atlantic Monthly as too sentimental, was published first in Jewett’s collection A White Heron and Other Stories. She wrote novels in addition to short stories but they were not as successful, with the exception of her greatest work, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), a series of sketches about the residents of a fictional coastal village. This novel solidified her reputation as one of the century’s greatest regional writers.
Jewett gave up writing after a 1902 carriage accident left her in disabling pain. She had published more than 150 stories and four novels. She devoted her remaining years to Annie Fields and other friends, including the young writer Willa Cather. Cather credited Jewett with influencing her to write about her home, Nebraska. Cather’s first Nebraska novel, O Pioneers! (1913), was dedicated to Jewett, who had died in South Berwick on June 24, 1909.