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Reviews of The Country of the Pointed Firs 1896


Mabie, Hamilton W. "Some Estimates of the Year's Literary Output." The Review of Reviews: An International Magazine 15 (December 1896) 743.

from FICTION, POETRY AND BELLES-LETTRES.
 It is a pleasure to add that Miss Jewett's latest story, "The Country of the Pointed Firs," shows her true and delicate art in all its quiet and enduring charm. This unaffected and genuine artist will have a place in our literature as distinct and secure as that which Jane [Austin] Austen fills in the literature of our kin beyond seas.
 

The Independent 48 (December 3, 1896) 1651.

 THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS. By Sarah Orne Jewett.  (Houghton, Mifflin & Co. $1.25)
In this sketchy account of a sojourn in a Maine village Miss Jewett is delightfully garrulous, so likewise is Mrs. Todd, the chief character of the book. It would be no easy task to point out just the charm, just the secret of interest in writing like this; but reading Miss Jewett's pages is like a visit to Dunnet, like a series of chats with Mrs. Todd, during which one feels the sea air and smells the pine breath. It is a summer outing among good, honest folk, a free and easy exploration of a neighborhood, of a region where conservatism is truly provincial and where rural honesty stoutly prevails. The gossip of the people is delicious, and the story throughout holds the reader with a gentle yet firm grip. The whole book is the outcome of a month's summering in a cottage with Mrs. James T. Field[s], on a part of the Maine coast new to them both. Readers who are interested in Miss Jewett's works, and who have followed them, will find this one of the most graphic and satisfactory of them all. It is a noble picture she has given in one of her characters of a New England woman in the proud dignity of her ancestry. She writes in perfect sympathetic touch with New England life, and not as from a superior plane observing or studying it.
 

THE LITERARY WORLD 27 (December 12, 1896) 457.

The Country of the Pointed Firs.
 Miss Jewett never disappoints us. We can always rely on her fine instincts, her singular keenness of observation, her artistic sense, her perfect literary workmanship. Nothing crude or careless ever comes from her pen. But excellent as all her work has been nothing has been so enticing and so satisfying as The Country of the Pointed Firs. We know Dunnet Landing as if we too had spent a summer there. We are thoroughly acquainted with the small flower garden, the tiny house, the pasture and country roads, and all there is to be seen and heard and told, the neighborly ways, the harmless gossip, the simple outings, the daily life; and it is all very tranquil and helpful and calculated to strengthen our faith in our fellow beings and make more precious the amenities of daily intercourse. But chief of all, we have added Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Blackett to our list of  friends. Fortunate the two women whose pen portraits are in this book! The ability to bring them before us is as rare as to write the pure, English prose for which Miss Jewett is distinguished.  [Houghton, Mifflin & Co.]
 

Overland monthly and Out West Magazine 29: 169 (January 1897), 106

 MRS. JEWETT'S last book is as good as the rest cure. After living with her among the old fashioned, easy-going fisher-folk of a little Maine village through two hundred pages, one is ready to go back to the bustle of the city thankful for even so short a vacation. There is no attempt at a story in the work. The tale runs along in a rambling sort of a way, halting from time to time to make the acquaintance of a new friend or digressing to take a short excursion among the sunny islands that line the coast. There are bits of gossip, amusing and pathetic; life histories told in a sentence, glimpses of lovemaking and funerals, and peeps in upon family skeletons. The book is enjoyable from cover to cover, and will find a place for itself in many hearts.
 

Atlantic Monthly 79 (February 1897), 272-73.

It has been a pleasure, repeated at intervals the past few years, to have in convenient form collections of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's stories, but the pleasure is heightened at this time in the appearance of The Country of the Pointed Firs (Houghton) by the light thread of identity of place and character on which the stories are strung. Miss Jewett has, in effect, made a seacoast of her own, a mirage lifted just above the horizon of actual land, and peopled it with figures that are images of reality, also. She herself moves among them, and her warm sympathy is the breath of life which animates them. Her art has devised no more enchanted country, or given a more human substance to the creatures of her imagination. The book has the freshness of Deephaven with the mellowness of matured power.
 

THE BOOKMAN 5 (New York, March 1897), 80-81.

 THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS. By Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. $1.25.

 Readers who know the work of Sarah Orne Jewett open a new book written by her with that same sense of quiet delight and gratification which possesses the connoisseur who examines a delicate bit of painting wherein the subdued, exquisitely shaded tints blend into an effect – true not only to that in nature which all may see, but also to that something else which only an artist can divine and reveal.
     Nor will such readers be disappointed in The Country of the Pointed Firs. As in all of Miss Jewett's writing, the touches are delicate rather than striking, and the tone is subdued and quiet, admitting of no white lights or black shadows. But the work is very fine and very true. The Country of the Pointed Firs is a story of wholesome, simple, rural life, with the breath of the sea for tonic and the sunshine of summer for warmth. The picturesque delineation of character, the writer's close contact with nature, and her appreciative insight, all contribute a reality and charm to the book which are very convincing. Miss Jewett, one is persuaded, spent a summer at Dunnet Landing, lodging with Mrs. Todd. Any one might recognise the house, with its herb garden and its large-bodied, large-minded mistress. She is full of quaint wisdom, and knows something of human nature. "There's more women likes to be loved than there is of those that loves," she says, and her own life's story taught her the truth. Of an entertaining visitor she remarks, "She may not be considerate, but she's dreadful good company;" and who does not recognise the truth and beauty of this bit of imagery?

"There's sometimes a good hearty tree growin' right out of the bare rock, out o' some crack that just holds the roots;  . . . you lay your ear down to the ground, an' you'll hear a little stream runnin'. Every such tree has got its own livin' spring; there's folks made to match 'em."
         Truly "Mrs. Todd's wisdom was an intimation of truth itself. She might belong to any age, like an idyl of Theocritus."

     Mrs. Todd's mother, who lives out on Green Island, moves in a luminous atmosphere of lovingkindness, into which it is a privilege to enter. The day's visit with her on Green Island is a treat that readers will enjoy. Captain Littlepage is very entertaining, and the vague mystery which clings about his personality is not cleared away at the end of the book, which is a great merit. Poor Joanna, who retired to her desert island because of an unhappy love affair, occupies more space than we should be willing to yield her, were it not that Mrs. Todd, with the help of her entertaining visitor, tells the story. They sketch in side characters with a very happy touch, especially that of the minister who paid a duty visit to poor Joanna.

 "'Well, there's a difference in gifts. Mr. Dimmick was not without light.'
 '' ' 'Twas the light of the moon, then,' snapped Mrs. Fosdick.
 "He seemed to know no remedies, but he had a great use of words."
   When Mrs. Todd's summer lodger sails away from Dunnet Landing the little volume comes to its quiet ending, leaving the impression that, suggestive and delightful as such books are, they cannot, save in rare instances, leave any deep impression. Miss Jewett possesses the artistic power, the knowledge, and the self-control to venture more. These delicate sketches of life hold the same place in literature as do their counterparts in painting, but no artist can rest an enduring popularity on such trifles light as air.
 

The Critic 27:782 (February 13, 1897), 110.

"The Country of the Pointed Firs"
By Sarah Orne Jewett,  Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

 "THE COUNTRY of the Pointed Firs" illustrates anew the fact that a work of art can be produced from very tenuous material. The subject-matter of Miss Jewett's latest volume may be said to be practically non-existent. Certainly it is a negligeable quantity when compared to the skill which is exercised upon it. To make so good a book upon so slight a theme is in reality to create it, and the creation is a comely thing. The little volume will be found dignified, gracious and restful. If it is not able bodied, it is at least strong in spirit. The author tells the story of a seaside summer on the coast of Maine. She lives with a fine old countrywoman, who is a gatherer and dispenser of herbs; she talks to an old sea-captain of infirm but interesting mind; she sails out to the island where her landlady's mother lives, accompanies her good friends to a family reunion, listens to another old captain as he talks of his dead wife, and leaves the quiet village with regret when autumn comes. These are the homely events of the book. The thread upon which they are strung is the writer's fine and constant appreciation of whatever is individual and excellent in nature and humanity as it lies about her. We do not see that Dunnet [Dennett] Landing is absorbing, but that Miss Jewett is absorbed. Her interest is unfailing, and she invests each incident for the reader with the same gentle glamour which it obviously has for herself.
 It is impossible not to compare "The Country of the Pointed Firs" with "Deephaven," that other record of a seaside summer with which the author began her career as a maker of books. In the earlier volume, the chronicler is a little more eager, more positive, more convinced of the romance of her seaport, and more strenuous in setting it forth. She showed the same appreciative spirit, but demanded more substance upon which to exercise it. The years which have ripened her talent and perfected her workmanship have made her less and less exacting as to material, and in contrast to the feverish search after some new thing which current literature in general reveals, such repose and content are wonderfully refreshing. If Miss Jewett has not a bunch of orchids to offer, she will at least present to us some blades of grass with an inimitable grace. She may, like Virgil's shepherd, sing a slender song, but her vocalization is beyond reproach and almost beyond praise.
 

"FROM CROWDED SHELVES."  THE ACADEMY 51 (March 13, 1897), 301.

 The Country of the Pointed Firs. By Sarah Orne Jewett.  (T. Fisher Unwin.)    A GOOD book was never made of slighter material than that which Miss Jewett has so deftly manipulated in this pretty story of a New England fishing village. From beginning to end there is nothing in the nature of what we call incident, nor is there a single love passage – indeed, there is hardly a character under sixty years of age, -- yet to readers at all fond of quiet humour and gentle, simple folk, and unaffected, unassuming literary grace, this book will be real enjoyment. The intimacy of the home among the lowly is a sweeter thing in Scotland and New England than it is with us. The English are neither as simple nor so contented.  Contentment is, indeed, the great secret. Similarly, Scottish and New England writers are more in love with this beautiful hearth-life than are English writers: they see it with clearer vision and describe it with more tenderness. Miss Jewett's book is a little epic of contentment; and it is here that she differs most markedly from Miss Wilkins, whose eyes are more ready to see what is melancholy. The Country of the Pointed Firs is rich in human kindness; and Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Blackett are notable additions to that gallery of good women which most readers like to wander in now and again.
 

"The Country of the Pointed Firs," Alice Brown. The Book Buyer 15 (October 1897), 249-50.

 The Country of the Pointed Firs is the flower of a sweet, sane knowledge of life, and an art so elusive that it smiles up at you while you pull aside the petals, vainly probing its heart. The title is exacting, prophetic; a little bit of genius of which the book has to be worthy or come very "tardy off." And the book is worthy. Here is the idyllic atmosphere of country life, unbroken by one jarring note; even the attendant sadness and pathos of being are resolved into that larger harmony destined to elude our fustian words. It is a book made to defy the praise ordinarily given to details; it must be regarded au large. For it takes hold of the very centre of things. The pointed firs have their roots in the ground of national being; they are index fingers to the stars. A new region unrolls before you like a living map, whereof The Bowden Reunion and Captain Littlepage are twin mountain heights, warm in sunshine and swept by favoring airs. The Reunion indeed bears a larger significance than its name. It stirs in us the dormant clan-spirit; we understand ancestor-worship, the continuity of being. All the delicate humor, the broidery of the day, "like fringe upon a petticoat" — the pictorial pies, the alien guest with her pseudo-likeness to "Cousin Pa'lina Bowden about the forehead," the woman who "wouldn't get back in a day if she was as far out o' town as she was out o' tune" — this thrills you with a fine and delicate pleasure; but meanwhile your mind marches grandly with the Bowdens, you throb like them with pride of race, you acquiesce willingly in the sweet, loyal usages of domesticity. The conception has its tap-root in the solid earth; but Captain Littlepage's story of the unknown country "up north beyond the ice" takes hold on things remote: it breathes the awful chill and mysticism of the Ancient Mariner. Here are the powers of the air portrayed with Miltonic grandeur. Less tangible even than the denizens of the Beleaguered City, they throng and press upon the mind, making void all proven experience. It is as strange and true a page out of the unseen possibilities of being as Kipling's story of the dead sea-snake. It is not, moreover, the only hint of the inter-relations of known and unknown. Even the herbs in Mrs. Todd's garden could not all be classified. There was one that sent "out a penetrating odor late in the evening, after the dew had fallen, and the moon was high, and the cool air came up from the sea." You would not know that herb for a world of science. It is mystical as moly, and so it shall remain.
 Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Blackett are as real as the earth. For pure fascination, Mrs. Todd can never expect to vie with her mother; she did "lurch about steppin' into a bo't"; it was not she who put forth the grave axiom that it was scarcely "advisable to maintain cats just on account of their havin' bob tails." But she is the colossal figure of a simple woman dowered with sorrow and loss, who set her feet firmly on the ground – To crush the snake and spare the worm, who made personal grief no reason for bickering with the universe, whose moral life went sanely with the stars, and whose nostrils were delighted with sweet savors from the earth which had denied her. Too often we are taught that great grief and finer feeling are the concomitants of revolt; but it is the larger mind which links them to sweetness, serenity, and obedience. Here is quiet revelation of human tragedy, but none of that fierce rebellion through which individual suffering eats its own heart and the heart of the onlooking chorus. Even the self-exiled Joanna, pursued by the phantom of the unpardonable sin, cannot afflict us irremediably; for still was she surrounded, as with a sea, by faulty human love, and still, as we read, the tranquil company of the firs bids us be patient till her affliction shall be overpast.
 To pluck the flowers of humor, quaint philosophy, and legend here is as hopeless as to make a Poyser anthology. You are simply bewildered by the richness and life-giving balm of this herby garden. It is the acme of Miss Jewett's fine achievement, blending the humanity of the "Native of Winby" and the fragrance of the "White Heron." No such beautiful and perfect work has been done for many years; perhaps no such beautiful work has ever been done in America.
 

The Spectator 79 (October 9, 1897) 467.

 The Country of the Pointed Firs.  By Sarah Orne Jewett [Jewitt]. (T. Fisher Unwin.) -- The New England fishing villages are a favourite "hunting ground" for tale-writers in America. Some of the characteristics of the old stock, before it became so largely modified by other influences, are to be seen there, and supply a subject which lends itself readily to an attractive treatment. There is a decay about these regions which is pathetic rather than squalid. The types are of an older world. Miss Jewett's [Jewitt's] book is as delightful to read as any that we have seen -- and we have seen several -- dealing with this topic. Mrs. Todd, the gatherer and prescriber of simples; her delightful old mother, for a mother she has, though herself not far from seventy; 'Lijah Tilley [Tellus], with his silent sorrow for his wife, whom, though she had been dead eight years, he "misses just the same every day," are given with a graphic touch that makes them live. There is not a jarring word in The Country of the Pointed Firs.
 
 

THE ATHENÆM  3619 (March 6, '97) 311.

AMERICAN FICTION.

 The Country of the Pointed Firs.  By Sarah Orne Jewett. (Fisher Unwin.)   This is a very favourable specimen of a class of work in which American ladies excel. It is a collection of studies, more or less consecutive, of life in an out-of-the-way fishing village -- the experience of a long summer holiday. An English reader must fail to catch the exact flavour of the place described, somewhere on the coast of Maine; but a well-drawn picture of human beings is attractive in any circumstances, and in Miss Jewett's pleasant passages one finds a bit of life consistent, original, and vivid in presentment. It requires some effort to realize the amount of artistic skill which goes to the composition of such a piece of work -- one that in its method, though not in its detail, recalls Mrs. Gaskell. The little book is marked by good taste throughout, it is at times gently pathetic, at others delicately humorous, and it is always free from exaggeration. For the English market it would have been better to alter some of the spelling. Besides the usual words -- "neighbor,"  "traveler,"  "gayety" -- there are some which are still more objectionable to English eyes, such as "woolen," &c.  Less objectionable -- for one likes the phrase -- but hardly correct, is the spelling "readied up."
 

From Olga Achtenhagen, "Health Hazards for Teachers," The Elementary School Journal 27 (September-June 1927), 142-6.

 There is such a thing as being too conscientious, of being a slave to deadening routine, which is in itself a health hazard, as well as a hazard to one's love of life. In one of those delightful stories which Sarah Orne Jewett has given us, she has a Mrs. Todd of New England say, "Some folks washes Monday and irons Tuesday the whole year 'round, even if the circus is going by!" A bit of variety, of doing things on the spur of the moment, will help ever so much to establish our relations with the pupils and, consequently, our general well-being and state of mind. I remember a class in literature in which we had been reading nature poetry one May day, just before the noon hour. Within five minutes after we had assembled, we sent a message to the principal asking for permission to go to the woods and read our poetry. In our message we quoted: "And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why, you may put the blame on the stars and the sun and the white road and the sky." In a short time, we were on our way, with plans for a picnic dinner. There was not time to go far, but we walked and talked and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine, and the next day we decided that "we had grown taller from walking with the trees." (144)


 
 


Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College,
    with assistance from Linda Heller.


 
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