Sarah Orne Jewett Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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

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?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111201231-Jewett.jpg Sarah Orne Jewett Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 stories, Jewett’s best work—notably her classic The Country of the Pointed Firs—is seen as straddling both fictional categories. As such, her work is of great interest to contemporary literary theorists.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Auten, Janet Gebhart. “‘Nothing Much Happens in This Story’: Teaching Sarah Orne Jewett’s ‘A White Heron.’” In Short Stories in the Classroom, edited by Carole L. Hamilton and Peter Kratzke. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Recounts several experiences in teaching the story to high school students, making suggestions about the value of the story to exploring conflicts of interest and expanding the canon.

Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994. Offers biographical information and critical interpretation of the works.

Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Twayne, 1962. This critical study of Jewett includes a chronology, a biographical sketch, and descriptive analyses of most of her published works. Cary divides Jewett’s works into thematic groups and shows how Jewett is a product of her New England background. Supplemented by annotated bibliographies of Jewett’s books and of secondary sources.

Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: Twenty-nine Interpretive Essays. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1973. This book collects a good cross section of the major writing on Jewett from 1885 until 1972. Contains biographical sketches, extended reviews, examinations of her technique, interpretations of some individual works, and evaluations of her career.

Church, Joseph. Transcendent Daughters in Jewett’s “Country of the Pointed Firs.” Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994. An excellent examination of Jewett’s novel. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. This critical study includes a chronology and an examination of Jewett’s literary career, following the development of her major themes...

(The entire section is 838 words.)