Sarah Orne Jewett

Terry Heller

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Sarah Orne Jewett


Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett (b. 1849–d. 1909) grew up in South Berwick, Maine, the middle daughter of a respected physician, Theodore F. Jewett, and Caroline Perry Jewett, both of distinguished and prosperous local families. Though her locale was provincial, her family connections often took her to Boston, as well as to New York City, Cincinnati, Chicago, and to other parts of the East and Midwest. Graduating in 1865 from the Berwick Academy, Jewett began writing professionally at a young age, appearing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1869. She continued a successful career, writing short fiction and sketches for major magazines and, at regular intervals, publishing collections. She also began to produce more didactic work for adults, as well as stories and poems for children in popular newspapers and magazines, such as The Independent and St. Nicholas. Jewett’s first book, Deephaven (1877), a series of Atlantic sketches worked into a novel, attracted many readers, among them John Greenleaf Whittier, who became a close friend. Her most important friendship was with Annie Fields, wife of the influential publisher, James T. Fields. When Annie was widowed in 1881, not long after Sarah’s father’s death in 1878, the two became lifelong companions, spending about half of each year together at Fields’s two homes in Massachusetts and traveling together in Europe and North America. Fields shared with Jewett her wide acquaintance among contemporary writers and artists. Jewett’s novels and collections sold well during her life; but today, most are in print only as e-books. A Country Doctor (1884) has tended to remain in print and to draw critical interest. “A White Heron” (1886) has remained her best-known short story, frequently anthologized and the focus of many critical studies. Among her longer works, only The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) has had a truly vigorous and continuous following of readers and scholars. Jewett’s fiction-writing career was cut short after a serious injury in a 1902 carriage accident made it impossible to adequately concentrate on writing fiction. However, she continued an extensive correspondence until her death in 1909. In 1908 she began one of the more important mentoring relationships in American literary history: her meetings and letter exchanges with Willa Cather, which critics believe led Cather to give up her successful editing and journalistic career to write the fiction for which she is best remembered. Jewett’s novels and magazine stories were identified from the beginning with local color and regionalist writing. Criticism continues to explore these facets, showing particular interest in how her work participates in the discourses of gender, race, nationalism, and class during the post–Civil War period.

Article.  14846 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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