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The Betty Leicester Books

Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls
(1890) and Betty Leicester's Christmas (1899)

I wish to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to know that you like my stories, and especially that you are such a friend of Miss Betty Leicester! I must own that I took a great liking to her myself when I was writing her, and that she has always seemed to me to be a real person.      SOJ

Chapters 1-6 of Betty Leicester
Chapters 7-12 of Betty Leicester
Chapters 13-17 of Betty Leicester

Betty Leicester's Christmas

Reviews of the two books

Covers and Illustrations

Sarah Orne Jewett comments on Betty Leicester

From a letter by Sarah Orne Jewett to Mary E. Mulholland, 19 December 1897, as reprinted in Sarah Orne Jewett Letters, ed. Richard Cary, 1967, p. 116. Cary says that Mary was thirteen when she received this letter.

     I thank you sincerely for your most kind letter, and I wish to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to know that you like my stories, and especially that you are such a friend of Miss Betty Leicester! I must own that I took a great liking to her myself when I was writing her, and that she has always seemed to me to be a real person. And it is just the same way with Mrs. Todd. [see The Country of the Pointed Firs]

     I cannot tell you just where Dunnet Landing is except that it must be somewhere 'along shore' between the regions of Tenants Harbor and Boothbay, or it might be farther to the eastward in a country that I know less well. It is not any real 'landing' or real 'harbor' but I am glad to think that you also know that beautiful stretch of seacoast country, and so we can feel when we think about it, as if we were neighbours. If you ever read the Atlantic Monthly magazine you will find a new chapter about Mrs. Todd and one of her friends in this new February number, and I hope that you will like it. [Cary identifies this story as "The Queen's Twin."]

     I am sure that you must like a great many other books since you like these stories of mine. And I am so glad, because you will always have the happiness of finding friendships in books, and it grows pleasanter and pleasanter as one grows older. And then the people in books are apt to make us understand 'real' people better, and to know why they do things, and so we learn sympathy and patience and enthusiasm for those we live with, and can try to help them in what they are doing, instead of being half suspicious and finding fault. It is just the same way that a beautiful picture makes us quicker to see the same things in a landscape, to look for rich clouds and trees, and see their beauty.

From a letter by Jewett to Elizabeth C. Field, sister of Rachel Field, dated May 4, 1900 from Constantinople (in Cary, ed. p. 135).

     I am very glad that you both like my stories, and I hope that I may see you both someday to say better than I can now, how much I liked your letters. I shall not forget that you cared about Betty and Mary Beck, because while I was writing about them I grew very fond of them myself, and of Tideshead which I tried to write like my old and dear village of South Berwick in Maine as it was when I was your age. Now that I am older I find it every summer a little larger and busier and more like a large town, but then it was very green and quiet and you could nearly always hear the bobolinks or the golden robins when you stopped to listen. I should like to tell you which chapter of Betty I care about most - it is the one where Betty goes 'up-country' with Serena to spend the day, but perhaps you will not like it as much as some others.

From a letter by Jewett to Houghton, Mifflin & Co., dated October 1, 1904, (in Cary, ed. p. 160).

     And I have noticed among the letters that I have been going over, a good many from young persons who seem to have taken my stories of Betty Leicester much to heart. This, with the remembrances of Mr. Garrison's writing me last spring of these books having done noticeably well in the last six months, makes me feel that we might do well to put them in some way freshly before the public this autumn and take advantage of the wave of new interest which seems to exist, and in a way that really surprises me. But will you please give directions at the Press that the old binding should be restored to Betty Leicester? - the scarlet and white - for it is an ugly little book at present; the die does not sit well sidewise on one corner and this green and red cloth are very far from the beauty of Mrs. Whitman's charming design."

     Note: Mrs. Whitman is Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), painter, illustrator, designer of stained glass, writer. She has paintings in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and created the Brooks Memorial Window at Trinity Church in Boston. She is the author of Robert Browning in his Relation to the Art of Painting (1889). Richard Cary reports that Whitman designed covers for several of Jewett's books: The King of Folly Island, Betty Leicester, Strangers and Wayfarers, and The Queen's Twin. Strangers and Wayfarers is dedicated to Whitman. One of Jewett's last literary projects was an edition of the Letters of Sarah Wyman Whitman in 1907 (p. 155).

From a letter by Jewett to Samuel Thurber (1879-1943), an English teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, dated May 9, 1906 (in Cary, ed. pp. 163-4). Cary says that Thurber assigned Jewett stories to his class, had them write reviews, and then mailed them to Jewett.

     There is a very uncommon clearness and frankness in nearly every one of them, and so surprisingly little of the fumbling for words that so often - both in old and young persons! - attempts to hide a lack of thought. My heart goes out to the young friend who complains that "there are a great many words but nothing seems to be going on" in one of the stories! ...

    I cannot help thinking that my stories must be difficult for girls and boys like these - they are so often concerned with the type rather than the incident of human nature. I should dearly like to know whether they would care as much for a story I once wrote - or stories - about a girl of fifteen, Betty Leicester. I should like at any rate to send the two little books to you. I was thinking most affectionately as I wrote them of some of the problems that must often be in your own mind. Perhaps there is a School Library where you would give them a place?

     I could not make you understand how much pleasure you have given me without explaining that it is four years since I have been able to write at all, and even yet my old and very dear habits of life seem quite forbidden. I had a bad accident from the fall of a horse, and struck my head a blow from which it does not easily recover. To know that my stories are alive in the best sense, and going on, pleases me more than I can easily say. I always used to remind myself of that great saying of Plato - that the best thing one can do for the people of a State was to make them acquainted with each other - and now I find that these boys and girls really liked to know my story people, and are sure that they have seen others just like them....

Covers & Title Illustrations for Betty Leicester Books

Sarah Wyman Whitman Original Covers



Cover of the 1917 edition of Betty Leicester

17 cover

Title Page of Betty Leicester


Title Page of "Betty Leicester's Christmas" (1899 version)

According to Weber and Weber, A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett, this story was originally printed privately for the Bryn Mawr School under the title, Betty Leicester's English Xmas. A New Chapter of An Old Story in 1894. The following illustration is from the 1899 Houghton Mifflin edition.

xmas title

Title Page for the 1929 Illustrated Reprint of Betty Leicester
Courtesy of the Iowa State University Library

29 title

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Revised: June 2017.
Copyright 1998-2017 by Terry Heller.
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