Friday, July 27, 2018

“When one really knows a village”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

That’s the opening paragraph. You can find a copy of the 1896 edition at Later editions have additional stories. I read this novel in a 1991 David R. Godine paperback and ended up ordering the Library of America volume of Jewett’s work. The Country of the Pointed Firs is that good.

Thanks to Pete Lit, whose post about the novel mentioned Willa Cather’s high praise of it. In a preface to a 1925 edition of Jewett’s fiction, Cather named The Scarlet Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs as “three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life”:

I like to think with what pleasure, with what a sense of rich discovery, the young student of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say, “A masterpiece!”
Yes, a masterpiece.

comments: 2

Pete said...

Thanks for the nod, Michael. It recently occurred to me that the book is sort of a cross between Winesburg, Ohio and J.M. Synge’s The Aran Islands. (The latter is non-fiction and can be found on Project Gutenberg.) It’s a shame Jewett isnt better known, but it’s not surprising - other than Stowe and Alcott, the American literary canon wasn’t terribly welcoming to women until after Jewett’s time.

Michael Leddy said...

I don’t know the Synge — maybe I’ll read that too. Yes, the episodic feeling is something like Winesburg, Ohio. It’s interesting to me how Jewett’s narrator is in the stories while being utterly anonymous. My mother wondered: how old is she supposed to be? No idea! Nor does she have a name.