The Country of the Pointed Firs

by Sarah Orne Jewett

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The Country of the Pointed Firs

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Deciding to spend the summer at secluded Dunnet Landing in order to work on her writing, the narrator finds the seemingly taciturn villagers only too willing to confide to her the important events in their lives and in the life of the community. The various character sketches establish the sense of place, a connection to nature, and the feeling of loss as story after story reveals a missed or thwarted opportunity.

The inhabitants of Dunnet Landing include both those who seem competent and fulfilled in life (such as Mrs. Todd, the herb-gatherer, and her mother, Mrs. Blackett, eighty-six years old but still youthful and open to life) and those who are not (such as Abby Martin who thinks she is Queen Victoria’s twin because they were born on the same day, and Joanna Todd who has become a hermit after being jilted by her lover). The narrator’s comments on their stories universalize the characters and their feelings.

The novel’s plot emerges both from the narrator’s stay at Mrs. Todd’s house and from various past events in the lives of the characters she encounters. It is this interweaving which creates the texture of the novel and moves it away from the realm of a short story collection. Jewett’s story primarily focuses on the women in the community and honors the lives of the elderly, but in a natural way since the loss of sea trade has limited work for the young. Despite the stagnation and decay present, the novel represents the old ways as worthy and important and their loss as lamentable.


Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994. In this literary biography, Blanchard devotes one chapter to discussing the novella in the context of Jewett’s life and other works. Also provides photographs, relevant background and biographical information, and a bibliography.

Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: Twenty-nine Essays. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1973. Six of the twenty-nine essays included in this collection deal specifically with The Country of the Pointed Firs. Looking at the novel from a historical and sociological perspective, Warner Berthoff argues in “The Art of Sarah Orne Jewett’s Pointed Firs” that the main story of the book is “the economic disintegration of the coastal towns, the withering away of the enterprise that gave them life.” In “An Interpretation of Pointed Firs,” Francis Fike looks at the major unifying themes of the book.

Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett. New Haven, Conn.: College and University Press, 1962. The first part of the book contains a chronology of the major events in Jewett’s life and a brief biography. Cary provides a summary and evaluation of The Country of the Pointed Firs.

Cather, Willa. Preface to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. 1925. Reprint. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965. Cather praises Jewett’s work for its ability to present sketches of character and scenes in such a way that “they are not stories at all, but life itself.”

Cather, Willa. Not Under Forty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936. In the chapter on Jewett, Cather discusses the design and beauty of the novel: “The Pointed Firs sketches are living things caught in the open, with light and freedom and airspaces about them. They melt into the land and the life of the land . . .”

Donovan, Josephine. New England Local Color Tradition . New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Donovan argues that Jewett was more than simply a local color writer, that she provided examples of strong, independent women and, in...

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doing so, offers a glimpse of what life was like for nineteenth century women.

Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Includes a biographical sketch followed by a discussion of Jewett’s artistic principles and main themes. One chapter discusses the novella as a realization of Jewett’s themes and purposes. Also includes bibliography.

Nagel, Gwen L., ed. Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. The introduction to this collection summarizes critical response to all of Jewett’s works. Contains contemporary reviews and several more recent critical essays on the novella and the other Dunnet Landing stories.

Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992. Examines the attitudes toward gender in Jewett’s fiction. One chapter shows how the novella reflects Jewett’s mature ideas about gender identity. Includes bibliography.

Sherman, Sarah Way. Sarah Orne Jewett: An American Persephone. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1989. Explores the extensive development and use of the myth of Persephone by Jewett and her contemporary writers. Much of the second half of the book shows how Jewett uses the myth in the novella. Includes bibliography.


Critical Evaluation


Critical Overview