Sarah Orne Jewett, in full Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, born Sept. 3, 1849, South Berwick, Maine, U.S., is an American writer of regional fiction that centered on life in Maine.
Jewett was often taken by her physician father on visits to the fishermen and farmers of her native Maine, and she developed a deep and abiding love of their way of life and of the sights and sounds of her surroundings. These experiences, and reading in her family’s ample library, formed the bulk of her education. Although she also attended the Berwick Academy, graduating in 1865, she considered her schooling insignificant compared with the learning she gained on her own. During her childhood she began to write of the perishing farms and neglected, shipless harbours around her. She published her first story, “Jenny Garrow’s Lovers,” in the Flag of Our Union in 1868 and followed it with “The Shipwrecked Buttons” in the Riverside Magazine for Young People and “Mr. Bruce” in The Atlantic Monthly in 1869. Her early pieces were signed “Alice Eliot” or “A.C. Eliot.” Numerous later sketches of a New England town, “Deephaven,” that resembled South Berwick, were published in The Atlantic Monthly and were collected in Deephaven (1877), her first book.
There followed many other collections of stories and vignettes, often first published in the Century, Harper’s, or the Atlantic. She wrote three novels—A Country Doctor (1884), A Marsh Island (1885), and The Tory Lover (1901)—but sustained narrative was not her forte. She also wrote a number of books for children, including Play Days (1878), Betty Leicester (1889), and Betty Leicester’s English Christmas (1897).
Jewett’s best book, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), like Deephaven, portrayed the isolation and loneliness of a declining seaport town and the unique humour of its people. The sympathetic but unsentimental portrayal of this provincial and rapidly disappearing society made her an important local-color writer, and in this she was a profound influence on Willa Cather. The best of her writing resembled 19th-century French fiction, especially that of Gustave Flaubert, whom she greatly admired, in its naturalism, precision, and compactness. Her writing career ended after a disabling accident in 1902. Her collected poems were published posthumously as Verses (1916)