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“You must throw everything and everybody aside at times,” advised this author who was born in 1849 in Berwyn, Maine.
Although she became a lively participant in the invigorating Boston literary scene, Sarah Jewett’s own writing focused on the colorful natural surroundings and people in and around Berwyn. Of frail health as a child, she was largely self-educated, though she did graduate from Berwyn Academy. Jewett often accompanied her ever-instructive physician father on his rounds by horse. His family had arrived with the Bay Colony settlers in the 1630s. She adored her father and was devastated by his death in 1878. Her stories continued what he taught her in their travels visiting patients. Her mother’s father, also a physician, was an esteemed surgeon who practiced in the surrounding seaside towns and farmlands.
Jewett’s writing career began in earnest when the Atlantic Monthly published her story, “The Shore House.” Deephaven (1877), the first of her almost annual twenty books, presented her distinctive tales of country people. Her novel, A Country Doctor (1884), portrayed her father. What is known as her masterpiece is The Country of the Pointed Firs (1876). A volume of her Verses was published posthumously in 1916.
Her writing was praised by no less than Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Russell Lowell. Indeed, in 1901 Bowdoin College awarded her an Litt.D. degree, the first such honor awarded to a woman. In 1902, the carriage in which Jewett was riding was wrecked when the horse slipped. Her writing career ended. She died, after a stroke, at the age of sixty in the handsome, still-standing house where she was born in Berwyn.
In 1911 the Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett were edited by Annie Adams Fields, the wife of the publisher, James T. Fields. Their Boston home at 148 Charles Street was a strong social center of the New England literary elite. Jewett was a prominent member and a dear friend of Mrs. Fields. Indeed, when Mr. Fields died, the two women united in a “Boston marriage.” They lived together for several months each year in Boston, and they often traveled abroad. An essay by Josephine Donovan—now available online—helps to reveal their relationship: “The Unpublished Love Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett.”