Discussion Topics

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How do Sarah Orne Jewett’s stories of country doctors confirm her experience of having often accompanied her father on his visits to patients?

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What is the relationship between individual and community in Jewett’s fiction?

What are the outstanding characteristics of the old women in Jewett’s stories?

What qualities in Jewett’s writing did male critics of the time often fail to consider in their assessment of her work?

What does the narrator of The Country of the Pointed Firs learn from her sojourn at Dunnet Landing?

What do Jewett’s descriptions of the features of coastal Maine gain from her frequent technique of putting them into the mouths of her characters?

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Sarah Orne Jewett wrote four novels, and she published popular books for children, including Play Days (1878) and Betty Leicester (1890). Her main work of nonfiction was a history, The Story of the Normans (1887).

Achievements

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Sarah Orne Jewett is best known as a local colorist who captured with fidelity the life of coastal Maine in the late nineteenth century in sensitive and moving portraits, mainly of women’s lives. Except for The Country of the Pointed Firs, widely considered her masterpiece, Jewett’s long fiction is thought less successful than her short stories. During her lifetime, she was considered one of the best short-story writers in America. Most of her stories appeared first in popular magazines such as The Atlantic, under the editorship of William Dean Howells, and Harper’s. American literary historian F. O. Matthiessen said in his 1929 study of Jewett that she and Emily Dickinson were the two best women writers America had produced. Willa Cather offered Jewett similar praise and credited her with positively changing the direction of her literary career in a brief but rich acquaintance near the end of Jewett’s life.

Other literary forms

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In addition to her novels, Sarah Orne Jewett (JEW-eht) wrote several collections of short stories and sketches, most of which were published initially in periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly. The best known of these collections are Old Friends and New (1879), Country By-Ways (1881), A White Heron, and Other Stories (1886), and The King of Folly Island and Other People (1888). Jewett also wrote a series of children’s books, including Play Days: A Book of Stories for Children (1878), The Story of the Normans (1887), and Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls (1890). The posthumous Verses: Printed for Her Friends was published in 1916. Finally, Jewett was a voluminous writer of letters. Among the collections of her private correspondence are the Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett (1911), edited by Annie Fields, and the Sarah Orne Jewett Letters (1956), edited by Richard Cary.

Achievements

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Sarah Orne Jewett is remembered as perhaps the most successful of the dozens of so-called local-color or regional writers who flourished in the United States from approximately 1870 to 1900. She is especially noted for her remarkable depictions of the farmers and fishermen of Maine coastal villages at the end of the nineteenth century. Although Jewett was writing from firsthand observation (she was born and reared in Maine), she was not one of the common folk of whom she wrote. Wealthy, articulate, and well-read, Jewett was an avid traveler who moved within prominent literary circles. Her sophistication imbued her best work with a polish and a degree of cosmopolitanism that renders it both readable and timeless; as a result, Jewett’s reputation has been preserved long after the names of most other regional writers have been forgotten.

Jewett is also regarded as something of a technical innovator. As modern critics of fiction attempt to establish specific criteria for novels and short...

(The entire section contains 1462 words.)

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