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The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected…

The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction (1896)

by Sarah Orne Jewett

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Magill Book Review: Deciding to spend the summer at secluded Dunnet Landing in order to work on her writing, the narrator finds the seemingly taciturn villagers only too willing to confide to her the important events in their lives and in the life of the community. The various character sketches establish the sense of place, a connection to nature, and the feeling of loss as story after story reveals a missed or thwarted opportunity.

Source: Novelist/Magill Book Review
  drkitkat | Nov 19, 2007 |
Sarah Orne Jewett published her best known novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, in 1896 - first in a serialized version for the Atlantic Monthly, and later in book form by Houghton Mifflin. It was an instant success. After reading this wonderful novella, I can plainly see why.

The narrator of the story remains unnamed, but through her we are introduced to an endearing cast of characters who reside in the fictional seaside town of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Arriving in early summer, the narrator lodges with the central character - Mrs. Almira Todd - and spends the long, warm days writing and getting to know Dunnet's people and environs. She visits the surrounding islands, attends a joyous family reunion, and has tea with a local fisherman. The story ends with the narrator bidding farewell before boarding a boat bound for her home in London.

Having spent many years on the coast of Maine, I found myself smiling, nodding, and laughing at the accuracy of Jewett's dialog and characterizations.

"There was good singers there; yes, there was excellent singers," she agreed heartily, putting down her teacup, "but I chanced to drift alongside Mis' Peter Bowden o' Great Bay, an' I couldn't help think' if she was as far out o' town as she was out o tune, she wouldn't get back in a day."-From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 99-

"You can never tell beforehand how it's goin' to be, and 't ain't worth while to wear a day all out before it comes." -From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 76-

When the narrator writes:I had suddenly left the forbidding coast and come into a smooth little harbor of friendship (page 102), the reader finds herself nodding in agreement. From Captain Littlepage with his outrageous stories of Arctic travels, to Elijah Tilley pining eight years for his dead wife, to elderly Mrs. Blackett and her daughter, the effervescent herbalist in the guise of Almira Todd - Jewett's characters come to feel like old and dear friends.

Rich with setting, the novel places the reader on the rocky Maine coast with the sting of salt in the air and the dark green firs thrusting into an azure sky. It is a book meant to be read slowly while sipping tea and gently rocking on an old farmhouse porch. When the narrator writes: At last I had to say good-by to all my Dunnet Landing Friends, and my homelike place in the little house... (page 111), the reader will wish the summer were longer.

This is a book that will stay on my bookshelf forever and grow dogeared and ragged from re-reading.

Highly recommended. ( )
  writestuff | Aug 28, 2007 |
Jewett wrote this book as an homage to a by-gone day. Rural coastal Maine. A time after the Civil war. Very descriptive and occassionally insightful it is more than just a period piece or local flavor writing. The seleted writings were not as good. ( )
  JBreedlove | Oct 12, 2006 |
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To Alice Greenwood Howe
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There was something about the coast town of Dunnet which made it seem more attractive than other maritime villages of eastern Maine.
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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:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll 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).… (more)

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