Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#24: The Country of Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett

The Country of Pointed Firs
by Sarah Orne Jewett
-born in America, 1849
-158 Pages
-more about Jewett (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Sarah Orne Jewett was born in the small seaport of South Berwick, Maine, where her father was a doctor.
- From an early age she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to attend school on a regular basis.  She supplemented her education with her father's library, which led to a passion for literature and writing.
- Editor William Dean Howells was taken with her work and encouraged her to link her stories into a novel (Deephaven) subsequently published in 1877.
- She never married, but after the death of her close friend (publisher of the Atlantic, James Thomas Fields) she moved in with his widow (writer Annie Fields).  They remained together until Jewett's death, from a stroke in 1909.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
The story of an endearing, unlikely friendship between a writer and her elderly neighbor set against the evocative backdrop of a remote and beautiful coastal town in Maine, The Country of Pointed Firs is generally considered Sarah Orne Jewett's greatest work.

It is also a work of pioneering literary sophistication, a loosely structured series of linked sketches that accumulate in poignancy and power as they depict a dying bit of Americana--the fishing villages of nineteenth-century New England and the gruff and determined people who lived in them.  Their stirring fight against the hardships of isolation, and Jewett's elegantly shaped prose and unblinking perceptiveness, combine to make this, as Henry James called it, "a beautiful little quantum of achievement."

My Impressions:
I simply couldn't rush this book.  I suppose its size classifies it as a novella, but it was so whole and filling to me that it seemed to be so much more.  It is a quiet book--meaning that not much really happens plot-wise, it is more about the characters, the setting, the writing, and contemplating the ideas and themes.  The characters were quite memorable.  I loved the little stories, the histories, and how they all intertwined even while remaining quite individual.  I wanted to know Mrs. Todd with her amazing medicinal herb garden; the sights and smells conjured up from the simple words on the page stirred my heart.
It may not have been only the common ails of humanity with which she tried to cope, it seemed sometimes as if love and hate and jealousy and adverse winds at sea might also find their proper remedies among the curious wild-looking plants in Mrs. Todd's garden.
I grew up in a small, somewhat remote town, (though not compared to Jewett's Dunnet Landing,) and the glimpses into the lives of the older population of the town rang so true to me.  Even as a child I was fascinated to discover the lives held behind the older faces and shocked to find that they could even be quite funny. :)  Captain Littlepage's comments about literature actually made me laugh aloud:
"Shakespeare was a great poet; he copied life, but you have to put up with a great deal of low talk."
This is a peaceful, comforting sort of book, and the writing is beautiful.  I'm going to leave you with a few more quotes:
"Old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of."
"It wasn't all I expected it would be," she said sadly, as many an artist had said before her of his work.
So we always keep the same hearts, though our outer framework fails and shows the touch of time.
"...if she was as far out of town as she was out of tune, she wouldn't get back in a day."
"Folks all kept repeating that time would ease me, but I can't find it does.  No, I miss her just the same every day."


  1. I did not rush this one either. Thought it was lovely and charming even though a bit longer than a novella should be.

  2. It took me a week to read this, and I still haven't finished my review, because I want to stretch it out as long as possible.

  3. Have this waiting on my iPad, but doubt I'll get to it before the end of the month. This challenge will run into the fall for me...

  4. Some books just require a different pace, or even a different mood. I did really enjoy this one...actually ordered another copy from PBSwap so I can give it to a lady in one of my book clubs. :)

  5. I'm so thrilled to see this on your blog! I had never heard of this title until a week or so ago when a Twitter friend mentioned it. I looked into it and wanted to read it ASAP. It's on its way from PaperBack Swap, so hopefully I'll have it soon. I'm going to bookmark this post to re-read after I have read it for myself.

  6. Wallace, I hadn't heard of it either--hopefully the author is getting another surge of recognition. She deserves it! I hope you enjoy it.


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