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The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) is Sarah Orne Jewett's most popular book. In its elegantly constructed sketches, a worldly, anonymous writer spends the summer in a tiny Maine fishing village where she hopes to find peace and solitude. As she gains the acceptance and trust of her hosts, the community's power and complexity are slowly revealed. While its episodes portray the difficulty and loneliness of rural life, they also display its dignity and strength, particularly as expressed in the bonds between women: mothers, daughters, and friends.
This centennial edition contains a facsimile of the original text, thereby restoring the novel to Jewett's own version, which had been considerably altered in other published versions, plus four related stories. Further enhancing the importance of this volume is editor Sarah Way Sherman's introduction, which includes a sketch of Jewett's life and professional development, a commentary on textual accuracy, and a discussion of the book's themes and techiques as well as its historical context.
|Introduction: The Country of the Pointed Firs: History and Utopia|
|A Note on the Texts|
|The Country of the Pointed Firs||5|
|A White Heron||103|
|The King of Folly Island||128|
|The Courting of Sister Wisby||149|
|Miss Peck's Promotion||162|
|The Guests of Mrs. Timms||180|
|The Queen's Twin||194|
1. The Country of the Pointed Firs is not so much a novel as small episodes strung together. What do you think Jewett was trying to accomplish using this loose structure? What is she saying about New England country life?
2. Consider the narrator's view of the "quaint" village people in the beginning of the novel compared to her view as she leaves Dunnet Landing. How and when did her worldly view change of the small village and villagers?
3. Some critics argue Jewett was simply romanticizing the idealization of the simple life. However, take into account Mrs. Todd's herb gathering, Captain Littlepage's "quirks, " and the narrator's friendship with the inhabitants of Dunnet Landing. Do you feel the core of this novel is romantic, or humanistic and even religious?
4. The work heavily relies on four symbolic contrasts-the funeral, the sea, the outer islands, and the song sparrows. How do these four symbols work and contrast with each other? Are they relaying the theme of the novel, and if so, what exactly is that theme?
5. Consider Captain Littlepage's "spells, " William's inability to function in society, and Joanna's self-exile to Shell-heap Island. Is Jewett commenting on what small town life can do to a person's mind, or is she simply romanticizing life on the sea?
6. Consider the narrator's reaction to Mrs. Todd's tale of Joanna. Do you feel the narrator relates to Joanna, or is she just simply sympathetic to the shunted woman?
7. In Jewett's time, alternative medicine was vehemently looked down upon while many women such as midwives were persecuted for their practices. Yet, Mrs. Toddworks alongside the village doctor, and even prescribes pennyroyal (a known abortive). Is Jewett trying to give respectability to a dying practice, or is she satirizing a "country practice"?
8. The Country of the Pointed Firs is often branded as local-color literature. Do you feel Jewett was nostalgically writing about her beloved Maine, or was she trying to contrast New England with the rest of America and connect the "good old days" with the more fast-paced, industrial America growing around her?
9. In what ways does Jewett defy the prevailing nineteenth-century gender relations, namely the separation of women's and men's lives and women's sphere in the home and public? In what ways does she embrace those views?
Posted May 15, 2010
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