Jump to content

Sarah Orne Jewett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sarah Orne Jewett
Jewett in 1894
Jewett in 1894
BornTheodora Sarah Orne Jewett
(1849-09-03)September 3, 1849
South Berwick, Maine, U.S.
DiedJune 24, 1909(1909-06-24) (aged 59)
South Berwick, Maine, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
Literary movementAmerican literary regionalism
Notable worksThe Country of the Pointed Firs

Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3, 1849 – June 24, 1909) was an American novelist, short story writer and poet, best known for her local color works set along or near the southern coast of Maine. Jewett is recognized as an important practitioner of American literary regionalism.[1]

Early life[edit]

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849. Her family had been residents of New England for many generations.[2]

Jewett's father, Theodore Herman Jewett, was a doctor specializing in "obstetrics and diseases of women and children,"[3] and Jewett often accompanied him on his rounds, becoming acquainted with the sights and sounds of her native land and its people.[4] Her mother was Caroline Frances (Perry).[5] As treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that developed in her early childhood, Jewett was sent on frequent walks and through them also developed a love of nature.[6] In later life, Jewett often visited Boston, where she was acquainted with many of the most influential literary figures of her day; but she always returned to South Berwick, small seaports near which were the inspiration for the towns of "Deephaven" and "Dunnet Landing" in her stories.[7]

Jewett was educated at Miss Olive Rayne's school and then at Berwick Academy, graduating in 1866.[8] She supplemented her education with reading in her extensive family library. Jewett was "never overtly religious", but after she joined the Episcopal church in 1871, she explored less conventional religious ideas. For example, her friendship with Harvard law professor Theophilus Parsons stimulated an interest in the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and theologian, who believed that the Divine "was present in innumerable, joined forms — a concept underlying Jewett's belief in individual responsibility."[9]


Sarah Orne Jewett reading.

In 1868 at age 18, Jewett published her first important story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers," in The Flag of Our Union,[10] and her reputation grew throughout the 1870s and 1880s.[11] Jewett used the pen name "Alice Eliot" or "A. C. Eliot" for her early stories.[11] Her literary importance arises from her careful, if subdued, vignettes of country life that reflect a contemporary interest in local color rather than in plot.[12] Jewett possessed a keen descriptive gift that William Dean Howells called "an uncommon feeling for talk — I hear your people." Jewett made her reputation with the novella The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).[13] A Country Doctor (1884), a novel reflecting her father and her early ambitions for a medical career, and A White Heron (1886), a collection of short stories that are among her finest work.[14] Some of Jewett's poetry was collected in Verses (1916), and she also wrote three children's books. Willa Cather described Jewett as a significant influence on her development as a writer,[15] and "feminist critics have since championed her writing for its rich account of women's lives and voices."[9] Cather dedicated her 1913 novel O Pioneers!, based upon memories of her childhood in Nebraska, to Jewett.[16] In 1901 Bowdoin College conferred an honorary doctorate of literature on Jewett, the first woman to be granted an honorary degree by Bowdoin.[17] In Jewett's obituary in 1909, The Boston Globe remarked on the strength that lay in "the detail of her work, in fine touches, in simplicity."[11]

Personal life[edit]

Sarah Orne Jewett.

Jewett's works featuring relationships between women often mirrored her own life and friendships.[18] Jewett's letters and diaries reveal that as a young woman, Jewett had close relationships with several women, including Grace Gordon, Kate Birckhead, Georgie Halliburton, Ella Walworth, and Ellen Mason. For instance, from evidence in her diary, Jewett appears to have had an intense crush on Kate Birckhead.[19] Jewett later established a close friendship with writer Annie Adams Fields (1834–1915) and her husband, publisher James T. Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

After the sudden death of James Fields in 1881, Jewett paid a condolence visit to Annie Fields.[20] Fields found solace in subsequent visits from Jewett and their relationship grew.[21] Jewett and Fields began living together in what was then termed a "Boston marriage" in Fields's homes in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, and at 148 Charles Street in Boston.[20] Though some scholars have offered a cautious appraisal of the nature of the relationship between Jewett and Fields, modern scholarship documents evidence that Jewett and Fields considered themselves married in a relationship lasting until Jewett's death nearly thirty years later.[22] [21] Jewett and Fields exchanged rings and vows, and on the one-year anniversary of their vows, Jewett wrote a poem, "Do You Remember, Darling," depicting her commitment to and love of Fields. [21]

Jewett and Fields socialized with other women in "Boston marriages."[20] Both women "found friendship, humor, and literary encouragement" in one another's company, traveling to Europe together and hosting "American and European literati."[9] In France Jewett met Thérèse Blanc-Bentzon with whom she had long corresponded and who translated some of her stories for publication in France.[23] Jewett's poetry, much of it unpublished, includes approximately thirty love poems or fragments of poems written to women which illustrate the intensity of her feelings toward them.[19] Jewett also wrote about romantic attachments between women in her novel Deephaven (1877), which described her relationship with Annie Adams Fields, and in her short story "Martha's Lady" (1897).[20] [24]

On September 3, 1902, Jewett was injured in a carriage accident that all but ended her writing career. She was paralyzed by a stroke in March 1909, and she died in her South Berwick home after suffering another stroke on June 24, 1909.[25]

Annie Adams Fields published her correspondence with Jewett in 1911.[20] Women in Boston marriages in the 19th century most often kept their correspondence private or destroyed it, so the survival and publication of Jewett and Fields' letters provides rare documentation of one of the most famous Boston marriages of the time.[20] Fields edited the correspondence to remove more personal information leading some biographers to describe Jewett and Fields's relationship as a friendship, but the correspondence depicts their deep love for each other.[20]

Jewett House[edit]

The Sarah Orne Jewett House, the Georgian home of the Jewett family, built in 1774 and overlooking Central Square at South Berwick, is a National Historic Landmark and Historic New England museum.[26] Jewett and her sister Mary inherited the house in 1887.[27]

Selected works[edit]

Cover, Jewett's The Queen's Twin and Other Tales, Houghton Mifflin, 1899
Sarah Orne Jewett.


Short Story and Short Fiction Collections[edit]

  • Play Days, Houghton, Osgood, 1878
  • Old Friends and New, Houghton, Osgood, 1879
  • Country By-Ways, Houghton-Mifflin, 1881
  • Katy's Birthday with Other Stories, 1883
  • The Mate of the Daylight, and Friends Ashore, Houghton-Mifflin, 1884
  • A White Heron and Other Stories, Houghton-Mifflin, 1886
  • The King of Folly Island and Other People, Houghton-Mifflin, 1888
  • Tales of New England, Houghton-Mifflin, 1890
  • Strangers and Wayfarers, Houghton-Mifflin, 1890
  • A Native of Winby and Other Tales, Houghton-Mifflin, 1893
  • The Life of Nancy, Houghton-Mifflin, 1895
  • The Queen's Twin and Other Stories, Houghton-Mifflin, 1899
  • An Empty Purse: A Christmas Story, privately printed, 1905


  • Verses, 1916


  • The Story of the Normans, Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1887

Reference in popular culture[edit]

The 2019 film The Lighthouse based the down-east accent of character Thomas Wake (played by Willem Dafoe) on Jewett's phonetic transcription of period speech in southern Maine.[28]

American-British author Henry James was inspired by Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett's relationship when writing his 1866 novel The Bostonians.[29][30]


  1. ^ Aubrey E. Plourde, A Woman's World: Sarah Orne Jewett's Regionalist Alternative, scholarship.rollins.edu, Retrieved December 19, 2013. In his Sarah Orne Jewett, F.O. Matthiessen wrote "The distinction and refinement of Sarah Jewett's prose came out of an America which, with its Tweed rings and grabbing Trusts, its blatantly moneyed New York and squalid frontier towns, seemed most lacking in just these qualities. They are essentially a feminine contribution, and the fact that they now appear more valuable than anything the men of her generation could produce is a symptom of what had happened to New England since the Civil War. The vigorous genius of the earlier golden day had left no sons. Emily Dickinson is the heir of Emerson's spirit, and Sarah Jewett the daughter of Hawthorne's style." F.O. Matthiessen, Sarah Orne Jewett, public.coe.edu, Retrieved December 19, 2013
  2. ^ Her mother's family, the Gilmans, were among the most prominent settlers of Exeter, New Hampshire.[1] Sarah's great-grandfather, James Orne, was descended from the Orne family of Dover, New Hampshire, who were among the first settlers of Dover. The Jewetts had emigrated from Yorkshire to Boston in 1638 and later founded Rowley, Massachusetts. From there they moved on to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, just after the Revolutionary War.
  3. ^ Teacher, Janet Bukovinsky (1994). Women of Words. Frankfort, Germany: Courage Books. pp. 43. ISBN 9781561387694.
  4. ^ Richard Cary, Sarah Orne Jewett (New Haven, CT: Twayne, 1962), 21.
  5. ^ "Letters to (Theodora) Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)".
  6. ^ For instance, one stroll she found "neighborly with the hop-toads and with a joyful robin who was sitting on a corner of the barn, and I became very intimate with a great poppy which had made every arrangement to bloom as soon as the sun came up." Fields, ed. Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett, 45.
  7. ^ The Country of the Pointed Firs at The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.
  8. ^ "Two Unidentified Newspaper Pieces on Olive Raynes" at The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.
  9. ^ a b c Margaret A. Amstutz, "Jewett, Sarah Orne," American National Biography Online, February 2000; Rachel Smith Matzko, "The Religious Attitudes of Sarah Orne Jewett, M. A. thesis, Clemson University, 1979.
  10. ^ "Sarah Orne Jewett House". Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c "Sarah Orne Jewett | Boston Athenæum". www.bostonathenaeum.org. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  12. ^ Cary, 17-18, 52, 94.
  13. ^ Cary, 29. Jewett wrote to a teenage reader: "I cannot tell you just where Dunnet Landing is except that it must be somewhere 'along shore' between the regions of Tenants Harbor and Boothbay, or it might be farther to the eastward in a country that I know less well." Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.
  14. ^ Cary, 12, 29.
  15. ^ Oxford Companion to American Literature, 382
  16. ^ "Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project". www.public.coe.edu. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  17. ^ "Timeline – Forty Years: The History of Women at Bowdoin". research.bowdoin.edu. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  18. ^ "Desire Under the Firs | PORTLAND MAGAZINE". November 23, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Donovan, Josephine (1979). "The Unpublished Love Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 4 (3): 26–31. doi:10.2307/3346145. ISSN 0160-9009. JSTOR 3346145.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Bronski, Michael; Heyam, Kit; Traub, Valerie; Astbury, Jon, eds. (2023). The LGBTQ+ history book. Big ideas simply explained (First American ed.). New York, NY: DK Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7440-7073-6. OCLC 1377727979.
  21. ^ a b c "Boston Marriages (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved March 9, 2024.
  22. ^ See, for instance, Dottie Webb,"Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields: Boston Marriage and Cultural Nexus," [2]."Desire Under the Firs | PORTLAND MAGAZINE". November 23, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2021.. The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project makes a more cautious appraisal.Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project. Fields was fifteen years older than Jewett, but they had similar tastes in "reading, writing, and the arts." Richard Cary, Sarah Orne Jewett (New Haven, CT: Twayne, 1962), 25.
  23. ^ Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels and Stories (New York: Library of America, 1994), 924, 927
  24. ^ Rosowski, Susan J.; Reynolds, Guy, eds. (2015). Cather Studies, Volume 10: Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century. University of Nebraska Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1d98c6j. ISBN 978-0-8032-7659-8. JSTOR j.ctt1d98c6j.
  25. ^ James, Edward T.; Wilson James, Janet; Boyer, Paul S. (1971). Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-67462-731-4.
  26. ^ Margaret A. Amstutz, "Jewett, Sarah Orne," American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000; Website of Historic New England
  27. ^ "Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum and Visitor Center". www.historicnewengland.org. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  28. ^ Whittaker, Richard (October 30, 2019). "To The Lighthouse With Director Robert Eggers". www.austinchronicle.com. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  29. ^ "Desire Under the Firs - PORTLAND MAGAZINE". November 23, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  30. ^ Donovan, Josephine (1979). "The Unpublished Love Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 4 (3): 26–31. doi:10.2307/3346145. ISSN 0160-9009. JSTOR 3346145.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]