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A White Heron

Reviews of A White Heron

From The Critic 6 (October 9, 1886) p. 172.

     The story which gives the title 'A White Heron' to Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's new book (Houghton Mifflin & Co.) reminds one curiously, in its grace and refinement, its beauty of rhythm and its poetic subject, of Mrs. Browning's little Ellie with her 'swan's nest among the reeds;' and the fact that the climax is quite different from little Ellie's, only adds to the charm of it. Miss Jewett has always written well, but she is beginning to write better. Her work shows quiet, conscientious growth; she is beginning to interfuse her descriptive work with a warm human glow of emotion, to mingle strong feeling with calm expression of its results. 'The White Heron' is not a realistic story; but if it gives us a higher standard even in such minor matters as not betraying a bird's secret, let us remember Vernon Lee's ideal of fiction as that which artificially increases those moments of life when our meaner part is in abeyance, our better in the ascendancy. Miss Jewett's earlier work was a little cold, and to some of us a little dull at times; but there is nothing cold about 'The White Heron,' though it is gratefully cool in its quiet purity. And if there is nothing cold in 'The White Heron,' there is certainly nothing dull in the 'The Dulham Ladies,' except the first syllable of the town in which they lived; for this second sketch is full of a gentle humor that may not make you burst into hilarious laughter when you read it, but it will keep you smiling half a day. Altogether this new book is very far the best of Miss Jewett's work; and it is a pleasure to see it enshrined between Mrs. Whitman's dainty covers.

From "Recent Fiction," Overland Monthly 8 (October 1886), pp. 439-441.

     . . . . and A White Heron, a collection of Miss Jewett's latest stories, the first of which gives the title to the book.

     Of Miss Jewett's stories little can ever be said, except to remark afresh on their beauty, their straightforward simplicity, and above all, their loving truth to the life of rural New England not merely in its external aspects, but in its very heart and spirit. It needs only to compare such a bit of outside observation as Mr. Howells's picture of Lydia Blood's home with the studies of the same sort of people from the more intimate and sympathetic standpoint of Miss Jewett's stories, to realize how great is the mere historic importance, apart from the purely humane or artistic value, of these stories, and the little "school" of which they, with Rose Terry Cooke's, stand at the head. They constitute the only record for the future of the real motive and temper of life among the latest (and possibly the last) distinct representatives of the English Puritan colonization of New England; as well as very nearly the only one, in any detail, of its manners and customs. In view of the current misconceptions of the Puritan temper, which threaten to fasten themselves upon history, such authentic records of its rugged kindliness, its intensity of personal affections, its capacity for liberality, are invaluable. Nor can one doubt that these bona fide Yankees, yet lingering among the remote farms, are the true descendants in character as well as in blood of the original colonists, if he will compare them with George Eliot's studies of the farmer folk from among whom they came. The community of essential character, modified by two hundred years of greater independence, more liberal thought, and harder effort is unmistakable. A White Heron contains two or three stories that are among Miss Jewett's best; the average of the collection is scarcely equal, we think, to previous ones. The first story, "A White Heron," however, is perfect in its way - a tiny classic. One little episode of child-life, among birds and woods makes it up; and the secret soul of a child, the appeal of the bird to its instinctive honor and tenderness, never were interpreted with more beauty and insight. A paragraph or two will give the heart of the little picture cut from its frame, and perhaps, like the shells that "had left their beauty on the shore with the sun and the sand and the wild uproar," almost spoiled thereby:

     Sylvia's face was like a pale star, if one had seen it from the ground, when the last thorny bough was past, and she stood trembling and tired but wholly triumphant, high in the tree-top. Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions. How low they looked in the air from that height when before one had only seen them far up, and dark against the blue sky. Their gray feathers were as soft as moths; they seemed only a little way from the tree, and Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds. Westward, the woodlands and farms reached miles and miles into the distance; here and there were church steeples, and white villages; truly it was a vast and awesome world.

     The birds sang louder and louder. At last the sun came up bewilderingly bright. Sylvia could see the white sails of ships out at sea, and the clouds that were purple and rose-colored and yellow at first began to fade away. Where was the white heron's nest in the sea of green branches, and was this wonderful sight and pageant of the world the only reward for having climbed to such a giddy height? Now look down again, Sylvia, where the green marsh is set among the shining birches and dark hemlocks; there where you saw the white heron once you will see him again; look, look! a white spot of him like a single floating feather comes up from the dead hemlock and grows larger, and rises, and comes close at last, and goes by the landmark pine with steady sweep of wing and outstretched slender neck and crested head. And wait! wait! do not move a foot or a finger, little girl, do not send an arrow of light and consciousness from your two eager eyes, for the heron has perched on a pine bough not far beyond yours, and cries back to his mate on the nest, and plumes his feathers for the new day!

     *     *     *     *     *     *
     The grandmother and the sportsman stand in the door together and question her, and the splendid moment has come to speak of the dead hemlock-tree by the green marsh.

     But Sylvia does not speak after all, though the old grandmother fretfully rebukes her, and the young man's kind, appealing eyes are looking straight in her own. He can make them rich with money; he has promised it, and they are poor now. He is so well worth making happy, and he waits to hear the story she can tell.

     No, she must keep silence! What is it that suddenly forbids her and makes her dumb? Has she been nine years growing, and now, when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for a bird's sake? The murmur of the pine's green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

     Dear loyalty, that suffered a sharp pang as the guest went away disappointed later in the day, that could have served and followed him and loved him as a dog loves! Many a night Sylvia heard the echo of his whistle haunting the pasture path as she came home with the loitering cow. She forgot even her sorrow at the sharp report of his gun and the piteous sight of thrushes and sparrows dropping silent to the ground, their songs hushed and their pretty feathers stained and wet with blood. Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been, -- who can tell?

From "Books of the Month," Atlantic Monthly (November 1886) p. 719

Miss Jewett has collected her recent short stories into a pretty little volume, A White Heron and Other Stories. (Houghton.) Our readers will find some of their favorites, together with two new stories which have not before been printed.

From the Cottage Hearth 12 (November 1886) p. 368.

     A WHITE HERON, and Other Stories, by Sarah Orne Jewett. Price $1.25. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., Boston. Deephaven, same author and publishers, Riverside Pocket edition, 50 cents.

     It goes without saying that Mrs. Jewett's work now needs no introduction to the reading public. Drawn with rapid but careful touch, every pen-picture she gives us is a new pleasure. In her last volume "A White Heron," which comes to us daintily bound in white and gilt with green cloth back, there is found the same fresh interest in humble life which charmed us in her earlier work; the same unadorned, pure English style; the same quiet adherence to simple truth in the presentation of her scenes and characters. To feel the charm of this lady's writings, one should read a few pages in any of the showy novels of the day, and then turn quickly to one of these gentle talks. There is a certain unmistakable ladyhood in the author's tone and manner which alike rests and delights after the morbid atmosphere and raised voice, too common in even our better class of fiction. The White Heron, the first of the essays is this new volume, is full of exquisite bits of narration and description, especially that of the little girl driving her charge home from pasture, "the cow taking slow steps and the child very fast ones." The motif of the sketch, slight as it appears, is one of such fragile beauty, tenderness and pathos as only Miss Jewett could have given us. "Deephaven" is added to the fast increasing number of sterling books in cheap form. This volume is finely printed and bound in flexible, dull green cloth.

From "Short Stories," The Literary World 17 (Nov 13, 1886) 388.

     In its pearl-gray covers across which the heron is flying, its green back and gilt top, this little volume presents a dainty and refined exterior, symbolic of the first sketch that gives the title. "A White Heron" is the purest and tenderest, the most idyllic of all Miss Jewett's productions, and reveals her to us in the use of imaginative and creative powers which give promise of rare work in the future. Here, more than in anything previously written, we recognize the fine instinct and touch of the artist; hitherto she has made common life beautiful and poetic, but this is a bit wholly apart, ideal, a lovely fancy with a human meaning. "The Gray Man" is "after Hawthorne," and a new experiment with the author. The others of the collection are "Farmer Finch," reprinted from Harper's Magazine; that fine study of two homely lives, "Marsh Rosemary;" the character drawing, also in her best manner, of "The Dulham Ladies;" "A Business Man;" "Mary and Martha;" "The News from Petersham;" and that unique venture which shows another side of her genius, "The Two Browns" - a choice little list, with representative samples of a varied work which is always as conscientiously as it is charmingly done.

From Nation 43 (30 December 1886) p. 548.

     In Miss Jewett's 'White Heron' there is no breath of romanticism or taint of literary sentimentality. Her stories are word paintings of New England landscape, enlivened by a few characters indigenous to the soil. They are more remarkable as specimens of excellent workmanship than as the expression of creative ability or of fine idea. If throughout a tendency towards puritanically moral instructiveness be observable, it does not seem to be premeditated, but rather an unconscious manifestation of the author's individuality. The last story, "The Two Browns," has no sort of resemblance in scene or incident to its companion sketches. The attraction which its meaningless complication may have had for the author is not shared by the reader, and the enigma of its reason of existence is undecipherable.


From Catholic World 44 (December 1886) pp. 413-4.

     Miss Sarah Orne Jewett is another New-Englander of the "Quietist" school. She has something of the tone of the charming Miss Mitford, whose Our Village and Belford Regis are classics. Her latest book is The White Heron, and Other Stories (Houghton, Mifflin & Co.) "Marsh Rosemary" is the most carefully written of the sketches that make up the book. It is on the same line as Tennyson's "Enoch Arden." An old maid marries a young and lazy man. After a time he disappears; she mourns in silence, forgetting his bad qualities and glorifying his good ones . Suddenly, after a lapse of time, Mrs. Elton, a village gossip, brings news of the man whom Ann Floyd had believed to be dead:

     "Ann was stitching busily upon the deacon's new coat, and looked up with a friendly smile as her guest came in, in spite of an instinctive shrug as she had seen her coming up the yard. The dislike of the poor souls for each other was deeper than their philosophy could reach."

     It is remarkable that in most of these New England stories in which the life of the people is depicted with fidelity, religion assumes a hard and repellant aspect. The deacons, the farmers, the seamstresses -- who seem to answer in social position to Miss Mitford's poor English gentlewoman -- and even the minister, are in their professionally religious capacity unforgiving and obstinate. Ann, in "Marsh Rosemary," in her trouble is all the more pathetic because religion has no consolations for her. She finds that her husband has "married" another woman. She comes suddenly, unobserved, upon a domestic scene made up of the faithless Jerry, his wife, and the baby. She is pleased to hear that Jerry, who, the neighbors predicted, could come to no good, is thrifty and industrious; but then the sense of her woe and his treachery enters her heart:

     "The other woman stood there looking at them, full of pride and love. She was young and trig and neat. She looked a brisk, efficient little creature. Perhaps Jerry would make something of himself now; he always had it in him. The tears were running down Ann's cheeks; the rain, too, had begun to fall. She stood there watching the little household sit down to supper, and noticed with eager envy how well cooked the food was and how hungrily the master of the house ate what was put before him. All thoughts of ending the new wife's sin and folly vanished away. She could not enter in and break another heart; hers was broken already, and it would not matter."

     Now, Ann -- or Nancy, as Miss Jewett prefers to call her -- was a religious woman, according to her Congregational lights; but in this crisis, when it was a question of solving a social problem which she had no right to solve in a sentimental way, her religion offered her neither consolation nor direction. Jerry, evidently a bad and heartless man, was left to his sin, and his innocent partner to the consequence of it. He might desert his new wife as he had deserted his old one. But Nancy, who paid out of her scanty earnings her portion of the minister's salary and never missed meeting, takes no thought of her responsibility as accessory to her husband's crime. Miss Jewett's sketches are slight but artistic, and so true to life that, like Miss Terry Cook's Sphynx's Children, they have worth as material for the study of New England life. Gogol and Tolstoi, and others of the Russian novelists now so greatly in vogue, have this merit of fidelity. And in St. John's Eve, by Gogol (New York: Crowell & Co.), we find a clue to the present position of Russia among novels. In fact, novels are to-day doing what we formerly expected history to do -- telling us the truth; we gain more knowledge of the character of the Russian people from the Russian realists than from all the cumbrous historical essays on the Cossacks and Peter the Great yet written.

From Godey's Lady's Book 113 (December 1886) 593.

     A most dainty volume containing nine tales which have all appeared heretofore in magazines. The author's [authors] exquisite taste is shown in these stories where the interest is maintained without any strain upon the imagination.

From The Harvard Monthly 3 (1886-7) 125

A White Heron and Other Stories. S. O. Jewett. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
Whoever has read Deephaven must turn with interest to any new book by Miss Jewett. Though volumes of short stories have come rapidly from her hand, still they are never disappointing. The stories may vary in power and strength, but the reader always finds in them the same delicacy of treatment and of thought, the same dainty humor which have made Deephaven a "classic." In her last volume of stories, A White Heron, Miss Jewett is seen in all her different moods. In it, too, are all the beauties which her readers have come to expect in her work. Two of the sketches, The Gray Man, and A Business Man are especially noteworthy. The first by its fantastic character reminds the reader of some of Hawthorne's short stories. A Business Man we would place among the best of Miss Jewett's stories, so delicate and beautiful is the drawing of the rich old man, lonely in the midst of his busy, fashionable children. G. P. B. [G. P. Baker, Jr., Editor in Chief].

From Harper's Magazine 74 (Feb. 1887) p. 483

     A gentler pathos, a pensiveness lit with the humor which is absent from Mrs. Wyman's work [Poverty Grass by Mrs. Lillie Chase Wyman, mentioned earlier in the review essay], breathes from Miss Jewett's latest book. A White Heron and Other Stories is not the volume which we would praise as showing the author at her best, and yet some of the pieces could hardly be better. One may say that certain of them are slight and tame to the point of fragility and the temper of the cosset, but others are exquisitely good. "The Dulham Ladies," whose final and most thrilling adventure is buying two frizzes of a deceiving French hair-dresser; "Martha and Mary," to whom the god appears in a reconciled cousin with the gift of a sewing machine, are masterpieces of a kind that one would simply like to go on reading forever in that quiet, restful, humorously appreciative style of Miss Jewett. They are as satisfying at once and as appetizing as "Marsh [March] Rosemary," where the material of a much longer tale is wildly flung away in the story of the poor old maid who marries the worthless young sailor, and who makes a long journey to expose him to the second wife after he abandons her, and then seeing their happy home through the window, with its promise of usefulness for the man, returns to her desolation without taking her revenge.

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe college

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A White Heron