The Sunday Salon: Sarah Orne Jewett

The Sunday
Good morning Salonsters and other visitors. It's rainy and very green here in Portland this morning; what's it like in your part of the world?

I needed a little break from genocide (Half of a Yellow Sun) and the end of humanity (The World Without Us), so from the bookshelf I chose a beautifully illustrated edition of Sarah Orne Jewett's novella, The Country of the Pointed Firs.

I was first introduced to Jewett's writing in college - "Miss Tempy's Watchers," a short story about members of the community sitting vigil with Miss Tempy's recently deceased body, as was the custom. I remember such gentleness and respect in the story, and I've wanted to read more of her work ever since.

Sarah Orne Jewett was a contemporary of Mark Twain, Willa Cather and Harriet Beecher Stowe. She lived in Maine and set most of her stories there, detailing the characters and customs unique to New England seaport towns. She started writing at an early age and was first published before the age of 20. She wrote poetry and children's stories and published a number of short stories. The Country of the Pointed Firs is arguably her best published work.

It's a quiet little novella told from the point of view of a visitor to the village of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Large scale shipping is changing the culture of the region, as Captain Littlepage laments:
...a community narrows down and grows dreadful ignorant when it is shut up to its own affairs, and gets no knowledge of the outside world except from a cheap, unprincipled newspaper. In the old days, a good part o' the best men here knew a hundred ports and something of the way folks lived in them. They saw the world for themselves, and like's not their wives and children saw it with them. They may not have had the best of knowledge to carry with 'em sight-seein', but they were some acquainted with foreign lands and their laws, an' could see outside the battle for town clerk here in Dunnet; they got some sense o' proportion. Shipping's a terrible loss to this part o' New England from a social point o' view, ma'am.

I hadn't realized that the families of whalers and fishermen often accompanied them on their journeys. As our narrator is becoming acquainted with Mrs. Fosdick, she says,
I soon discovered that she, like many of the elder women of that coast, had spent a part of her life at sea, and was full of a good traveler's curiosity and enlightenment.

I'll finish up this lovely story this morning and get back to Biafra this evening.

Those of you curious about my ability to stay away from the rest of Unaccustomed Earth, I was successful. However, I didn't make much progress with my Early Review books. I've been anxiously waiting to read Half of a Yellow Sun for more than a year; even though it's a difficult read because of the subject matter (civil war and genocide in Nigeria/Biafra) it is a stunning book and I got engrossed in it right away. I still have most of Lahiri's book to look forward to, and that's not a bad thing.


I'm having carpal tunnel surgery on BOTH hands Wednesday, so I don't know if I'll make a Sunday Salon appearance next week. I may not be able to keyboard for awhile. I will, however, be able to read. A LOT since I'll be taking some time off work to recuperate; and I won't be able to drive or do much in the way of house chores or gardening. So I'm lining up some books from the TBR pile.

Enjoy your week!


Irish said...

Is there a source in that book about families traveling on whaling ships? I grew up near an old whaling town (new bedford, ma) and I don't recall am just wondering if my memory is faulty and if I should revisit the Whaling Museum. To my recall, women were rarely allowed on boats (even to this day they aren't very welcome on working vessels, at least for the fishermen I know). Women can do many things but they can sometimes be a hindrance on a big boat like that.

Good luck with your thoughts and prayers will be with you. Rest up lots and don't push things. My mom had surgery on her wrist a few years go. She was forced to slow down and relay on others to drive her places and such...she hated it but when she tried to push the healing process it just too longer for she'd aggravate things. So focus on your books...let the weeds grow for a bit...and we'll all still be here for when you can type again. =)

Wendy said...

Terri: I ADORED this novella when I read it...and I'm totally jealous of your illustrated copy! Where did you get it? I've been so out of the loop lately - didn't realize you were going to have surgery! I will be thinking of you on Wednesday *hugs*

Terri said...

Thanks Irish and Wendy. I plan to take all the time I need to recoup!

Irish -- I don't see any sources in the book; it surprised me too, I just didn't imagine women and children took those trips. I'll have to do a little research.

Wendy, it's a library book. But I'm keeping my eyes open for a copy of this edition. It really is gorgeous. My photos don't do it justice.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about the surgery, of course, but catching up on some reading ought to be good. I hope the surgery goes well and you put a dent in that list.

Also wanted to let you know loved the graphic of the hand added in to your post. That's originally what caught my eye when scrolling through posts on Google Reader.

Marie said...

Terri, just wanted to let you know you won the giveaway on my blog for "When We Get to Surf City" by Bob Greene. The correct answer was Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai but you guessed Waikiki and that was the closest. If you email me your address I'll send it right out! You can reach me at bibliophile AT bostonbibliophile DOT com. Congrats!

Jill said...

What beautiful illustrations! It's a shame more books aren't illustrated - that certainly add an interesting dimension to the story. I think that was one of the draws (no pun intended) of The Book Thief to me - it had artwork with a great story.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery on those hands!


Julie said...

I read Country of the Pointed Firs in college, and loved it. That's one I'd like to take another look at some day. Best of luck with your surgery!

Andi said...

First, good luck with your carpal tunnel surgery! I hope it's not too tough on you. I've been trying to get my mom to have the surgery since she has to get cortizone (sp?) shots once every six months as it is now.

As for Jewett, I need to read more of her work. I first read one of her short stories in an undergraduate American Lit survey course, and I haven't picked up anything since! Shame on me.

Fay Sheco said...

Half of a Yellow Sun is in my stack, but I keep putting it off. Listening to Adichie being interviewed on BBC radio recently moved the book up higher in priority. I imagine she has a beautiful authorial voice. It was a pleasure to listen to her talk about writing. However, the subject of the book sounds grueling.

Hope to see you back here soon after your recovery from the surgery.

My Journey Through Reading... said...

Terri, good luck with your surgery on Wednesday. I hope everything goes well. Be sure to listen to your doctors and get plenty of rest.

SmallWorld Reads said...

I've got about 50 pages left to read in Unaccustomed Earth tonight. I am loving it sooooo much!

Best wishes on your surgery!

anubis2 said...

I love sarah orne Jewett. I don't live very far from her historical house in southern Maine.

Sorry about your surgery that sucks but if you are looking for a great read try "Keeper of the Souls" You can get it interlibrary loan from the Kennebunk library in Maine. Instead of me describing it check out the website

anubis2 said...

the website is