Saturday, September 3, 2011

Author Birthday: Sarah Orne Jewett

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849) (books by this author). She was born in South Berwick, Maine, and she died there, too, 60 years later. She was deeply rooted in the region and its people. "My local attachments," she wrote, "are stronger than any cat's that ever mewed."

Her father was an obstetrician, and he often took her with him on his house calls; they would talk about the land and the sea on the way, and she would talk for hours with his patients and their families. She originally wanted to be a doctor herself, but she was in poor health, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. She read voraciously when she wasn't out with her father. She attended the Berwick Academy and graduated when she was 16, but she considered her true teachers the fishermen and farmers and their wives, and they were her subjects when she began writing stories as a girl. She published her first story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers," in Flag of Our Union when she was 18. Later, some of her sketches of the fictional New England town of Deephaven were published in Atlantic Monthly, and eventually collected into a novel, also called Deephaven (1877).

She never married, but she had a very close relationship with writer Annie Fields and her husband, Atlantic Monthly publisher James Field. After James died, Sarah and Annie traveled together extensively, and lived together in Boston for a large part of every year. Her strong regional writing would inspire Willa Cather, who called Jewett's novella The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) an American classic on the level of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter. Cather dedicated O Pioneers! (1913) to Jewett.

Jewett was injured in a carriage accident on her birthday in 1902, which put an end to her writing career. She was paralyzed by a stroke in 1909, and died a few months later.

The Art of the Novella Challenge may be over, but The Country of Pointed Firs is loaded on my iPad. I missed traveling to Maine this summer, and hope the combination of this novella with Thomas' vacation photos will prove to be the next best thing.


  1. I haven't read enough of her, and I should. I have become interested in Annie Field, though ... she was a very interesting woman.

  2. I like it when you highlight authors that I have not heard of..helps broaden my reading horizons.

  3. Oh, it has been a long time! Must revisit The Country of the Pointed Firs. Thank you.

  4. Audrey - I know next to nothing about Annie Field... time to investigate.

    Staci - Glad you like these! Writers often have such interesting stories behind them.

    DS - It's taking time to adjust to reading on the iPad . The download was free, but I still may end up with a print copy.

  5. The biography I read of her was wonderful, JoAnn.

  6. I know Jewett's work but not so much about Annie Field -- I'm with JoAnn, time to fill in the gaps.

  7. I know she's an important American writer but I never love her stories as much as I want to. :-(

  8. Great post Joanne, I didn't know much about Jewett's life. I love that she was from Maine and rooted there.

  9. Nan - Thank you! I'm about ready to go on a writer biography binge. The Richard Yates bio I read last spring is easily one of my favorites of the year. Edith Wharton is next.

    Beth F - And it's a pretty large gap when it comes to Annie Fields...

    Kristen - I've only read a couple, so we'll see how it goes for me. I really want to love her work.

    Amy - I think Maine is a big draw for me, too. I don't like reading on the iPad for very long, so I may get a print copy of this one.


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