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The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction, by Sarah Orne Jewett, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest....
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction, by Sarah Orne Jewett, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
Even the title of Sarah Orne Jewett’s most celebrated work seems to revel in the love of landscape and language that flows through it. Though nominally a novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs lacks the coherent, unifying plot of more traditional books. Instead, Jewett creates a mosaic of tales and character sketches, all set in the fictional Maine fishing hamlet of Dunnet Landing. The unnamed narrator, an unmarried female writer (like Jewett herself), has come to the town seeking a summer of solitude and work. But she’s drawn to the villagers she meets. Most of them are over sixty, alone, and covering a roiling inner ocean of feeling with a craggy exterior as rocky as the ragged coastline. Entranced by their stories, she allows them to enter her life.
When the book first appeared, Willa Cather prophesied that the "young students of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say 'a masterpiece.’” Now, more than a century later, Cather’s words resonate more urgently than ever.
This edition also includes "A White Heron,” "A Winter Courtship,” "A Native of Winby,” and several other of Jewett’s cogent short stories.
Ted Olson is Associate Professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the author of Blue Ridge Folklife (University Press of Mississippi, 1998).
From Ted Olson’s Introduction to The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction
Jewett’s representation of Maine in her fictional works does not fully reflect that she was well aware her childhood home place had been dramatically changed by economic and social forces wrought by the postCivil War prosperity. By the late 1870s, while Jewett was gaining national attention through her publications, South Berwick was, as the author stated in a letter, "growing and flourishing in a way that breaks my heart” (Blanchard, Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work, p. 43). The changes in South Berwick were the result of several factors: the reduced role of the sea-related trades in a rapidly industrializing nation; dramatic postwar population growth in the United States, which led to a rise in tourism and second-home development along the Maine coast; the construction of new houses that were architecturally incompatible with the town’s older buildings; and the cutting down of trees and the plowing up of fields to accommodate that growth. In 1894, Jewett looked back on the changes in Maine since the Civil War, and lamented that
tradition and time-honored custom were to be swept away together by the irresistible current. Character and architecture seemed to lose individuality and distinction. The new riches of the country were seldom very well spent in those days; the money that the tourist or summer citizen left behind him was apt to be used to sweep away the quaint houses, the roadside thicket, the shady woodland, that had lured him first. . . . It will remain for later generations to make amends for the sad use of riches after the war, for our injury of what we inherited, for the irreparable loss of certain ancient buildings which would have been twice as interesting in the next century as we are just beginning to be wise enough to think them in this (quoted in Blanchard, p. 82).
That in her fiction Jewett tended to overlook—and to condemn in her letters and diaries—this "progress” suggests that the author possessed a powerful psychological connection to her own childhood—manifested in her fascination with preindustrial Maine and its traditional culture. According to biographer Paula Blanchard, Jewett retained her sense of wonder well into her adulthood:
The sense of seeing everyone and everything with a fresh eye, the playfulness, the absolute honesty and lack of pretense that we associate with the characteristic Jewett style, all belong to her childhood self and are typical of the voice heard in the earliest available letters and diaries. Simplicity is the very essence of the Jewett persona; and while she matured intellectually and deepened emotionally in the normal course of events, her ability always to remain surprised by the world around her was inseparable from her ability to re-create it (Blanchard, p. 45).
One possible biographical explanation for Jewett’s idealization of her childhood world during her early adulthood is that her beloved father was ill through much of the 1870s (he died in 1878). In all probability, her memory of her father was integrally associated with the less chaotic (if economically marginal) prewar era when "poor but proud” rural Maine folk—from her romanticized perspective—maintained a hardscrabble yet affirming existence in an ongoing communion with the land and with the sea. Such an attitude, of course, reflected the literary and philosophical influence of early-nineteenth-century English Romantics as reinterpreted by mid-nineteenth-century New England Transcendentalists. Certainly, some of Jewett’s work (most memorably in The Country of the Pointed Firs) evinces a mystical bond between humans and nature—a bond that Jewett herself deeply felt.
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