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From San Francisco Bulletin
September 13, 1895.
SARAH JEWETT AT HOME.
She Wrote When But Fourteen.
She Says That She Reads the Waverly Novels Much.
She Does Not Think the Art of Novel Writing Has Improved of Late.
"Miss Sarah Jewett?" repeated the keeper of a little country store at South Berwick, that beautiful old town on the Maine coast. "Everybody for miles around knows Miss Sarah. You keep straight up this street till you've passed two churches," he continued, "then you'll come to 'the block,' and opposite the block is a great brown house. That's Miss Jewett's; you can't miss it, but anybody in the village can tell you."
The great brown house opposite "the block," hidden among ancient trees, shelters one of New England's soundest, sweetest and most wholesome writers, and is in itself of no inconsiderable interest, dating back as it does to the first half of the last century, and standing as one of the best examples of the best of the old colonial architecture.
I have never seen a living place at once so modern and so reminiscent of 1730 or days younger still, says a writer in the Boston Herald. City people who have a passion for the antique hunt a year and a day and rejoice the rest of their lives if they discover at a curio dealer's or in their summer wanderings one such high-backed chair or broad old sofa as those of which the Jewett house is full. Such a sideboard as that in the dining-room, such spindle-legged escritoires, such cabinets holding such a power of china figures, and cups and vases; carvings, and corals and sea shells; minerals and strange things from the South Seas--they could not discover if they bent all their energies to the toil.
New England has few homes like this, and it is a part of her brave old history. There are few such broad, high halls, arched and panelled; few such wide stairways, with carved and polished railings; few such quaint gilded mirrors, and antique portraits and last century bedsteads with white canopies. The old days and the new come together in spirit and blood so harmoniously that time seems to have run on without thought of a break, and the now is just the natural, rightful development of the then.
I wanted to ask Miss Jewett some questions that might have been rude. In "Deephaven" she tells of a particularly interesting carpet in whose great figures Kate Lancaster used to play keep house with her dolls, and if one of them chanced to fall outside the boundary stripe it was immediately put to bed with a cold. I wondered if that were not the carpet in her dining-room. She told me without my asking, and, I hope, because she saw that my interest in the noble house was unfeigned; that the place had belonged to her people for seventy years, and that, before the time of her surgeon father, her seafaring grandfather had brought home many of the curios. Before the grandfather's time the mansion was an old one, and there are traces of French elegance as well as of colonial solidity in its finishings.
Behind the house is a big, old-fashioned garden, and every room is sweet with posies. There is a stable, too, for Miss Jewett loves her horses and drives almost daily over the green hills, now bright with goldenrod, of the beautiful coast of Maine. She is an oarswoman as well, and her boat knows every reach of the river and all its quiet sunlit coves. Hers is a life close to nature and yet not apart from people, for she spends her winters in Boston. It would be hard to plan one's years on lines more nearly ideal, hard to see how one could get a better chance of growth and development and strong, true work--such work as Miss Jewett is doing. There is rest, there is peace, there is time to think, and the sincerity and serenity of it all comes out in her novels.
Few writers have felt the scribbling instinct as young as Miss Jewett. "Lucy Garrou's Lovers" was written and printed when its author was somewhere about 14. Before she was 20 Miss Jewett had seen her signature in the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines, but as she counts things now her serious work did not begin until some time after then. What the future may bring she is chary about saying, but with the best years of her life ahead the best work is still to come from a woman young in years and younger in spirit and vitality.
Miss Jewett's "den" is the most delightful I have ever seen. It is in the upper hall, with a wide window looking down on the tree-shaded village street. A desk strewn with papers is on one side and on the other a case of books and a table. Pictures, flowers and books are everywhere. The room set apart for the library is one of the four great square ones downstairs. But the books overflow it. They lie upon the sofas and have shelves in the bedrooms. Scott particularly. For she does not believe, with Howells; that the art of novel writing has grown a so much finer thing since the great romancer's day that we have nothing to learn from him. "The busier I get," she said, "the more time I make to read the Waverley novels."
"And of the more modern writers?"
"What would you say if I asked you that question?"
"That it depended on the mood."
"What other answer can you expect from me? One can nearly always read Stevenson and his Scotch children; but one book is for one day's thinking and another for another's."
"Of your own books which do you like best?"
"They're a pretty large family now," and she smiled. "There are always personal reasons, you know, and associations that may influence one's judgment. I don't think I have a favorite. In some ways I like 'A Country Doctor' best, and yet I believe 'A Marsh Island' is a better story."
It is worth a day's journey down into Maine to sit in one of those big, cool, old rooms, with the rain dashing against the windows, and tossing the lilac branches about wildly, and to hear such earnest common sense as one gets from few women. Of course we talked about the new woman. Miss Jewett is not at all worried about her. She believes in the natural evolution of things. The world progresses just about as fast as the mass can be leavened wholesomely. There are not so many isolated women in advance of their day now as a generation ago, but the average woman has moved a long distance forward. That there is room for the women in the professions nobody any longer questions. What more is to come is a matter for growth and time.
The lilac bushes splashed water on me as I went down the flagged walk to the street, but the sun was red in the West as the train pulled out of the station. And so I shall remember the river falls, the sound of the factory bells, the beating of the storm, the dark green of the country hills, and, above all, the strong, reviving personality of the slender, dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who looked out on a wet world so cheerily as she stood again in the doorway in her simple summer dress to bid me good-by.
There are three journalistic pieces at this site that make use of the same material. The original probably is "Pleasant Day With Miss Jewett," which appeared in the Philadelphia Press in August 1895. Another piece drawing opon this material is "Sarah Orne Jewett and her Maine Home," which also appeared in the Daily Kennebec Journal (Saturday 31 August, 1901). This essay shares a number of the same errors, "facts" and quotations with the probable original.
This text is available courtesy of Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, ME. Apparent errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items you would like annotated, please contact the site manager.
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"Jenny Garrow's Lovers" was published in January, 1868, when Jewett was 18. This is one of the errors that shows up in all three "interview" pieces.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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