The Country of the Pointed Firs

First published in 1896, The Country of the Pointed Firs was considered by Willa Cather to be one of the three novels most likely to achieve a permanent place in the canon of American literature: “I can think of no others that confront time and change so serenely… The young student of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say ‘a masterpiece!'” Long neglected and even ignored by criticism, this enduring classic by Sarah Orne Jewett now appears in a format worthy of its contents.

Set in the small coastal town of South Berwick, Maine, this is as much a series of small, intimate sketches as a sustained narrative. As Fiction. O. Matthiessen pointed out, “in these loosely connected sketches, she has acquired a structure independent of plot. Her scaffolding is simply the unity of her vision.” Her vision was of a gentle and generous people on a rugged and dangerous coast, of New England character and “characters” limned in colors of high summer and blue skies. Here, too, you will meet the people of Dunnet’s landing; the women, who are probably the most unforgettable characters of her book; and Elijah Tilley (among the very few men in Jewett’s cast) who, after the death of his wife, learns the skills of husband and wife, of farm and sea. The black-and-white pencil drawings by Douglas Alvord are nothing short of spectacular. Closely observed and carefully rendered, they possess all of the haunting serenity of Jewett’s landscapes. Faithfully reproduced and printed to the highest standards, this is destined to become a standard gift and reading book for everyone fascinated by New England, the rich history of its rockbound coast, and this magical author.

Sarah Orne Jewett, in full Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett   (born Sept. 3, 1849, South Berwick, Maine, U.S.—died June 24, 1909, South Berwick), American writer of regional fiction that centred 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), andThe 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-colour 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).

Douglas Alvord is a Maine artist specializing in ships and other marine themes. His works are on permanent display in the Maine Maritime Museum.