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Sarah Orne Jewett  

Sarah Orne Jewett was one of the best ""local color" writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her stories about the people of Maine are classics, the state where she was born and lived until death.
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Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)

 

Brief Biography

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine in 1849 to a socially prominant family.  Her father was a country doctor who had a florishing practice.  Jewett deeply loved her parents and often accompanied her father on his medical rounds to the small, Maine coast towns where his patients lived.  She would grow to love the people, the rocky Maine coastline with trees growing to the coastline and to the sounds of the surf crashing against the rocks.

As a child, Jewett sufferred from rheumatoid arthritis, but she managed to attend and graduate from an elite school in 1865.  She considered her trips with her father to visit his patients as her real education.  She also learned a great deal about the Maine people by the many visitors her parents entertained at their home. Her grandfather owned a country store and Jewett would spend hours there listening to the customers and observing how they behaved.  Her gifts of keen observation and careful listening would be of value when she became an author.

Jewett was conscious of the changes brought to Maine by the end of the Civil War.  Her little town became a commercial center.  While not rejecting the past, Jewett was ambivalent about the changes and sought, through her writings, to preserve  the good things about the past--and the towns that were disappearing.  She decided not to marry and left her church for an Episcopal one.  Over the years she would cultivate close friendships with women--these friendships, especially one were a boon to her creative energies.   She was not a recluse, often visiting family and friends in Maine and Massachuttes and traveling to Canada and the western United States.

Jewett's first story was published in the "Atlantic Monthly" in 1868 when she was only 19.   Well known writers such as William Dean Howells encourgaed her to collect her short pieces.  She wisley took the advice and published "Deephaven" in 1877 and "A White Heron and Other Stories" in 1886.  Jewett was interested in traditon and community.  However she was also keen on showing how her characters could learn from experience through travel and making close human connections.  Her father died in 1878 and Jewett memorialized him her "A Country Doctor" published in 1884.

In 1881 Jewett began a long term, intimate friendship with Annie Adams Fields, the widow of a well known publisher.  The two were life-long friends and would divide their time between Mrs. Field's home in Boston and Jewett's home in Maine.   The deep friendship, not uncommon among women in the 19th century, enriched Jewett's writing and creative powers.  Jewett lived at a time when women were able to support themselves by writing.  During the years of the 1880's and 90's Jewett wrote some of her best work, including "The Country of the Pointed Firs" a novel considered her masterpiece.   She was a tireless worker and in the 1890's, encouraged by Mrs. Field and the positive reception of her stories by critics and the public, she published a collection of short stories or novel almost every year.   Her rich characterization of Maine small town residents and her loving description of  the Maine coastline were always appreciated and make her "local color" stories enjoyable reading even today.

Jewett was generous with her encouragement to other writers, most notably to Willa Cather, who dedicated her 1913 novel "O Pioneers!" to her.

In 1902 Jewett  was hurt in a carriage accident.  She never fully recovered from this accident.  Mrs. Field was devoted to her and helped her but it was difficult to write, eventhough she tried to do so in constant pain.  In 1909 Sarah Orne Jewett died in her family home of a massive stroke.  She was 60 years old.

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