Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Oldfields. Fictional Maine farming community, probably modeled after the environs of Jewett’s birthplace, South Berwick, Maine. Jewett’s father, a physician, often took young Jewett along on patient visits, pointing out for close observation features of the people and landscape. As a child, Nan flourishes on the farm. Local society—with its Puritan heritage—tends to be narrow, formally pious, and conservative. The opening chapters tell several stories of talented people thwarted by the limited life choices available there. Nan, however, is allowed to grow up “naturally”; she rafts on the river, roams the fields day and night, and plays with farm animals. She develops the self-reliance to resist the limits usually imposed on girls. From the local people she picks up the virtues of a work ethic and mutual helpfulness. Nan returns to rural Oldfields to begin medical practice despite opportunities to work and study in major city hospitals and in Europe.


River. Unnamed river that is a key place in rural Oldfields—the Salmon Falls and Piscataqua Rivers join below Jewett’s South Berwick. Nan’s despairing mother nearly drowns herself and the infant Nan near a graveyard along the river. Nan returns to the spot twice: when she decides to become a doctor and again at the end of the novel, when she meditates on the providential guidance she has felt.

The fictional village of Oldfields resembles Jewett’s childhood home. Oldfields differs from Jewett’s South Berwick in the absence of modern manufacturing. The narrator specifies that the village is untouched by the hurry and shoddy building of the industrial revolution....

(The entire section is 697 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994. Discusses A Country Doctor as an autobiographical novel. Dr. Leslie resembles Jewett’s physician father, and Nan’s decision to pursue vocation over marriage is drawn from Jewett’s personal experience.

Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Analyzes her fictional themes of city versus country and isolation versus community.

Nagel, Gwen L., ed. Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. Reprints early reviews and contains original critical essays on her works, several of which discuss A Country Doctor’s relation to Jewett’s other fiction.

Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992. Argues that Jewett creates male and female characters who do not conform to conventions in order to challenge accepted notions about the sexes and to project a world in which any person may live and grow freely.

Westbrook, Perry D. Acres of Flint: Sarah Orne Jewett and Her Contemporaries. Rev. ed. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1981. Shows how Jewett’s work relates to the local-color literary tradition developed by New England women writers after the Civil War.