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Featured Books

Featured Books

A Country Doctor (Penguin Classics)Summary and Reviews of A Country Doctor (Penguin Classics)
A White Heron and Other StoriesSummary and Reviews of A White Heron and Other Stories
Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels and Stories: Deephaven/A Country Doctor/The Country of the Pointed Firs/DuSummary and Reviews of Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels and Stories: Deephaven/A Country Doctor/The Country of the Pointed Firs/Dunnet Landing Stories/Selected Stories & Sketches (Library of America)
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Sarah Orne Jewett

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Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) was born in South Berwick, Maine.  Going back to before the Revolutionary War, her family were successful shipbuilders, sailors, and, for two generations before Sarah, doctors   Sarah wanted follow in her father and grandfather's footsteps, but she wasn't able to fulfill that ambition, coincidentally, because of poor health.  That same poor health, though, also made it possible for her to go with her father on house calls through rural Maine, and she used these experiences as material for her writing.

Jewett began writing short fiction in 1865 after graduating from high school.  Eventually, she would produce poetry, children's fiction, and two novels, including the subversive A Country Doctor.  She was insecure, however, about her ability to write longer fiction, but this was partly because she wished to write a different of sort of plot than the conventional white, male author would write with conflict as a main ingredient of plot.  She became a pioneer in experimenting with such non-linear plot forms, like the sketch, which she did not invent but mastered.

Relationships were very important in Jewett's life and writing, with her relationship with Annie Fields being one of the most important.  Fields was the widow of the publisher James Fields, and the two women traveled together and even lived together much of the year.  Their house Charles Street in Boston became a hub of literary activity for around thirty years for literary lights starting with William Dean Howells in the 1880s through Willa Cather in the early twentieth century.

Jewett may or may not have admired male writers, but she took women as her influences for her own literary output, beginning with Harriet Beecher Stowe and continuing with the movement of realism among regional female writers in the second half of the 1800s.  By the turn of the century, she herself was influencing other women writers.  Jewett influenced both Edith Wharton and Willa Cather, though Wharton tried very hard to be independent of Jewett.  Cather, on the other hand, compared Jewett's novel The Country of the Pointed Firs favorably with The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn.

The Country of the Pointed Firs combined all the elements previously mentioned, her narrative style, relationships among women, and a country setting.  She repeated this pattern in her short stories "A White Heron" (1881) and "The Foreigner," the main character of which had been the central figure of The Country of the Pointed Firs.  Jewett dealt with issues of the occult and mental telepathy in "The Foreigner," but other themes in this short story include the idea of a non-patriarchal society in which cooperation rather than conflict are key.  Race is also a subtle theme in both "A White Heron" and "The Foreigner."  Bowdoin College conferred on Jewett a Literary Doctorate in 1901.  She was the first woman to achieve this honor.  She died of a stroke eight years later in the house she was born.

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