The Country of the Pointed Firs Critical Overview
by Sarah Orne Jewett

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Jewett is widely regarded as one of the best American local color authors of the nineteenth century, and The Country of the Pointed Firs is indisputably her masterpiece. At the time of its initial publication in 1896, Jewett was firmly established as one of the leading writers of her day and a master of the “local color” tale, vividly portrayed through her Maine coast characters in previous stories. Paula Blanchard observes that, by 1891, Jewett “was one of America’s best-loved and most admired authors.”

The Country of the Pointed Firs was warmly received by British and American critics of the day, who saw in Jewett’s narrator a mature version of her earlier narrators. The book was praised for its avoidance of the sentimentality and quaintness that could be detected in her earlier works, as well as the more skillful degree of involvement on the part of the narrator with the events and characters she describes.

In an 1897 review of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Alice Brown opined, “The Country of the Pointed Firs is the flower of a sweet, sane knowledge of life, and an art so elusive that it smiles up at you while you pull aside the petals, vainly probing its heart.” Brown concluded, “No such beautiful and perfect work has been done for many years; perhaps no such beautiful work has ever been done in America.”

In her preface to a 1925 edition of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Willa Cather ranked Jewett’s novel along with The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, as the three most enduring works of nineteenth-century American fiction. From the mid-1920s through the 1950s, however, Jewett’s works fell out of popularity and her once prominent literary name receded into the background of American letters. The label of “local color” writer contributed to a general regard for Jewett’s work as beneath the standards of the literary cannon. Further, many critics regarded her work as minor in its scope and significance, primarily due to the focus of her stories on seemingly insignificant details of the lives of older women. Barbara H. Solomon, writing in 1979, explained the neglect of The Country of the Pointed Firs throughout the mid-twentieth century was due to the fact that “it is so thoroughly a woman’s book...

(The entire section is 581 words.)