The Jewett Journal
Early Critical Notices of Sarah Orne Jewett's Work
A collection of notices and short essays that discuss Jewett's contributions to American Literature.
Additions and suggestions welcome for this growing collection.
Sarah Orne Jewett and the Simmons College Scholarship
Professor A. B. Nichols.
The Simmons Quarterly 1:1 (June 1910), 1-2.
WHETHER Miss Jewett had opinions or not I do not know. Her circle of admirers was too large for a Boston drawing-room, and many of those who were most intimately touched by her spirit knew her not in the flesh. In the panorama of homely New England life that she unrolled with deft fingers there was too much of the poignant, immediate truth of fact to have place for social theory. Her world was the world of art, not of dialectics. Her stories have a grave sweetness of tone, a grace of delineation, a delicacy of tint and outline, that lend the hard lives they depict a winning charm. Yet they are at bottom studies in the Tragedy of the Narrow Life. The tragedy is lightened by the fact that the partition-walls of circumstance that shut out so much are walls, not ceilings. Above them is always a glimpse of the sky, and into each some slender ray of sunlight falls – think of "The Queen's Twin."
Most of the stories deal with lives of women. Miss Jewett never fell into the blunder of making sex the ultimate category. She never lost sight of the humanity that is larger and deeper than sex. She held no brief for Woman as the antagonist and critic of Man. Yet it is with peculiar tenderness and insight that she draws the limitations that attach to her own sex in the world of country life. Her tenderness made her feel the pathos of such limitations to the full; her insight forbade her to depict them as other than a part of the general lot. Her remedy – had she ever felt called on to suggest one – would have satisfied no suffragette. She had pierced to a stratum too deep for such superficial treatment.
I am not certain whether the Higher Education for Women, to which we pin our faith to-day, seemed to her a final solution of the problem. I am not sure that she had not before her eyes that Highest Education of which she was so lovely an exemplar,-- the education that can perhaps be found only in the wise and perfectly ordered home. But she would have admitted that the wise and perfectly ordered home was becoming more and more an unrealized ideal, and that substitutes must be found, and loyally accepted, for it. One of these substitutes is the Woman's College.
The Woman's College has not yet addressed itself frankly and wholeheartedly to its problem. The attempt to ignore, instead of accepting and interpreting, sex has led it too generally to simply duplicate for girls the training we give our boys. But Simmons College has at least attempted to recognize and act on the fact (as I conceive it to be) that women will find their true field – not in the region of abstract thought and research, but in that of applied knowledge. It is their gift – a gift they have exercised without technical training for centuries – to make life richer, more beautiful, more spiritual, by modifying its texture as it comes day by day from the roaring loom of time. I must not claim that this was Miss Jewett's ideal. I do not know. But I do know that she was deeply interested in the experiment that Simmons College is making; and I think that she would have been pleased to see her name associated with a scholarship that should in some degree diminish the number of the Tragedies of the Narrow Life.
The Sarah Orne Jewett Scholarship Fund was raised and given to the College during the present spring by Miss Jewett's friends. The amount of this fund is three thousand dollars, the interest of which is to be used annually for some deserving student, preferably from the state of Maine, Miss Jewett's native state. An additional one hundred and fourteen dollars was included in the total amount subscribed, whereby the scholarship may be made available at once.
From The North American Review 192:660 (November 1910), pp. 719-20.
We have had three great New England story-writers. Mary Wilkins Freeman has untutored genius, but never acquired craftsmanship; Sarah Orne Jewett had exquisite craftsmanship and lacked the force of genius; Alice Brown has genius and the craftsman's skill combined. She creates atmosphere; a rich, fragrant, flowering atmosphere of homely virtues, faith and loyalty. Very tenderly she touches belated or miscarried love-affairs, and especially has she a happy way of describing "the loves that doubted, the loves that dissembled." If this volume of "Country Neighbors," following closely on "Country Roads," gives us perhaps a superfluity of the same thing, it is not, after all, Miss Brown's fault that New England types are monotonous.
From Julian W. Abernethy, American Literature. New York: Merrill, 1911, pp. 453-455.
A GROUP OF NEW ENGLAND WOMEN
Howells generously remarks, apropos of the short story, that "the sketches and studies by the women seem faithfuller and more realistic than those of the men, in proportion to their number." The present activity of women in literature is one of the most prominent facts of the age; indeed it marks a historic epoch in the progress of civilization. In imaginative literature women in America are probably at the present time producing more work than men, and of an average quality, possibly, quite as high in the scale of literary merit. It is natural that in intellectual New England the widest development of feminine genius should have appeared. The common life and scenery of New England, the home, childhood, the joys and sorrows of simple human hearts, have been described by these women with remarkable fullness and truth, with realistic force and idealistic purpose, and with a pure regard for the relations of the virtues of literature to the virtues of everyday life. The names of Mrs. Stowe, Miss Alcott, Lucy Larcom, Mrs. Dorr, Mrs. Whitney, Celia Thaxter, and many others have long been household words.
Few descriptions of nature are more genuine and delightful than Celia Thaxter's "The Isles of Shoals." Elizabeth Stuart Phelps-Ward gives us also sympathetic studies of the sea that beats out its wild music for poets ears along the rocky "north shore." She knows, too, the people in the great factory towns, and at times her pen has been devoted philanthropically to "causes." But she knows best and describes best the heart and soul of the New England woman, in her strongest moods and aspirations, as one sees in "The Story of Avis" and other books in which the men are generally foils for the women. She is impulsive, passionate, and intense in her emotions, and her imagination is sometimes venturesome as in "The Gates Ajar," which was a shock to the orthodox, a comfort to many afflicted hearts, and a sensational literary success. Sweet, tender, and graceful are the songs of Julia C. R. Dorr in "Friar Anselmo," "Afternoon Songs," and other volumes, to which are to be added several novels and books of delightful travel sketches, such as "The Flower of England's Face." With these authors is closely associated the novelist, Sarah Orne Jewett, who with painstaking fidelity and in beautiful prose suffused with quiet humor paints the life of the good old-fashioned folk of her native section. We could not well spare such books as "Deephaven," "A Marsh Island," and "The Country of the Pointed Firs." Her books are alive with the fragrance of the woods, the murmur of pines, the lilt of the ebbing tide in the lush sea grass, and the simple occupations of homely country folk. With this author one gets very near to the simple heart of nature and of natural people. Rose Terry Cooke achieved a notable success with her short stories, presenting vividly the grimly humorous aspects of New England character, as in "Miss Lucinda" and "The Deacon's Week." A strong contrast to these bucolic writers is found in the work of Harriet Prescott Spofford, whose "Amber Gods," "Midsummer and May," and other short stories display a luxuriant and romantic imagination "fairly resplendent in color, rich in tone, and Oriental in perfume." One of the strongest writers of this group is Margaret Deland, who in "John Ward, Preacher" and "Sydney" grapples boldly with profound problems without disturbing the balance of fine literary values.
from Katharine Lee Bates, American Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1911,NATIONAL ERA: PROSE FICTION, pp. 135 and 318 – 319.No observer of life lives in a golden age. We look back to "the good old times" and forward to the millennium, but our own era misses majesty. This last third of the century may yet win "a glory from its being far," but it looks to-day like a season of reaction from our crucial strife and of preparation for the deeds to be. If literature tends at present to be a craft rather than a calling, if our typical author is
"ne'er at leisure
To be himself, he has such tides of business,"
we can at least rejoice in the wide diffusion and good average quality of the writing ability. Academic treatises, especially on social questions, are showered from the press. If the master-songs are missing, tuneful voices answer one another from Appledore to the wheatlands, and on to "white Sierra's verge." With Mary Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett exploring the nooks and corners of New England, with James Lane Allen interpreting the life of Kentucky, and Thomas Nelson Page that of Virginia, with Mary Murfree revealing the secrets of the Tennessee mountains, with Hamlin Garland doing angry honor to the western farmer's toil, with Mary Halleck Foote portraying that wild mining life whose prose epic was begun by Bret Harte in The Luck of Roaring Camp, the length and breadth of the land are finding speech. (135)
But our modern realism lends itself especially to close local portraitures, as in the New England stories most delicately done by SARAH O. JEWETT, most vigorously by MARY WILKINS FREEMAN. It is of interest to trace this New England line from HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, with her Old-Town Folks, The Minister's Wooing, and other well-remembered novels, to the dialect stories of Alice Brown, the Cape Cod studies of Joseph Lincoln, and note the narrowing and intensifying of the realistic method. The down-East novels of Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard, poet wife of poet husband, strike, for all their abrupt energy of passion, the unmistakable New England seaport note. Even Mrs. Harriet Prescott Spofford, naturally a dweller "in Titian's garden," she who flushed her Amber Gods with such ardent color, tries to fall in with the prevailing school. ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS WARD, while she idealizes her characters, paints Fisherman Jack and the "Christman" against the Gloucester background that she knows so well. (318-319)
From William E. Cairns, A History of American Literature
New York: Oxford, 1912, 1916. P. 467.
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) began to write before 1883, though most of her work was done later. She was a descendant of old and cultured New England families, and was born at South Berwick, Maine, where her father was a doctor with a large country practice. As a member of a physician's family Miss Jewett had an exceptional opportunity to know intimately the lives of persons of all social grades. During her early womanhood the summer boarder was beginning to frequent the vicinity of South Berwick, and it was with a kindly hope of interpreting her humbler neighbors to these visitors that she began to write. Her first sketches were printed in the "Atlantic Monthly." Deephaven, her first novel, appeared in 1877, but is said to have been written earlier. After the publication of Deephaven she continued to write abundantly, producing a novel or a volume of short stories almost every year. Most of her work portrays New England life, and she is at her best in the representation of placid existence in a manner that frequently invites comparisons with Cranford. The Country of the Pointed Firs is probably her best novel.
From William P. Trent and John Erskine, Great American Writers. New York: Holt, 1912, pp. 200 – 201In February, 1851, she [Harriet Beecher Stowe] began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, the first instalment of which appeared in the National Era, June 5. In book form it was published in Boston, March 20, 1852, and its enormous and continuous sale began at once.Mrs. Stowe's life from that time was eventful and full of accomplishment, but the significance of it had been conditioned by her previous experiences. She had inherited missionary fervor, and had seen what it is to be oppressed, and she devoted herself naturally to any cause of enfranchisement that presented itself. Of the outward details of her career it need only be recorded that she was twice abroad; and on her first trip just after the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, she was welcomed with remarkable honor in England and Scotland. In 1852 her husband became professor in the Andover Theological Seminary, and in 1863 the family removed from Andover to Hartford, which was their final home. After the war Mrs. Stowe bought a place at Mandarin, Florida, and interested herself practically in the South. Her chief publications, after Uncle Tom's Cabin, were Dred, 1856, The Minister's Wooing, 1858, The Pearl of Orr's Island, 1862, Agnes of Sorrento, 1863, Old Town Folks, 1869, Old Town Fireside Stories, 1871, My Wife and I, 1872, We and Our Neighbors, 1875, Poganuc People, 1878. Mrs. Stowe died at Hartford, July 1, 1896, and was buried at Andover beside her husband, who had died ten years before.Her novels are of two quite different kinds. Her reputation was made by a novel with a purpose, and she followed her theme in a second story; her early writing, however, and most of her later books dealt with the New England of her girlhood. If this second kind of story is less thought of now when her name is mentioned, at least the literary historian knows that in this field she was a pioneer. It is her picture of New England, rather than Hawthorne's, which has been imitated; it is with her that the work of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett or Mrs. Mary Wilkins-Freeman is associated. She therefore has a double place in American literature, with a masterpiece in one field and pioneer triumphs in another.
Mark Sullivan, "Mark Sullivan's Selection is 'The Trawler.'" Colliers 54 (3 October 1914), p. 11.
THERE WAS never any doubt in my mind that "The Trawler" was in a class by itself. It seems to me to promise to be a definite and permanent contribution to English literature. Fifty years from now if another Dr. Eliot should make up another five-foot shelf I feel confident he would include "The Trawler" as a picture of life on the sea at the beginning of the twentieth century. As a picture of the sea it deserves to stand alongside of Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast," and the best of Kingsley or Conrad. Indeed I think "The Trawler" ranks with the writer whose stories of the sea in my judgment excel even those of Kingsley and Dana, and are the best in the English tongue; namely James Fenimore Cooper. It is not merely "The Trawler's" excellence as a picture of life on the sea that entitles it to a high standing. The author shows a length of reach into the depths of human nature, a sort of second sight about the springs of human emotion and human action, which alone entitles him to a place in literature. I am equally positive about "Saleratus Smith" as second prize. This story, dealing with a revivalist, a character who, I should guess, must be founded on Billy Sunday, and a negro gambler, shows an accurate grasp of primal and fundamental human emotions which puts it in a group removed from most of the superficial short stories of the day.
Practically all of the stories which are named as prize winners have a relation, close or remote, to permanent literature. I mean by this that only in a minor way do they belong to the short-story form which is the current vogue, and which forms the bulk of the entertainment in the periodicals of the day. The only story which conspicuously belongs in this latter form is "Bridal Blush." Because it has aimed for this form and because it achieves its aim so excellently is the reason that entitled it, in my judgment, to a prize.
Taken as a group, these prize winners form an accurate picture of several widely separated phases of American life. "Anent: A Biscuit Shooter," is a picture of cowboy life; "The Hospital Ticket," of lumbermen in the winter woods; "The Peacemaker of Tolley's Ledge," of frontier life in California; "I'll Go the Reaper," of farming life in the Middle West some years ago; "Colin McCabe: Renegade," of reconstruction in the South; and "The Trawler," of the sea. The reader of a future generation who wants to know the lives of the people of our time would do better to read this group of stories than any formal history. Another impression that I got, not only from the prize winners, but from the several thousand manuscripts as a whole, was the number of authors who are either natives of California or writing from California. I think the person who would take the trouble to look into it could readily demonstrate that California is doing a good deal more than its share of the writing of the contemporary periodicals. Another fact that impressed me was the proportion of the stories which dealt with the problem of two young people facing life and its problems together. The number of stories of this type was very large. Among them the one named as a possible prize winner was "The Glory." There were more than a score of others with the same general atmosphere and background and a similar set of characters. From an editorial point of view, I was sorry there was not more humor. Several passable humorous stories were found, but not as many as any editor would like to find. Humor is the most salable commodity in the literary market. "The River" is one of the stories that comes close to the form and spirit of permanent literature. No one who is familiar with Thomas Hardy's novels of rural life in England can fail to reflect that "The River" has many of Mr. Hardy's best characteristics. I, as well as Mr. Roosevelt, was very much impressed by one story which did not come within the ten prize winners, "Anne Laura Sweet." Mr. Roosevelt liked it, but spoke of it as a little too suggestive of Mary E. Wilkins. It is very suggestive of Miss Wilkins. If you imagine some of Miss Wilkins's sturdy and simple characters transferred from the New England hills to the Kansas plains you will have the setting of this story.
Another merit of it is the simplicity with which it is told. That the story should be suggestive of Mary E. Wilkins is in my judgment a tribute to it, for if I were to name the group of short-story writers who are to my taste the greatest that American has had, I should certainly include among them Mary E. Wilkins and Sarah Orne Jewett. To take care of "Anne Laura Sweet" as well as three other stories which were named by one or another of the judges, but which did not come within the ten prize winners, it was decided to add four prizes of $500 each in the way of supplementary prizes.
From Edward Garnett, "Some Remarks on American and English Fiction."
Atlantic Monthly 114 (December 1914) 748-9.
Let us look back along the line some twenty years. From an undated cutting from the London Speaker, which must belong to 1894, or 1895 at latest, I find that I singled out Mr. Hamlin Garland, Miss Murfree, Miss Grace King, Mr. F. Hopkinson Smith, Miss Mary Wilkins, and Miss Katharine Smith as the most gifted literary artists in the younger rising school, Messrs. W. D. Howells's, Henry James's, and George W. Cable's reputations having been of course long solidly established.
By some accident I did not come across Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's incomparable short stories till several years later, when I recommended an English publisher to import an edition of The Country of the Pointed Firs. But the failure of American criticism to recognize that, by virtue of thirty little masterpieces in the short story, Miss Jewett ranks with the leading European masters, and its grudging, inadequate recognition of the most original genius it has produced in story-telling, Mr. Stephen Crane, showed me that it had not realized that real talent, aesthetic or literary, is individual in its structure, experience, outlook, and growth, and that it makes its appeal and survives to posterity by reason of its peculiar originality of tone and vision expressed in beauty and force of form, of atmosphere, and of style.
Every fresh native talent emerges by virtue of its revelation of fresh aspects and original points of view, which create fresh valuations in our comprehension of life and human nature. Now this very simple test, which is indeed self-evident, is the touchstone by which we separate the genuine metal of imaginative art from the sham or common alloy of the popular fabricated article. If we apply it in the cases of Frank R. Stockton and Joel Chandler Harris we perceive that the originality of those delightful humorists entitles them to seats not far removed from that of Mark Twain. Again, when Mr. Frank Norris appeared, his McTeague was no literary echo, or iteration or affirmation of current social ideas or ideals, whatever may have been the precise measure of his literary talent. The same may be said of Mr. Harold Frederick's powerful novel Illumination. Later, when Mr. Dreiser came in sight with his Sister Carrie, the present writer had the honor of recommending it for English publication, while that admirable piece of realism was being cold-shouldered and boycotted for years by the body of American publishers.
I do not know whether the late O. Henry' s marvelous powers of language, gayety, creative fecundity, and imaginative power in handling a situation have yet received their due in America, but the point I wish to make clear is that between the writers above enumerated, namely between Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, Miss Murfree, Miss Mary Wilkins, Miss Grace King, Mrs. Wharton, Miss Anne Douglas Sedgwick, Mr. Frank R. Stockton, Mr. J. C. Harris, Mr. Hamlin Garland, Mr. F. Hopkinson Smith, Mr. Stephen Crane, Mr. Frank Norris, O. Henry,1 and such clever popular favorites as Mr. Winston Churchill, Miss Mary Johnston, Mr. Robert W. Chambers, Mr. Richard Harding Davis, Mr. John Fox, Jr., Mr. Owen Johnson, it would be waste of time to institute comparisons in respect of artistic gifts and originality of temperament. The work of the first class of writers, unequal as are their achievement in point of individual genius, is of a grade artistically far beyond the reach of the second class enumerated.
In saying that the work of the latter – represented by the six authors I have cited – is obviously deficient in 'temperamental value,' I do not mean that these authors are indistinguishable one from another, but that in tone, in insight, in style, each is little more than a popular sounding-board for the reverberation of current tones and moods of the mass of minds. Take Mr. R. H. Davis's story, The Man who could not Lose, Mr. R. W. Chambers's The Business of Life, Mr. Owen Johnson's The Salamander, and ask what measure of creative originality informs them. None. None at all, or next to none. These stories no doubt may amuse or interest or instruct their audience, but the first is worthless, the second mediocre, the third meretricious as an artistic achievement. They are destined for the rubbish heap, if indeed they have not been deposited there already. And the works, all told, of Mr. Winston Churchill, Miss Mary Johnston, and Mr. John Fox, Jr., despite the amazing energy and industry of their authors, kick the beam when weighed against a single little masterpiece by Miss Sarah Orne Jewett or Stephen Crane. This of course is an obvious truth to any critical intelligence, but I do not know how far it is now accepted in America.
1 I omit Miss Katharine Smith and Mr. Dreiser, for I am not aware whether their later work fulfilled the promise respectively of The Cy-Barker Ledge and Sister Carrie. – The Author.
Katherine H. Schute, "The Story of a Writer" in Play Day Stories by Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914, iii-xxvi
THE STORY OF A STORY WRITER
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
DID it ever occur to you boys and girls to say to a story, "How old are you?" It is a sensible question to ask, for stories have lives like people. Like people, they are born, and live, and die. In the case of stories, it is always a perfectly polite question, too.
Some stories live to be very old. Some of them, indeed, have lived so long already that it seems as if they might last as long as the world itself. Many of the stories that you children love best are hundreds, and even thousands, of years old. Such are the Bible stories of the child Samuel in the Temple, and the shepherd boy David who slew the great giant Goliath. Such are the lovely old fairy tales of Cinderella, and of Beauty and the Beast. Such is the myth of poor, foolish King Midas with his fatal touch of gold, and of old Baucis and Philemon who -- in their poverty -- entertained great gods, unawares. How I wish we could know who first told some of these old tales! How I wish we could see the boys and girls, the men and women, who listened to them in those far-away days!
Many stories have very short lives. Five years, perhaps, after they are first told or written, no one remembers them. Why is it that some stories live to be old, while others die? I think it must be because people love them, and listen to them over and over again. What do you think?
The stories which are gathered together for you in this little book were written for the boys and girls of nearly forty years ago. Ever since, boys and girls have been hearing, and reading, and enjoying them. You will not be surprised at that when you become acquainted with Prissy and Sam, Nelly and Joe, and the other girls and boys whom you will meet in these pages. They are such pleasant companions that they seem like one's own friends and are not soon forgotten.
A YOUNG WRITER OF STORIES
We know who wrote these stories. If you will look at the beginning of this book, you will find a picture of her, and underneath the picture, her name. When you look at that kind and lovely face, you will feel sure that any stories that Miss Jewett told must be pleasant ones.
There is one thing, however, that you are not likely to know unless I tell you: Miss Jewett began to write stories when she was only a very little girl. She was fortunate in having a sister, about two years older, who used to listen to these stories. Many a day, and sometimes at night, when the two little folks had been snugly tucked up in bed, the story-teller would weave wonderful tales for her sister's pleasure and her own. Often she wrote out these stories; sometimes she wrote them in rhyme. How I wish we could see some of those early stories!
THE OLD HOME
You will want to know more about this little girl, I am sure. She was born in a beautiful old house, still standing in the village of South Berwick, Maine. At that time, the house was already about one hundred years old; it belonged to her Grandfather Jewett, and had been his home for many years before that September day in 1849, when the dark-eyed granddaughter was born into the household.
The grandfather had been a sea-captain in his youth. But while he was still a young man he left the sea and went into the West India trade; that is, he owned sailing-vessels which brought the products of the West Indies to our shores, and carried back to the islands the manufactures of our towns. This business kept alive his interest in ships, and seafaring people, and foreign lands. And so it came about that sea-tanned captains were often guests at his hospitable table. Their talk and stories gave the little girl a knowledge of the great, distant world such as few children have a chance to acquire. The old house, with its square rooms and spacious entrance hall, was full of curious and interesting things that had come from far-away seaports. What wonderful stories each might have told her if it could have spoken!
When the little girl grew to womanhood, she wrote about her interest in ships in words that you will like to read: "A little way up the shore there was formerly a shipyard, and I know of four ships that were built there much less than fifty years ago. My grandfather was part owner of them, and their names, with those of other ships, have been familiar to me from my babyhood. It is amusing that the ships of a family concerned in navigation seem to belong to it and to be part of it, as if they were children who had grown up and gone wandering about the world. Long after some familiar craft has changed owners even, its fortunes are affectionately watched."
In front of the fine old house was a square door-yard, shut off from the village by white fences and four great lilac bushes. From the gate a brick walk led to the front door, with its shining brass knocker. Behind the house, where now a wonderful flower garden blooms, were wide green yards with tall elm trees shading them. Nearer the house stood a long line of barns and sheds, one of which had a large room in its upper story where an old ship's foresail was spread over the floor. "This made a capital play-room in wet weather," Miss Jewett tells us.
Around the village were deep pine woods, and high hills from which the White Mountains could be seen. Below the village two beautiful rivers joined forces and emptied their waters into the sea, not many miles away.
THE LITTLE GIRL'S FAMILY
These were lovely surroundings for a little girl to grow up in, were they not? But better still was the family group which surrounded her in her childhood. Besides her grandfather and grandmother, she was blest with a dear father and mother, a companion and playmate in her sister Mary, and a baby sister, six years younger. Before this baby sister was born, the grandmother had died; but the grandfather lived until our little story-writer was ten years old. There were another grandfather and grandmother living in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. This grandfather was a physician, Dr Perry; and to the same great profession belonged the little girl's father, Dr. Theodore Jewett. There were also some grand-aunts, who must have been very kind and generous and fond of young people, for their little niece remembered them with great affection as long as she lived.
I mention all these relatives in order to show you that Miss Jewett, when a child, saw a great deal of older people. She loved them dearly and felt at home with them. Read these words from a letter of Miss Jewett's, and you will see how much she cared for old people: "She is one to be most sadly missed – the last of my three dear grand-aunts, and they all died last year, and now their houses must all be shut, -- dear and beautiful and full of kindness ever since I can remember. I often say this to myself with a thankful heart. It was wonderful to have kept them all so long."
Miss Jewett's mother was a delicate, gentle woman with very lovely manners, such as her mother had before her. This is one reason, surely, why the daughter grew up to have a gentle courtesy toward every one, especially, perhaps, toward older people.
Her father, as I have already told you, was a physician, "a country doctor." Many were the hours that his daughters spent in driving about the country with him, as he went to visit his patients. Dr. Jewett generally took only one little girl at a time, often leaving the child to hold the reins as he went indoors. In this way the girls came to know and love horses and to understand how to manage them.
The doctor was a very wise and kind physician, and carried far more than medicine to his patients. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," says the old proverb; and sometimes the doctor's hearty, friendly laugh would ring out as he sat at the bedside of some sick patient. But often as he joined his little companion, waiting in the carriage outside, and drove away, a careworn look would come into his face, and he would shake his head and say sorrowfully, "Poor thing, poor thing!"
No wonder that his patients loved him dearly, when he carried their troubles in his heart with so much sympathy! No wonder that they had a cordial welcome for his daughters long years after his work among them was finished! "Which one of the doctor's girls be you?" some old man would say as he met one of the three ladies on the street or in the village store.
In a story of Miss Jewett's which you children would enjoy, there is a delightful country doctor, Dr. Prince, who must be very much like Miss Jewett's father. Betty Leicester is the name of the story. You can make Betty's acquaintance at the public library, any day, and you will find it well worth making. As Betty sits waiting in Dr. Prince's carriage, outside a home stricken with illness and anxiety, her thoughts, I am sure, are such as Miss Jewett herself must have had, more than once in her girlhood, as she waited for her father.
HER PLAY DAYS
You will find that most of the children in this book of stories like to play out of doors. Perhaps you will guess rightly from this that Miss Jewett, herself, was an out-of-door child. Sometimes she wandered about alone in the pastures and the woods. This is her own way of telling about it, -- "I was first cousin to a caterpillar if they called me to come in, and I was own sister to a giddy-minded bobolink when I ran away across the fields, as I used to do very often."
Sometimes, instead of running away across the fields, she went very primly to some old neighbor's house to call, like any grown-up person. Here is her own pleasant memory of such a call: "I can remember that I used to sit on a tall ottoman, with nothing to lean against, and my feet were off soundings, I was so high above the floor. We used to discuss the weather, and I said that I went to school (sometimes), or that it was then vacation, as the case might be, and we tried to make ourselves agreeable to each other. Presently my lady would take her keys out of her pocket, and sometimes a maid would come to serve me, or else she herself would bring me a silver tray with some pound cakes baked in hearts and rounds, and I proudly felt that I was a guest; though I was such a little thing an attention was being paid me, and a thrill of satisfaction used to go over me for my consequence and importance. A handful of sugar-plums would have seemed nothing beside this entertainment. I used to be careful not to crumble the cake, and I used to eat it with my gloves on, and a pleasant fragrance would cling for some time afterward to the ends of the short lisle-thread fingers. I have no doubt that my manners as I took leave were almost as distinguished as those of my hostess, though I might have been wild and shy all the rest of the week."
She and her sister Mary had the best of times together. Sometimes they played vigorous boys' games with some boy playfellows, who were near neighbors. But one of their greatest delights was to play at housekeeping out of doors, with bits of broken crockery, which served as dishes. These they arranged on little wooden shelves, which the gardener put up for them against the wall. I suspect that they had an even better time than Nelly and her friends with their fine tea-set in Marigold House. I have tried both ways of playing house, myself, and I know which is the better fun.
In spite of her outdoor life, Miss Jewett was not strong as a child and was, therefore, unable to go to school regularly. But while she was still a very little girl, she began to learn two of the best things that can be learned in school or out. She learned to read books and to see the world about her.
Partly because there were many books in the old house, the little girl soon became a great reader. Even in the dullest books she found something to enjoy; and in the most interesting she lost herself completely. Her father, and mother, and one of her grandmothers guided her reading, encouraging her to read aloud a great deal, in that way acquainting her with some of the best books in the world, books that were written for older people. But she was fond of children's books and girls' books, too. In one of her most delightful stories, Deephaven, she tells us the names of some of the books that she loved when she was young. Among these were Mr. Rutherford's Children, Jean Ingelow's Stories told to a Child, and Mrs. Whitney's A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. These books are still alive (you know what that means); and two of them, at least, may be found at the public library.
As she grew older she read a surprising number of books; and often in her letters to her friends she spoke of the book she was reading at the time. Many people read books without taking anything away from them; but it was never so with Miss Jewett. The places and people in books seemed real to her, and were remembered long years after she first met them. Here is a pleasant memory in a letter written when she was over fifty years old: "I felt almost as if I were seven years old again and cuddled into a corner with my beloved story of Mr. Rutherford's Children." Perhaps some book that you are reading now will be a pleasant memory for you on some far-away day. Which one do you suppose it will be? Once, in a letter from Greece, Miss Jewett wrote: "I keep thinking that I shall never be, so to speak, so handy to Constantinople again, and I should like to have the means of making the Arabian Nights come true." You see she loved the Arabian Nights, too.
Although I did not put it in that way, I have already told you how our little friend studied geography. Do you remember how it was? History she learned from books and from the talk that went on all about her. "I was always listening to stories of three wars," she once wrote. These were the siege of Louisburg, the Revolution (in which her ancestors had taken part), and the War of 1812. When she was only twelve years old, the Civil War broke out, so that she learned all that part of the history of our country, while it was in the making.
But the best part of her education lay in those long drives which father and daughter took together. Dr. Jewett taught the little girl to see the beauty of the country roads through which they drove, and -- better still -- to be interested in the people whom they visited. Not only the people, but the old country houses, with their quaint furnishings and old-fashioned gardens, grew to be her familiar friends.
In these early years, the child's mind was full of dreams and fancies of her own, visions of far-away things. If she had been left to her own thoughts, she might not have realized how much there was close by her that was full of beauty and interest. I wonder if you know that it is the same with all of us if we would only open our eyes. All about us are beautiful things to look at, -- sky, and trees, and grass, and the stones of which great buildings are made. All around us, too, are people whom we should find well worth knowing, if we would only take pains to be friendly toward them.
Like all other children the little girl did not half know how much her father was doing for her, although she dearly loved the drives in his company. But when she grew up, she knew that it was to him that she owed the best things in her life.
HER ANIMAL FRIENDS
There are many things in Miss Jewett's writings which show that she was fond of animals and observed them closely. She watched and listened to them all, from the sweetest singer among the birds to the homeliest old toad in the garden. "I became very neighborly with a sober-minded toad," she writes, "that sat still on the gravel walk, blinking and looking at me, as if he had made plans for sitting on the garden bench and I was giving him great inconvenience."
I wish there were room to add for you here all the interesting things Miss Jewett has to tell about the animals she watched. Here are a few.
"It is not necessary to tame them before they can be familiar and responsive; we can meet them on their own ground, and be surprised to find how much we may have in common. Taming is only forcing them to learn some of our customs; we should be wise if we let them tame us to make use of some of theirs."
DOWN THE RIVER
"It sometimes takes me a whole afternoon to go two miles down the river. There are many reasons why I should stop every now and then under one bank or another; to look up through the trees at the sky, or at their pictures in the water; or to let the boat lie still, until one can watch the little fish come back to their playground on the yellow sand and gravel; or to see the frogs, that splashed into the water at my approach, poke their heads out a little way to croak indignantly, or raise a loud note such as Scotch bagpipers drive out of the pipes before they start a tune. The swallows dart like bats along the surface of the water after insects, and I see a drowned white butterfly float by, and reach out for it; it looks so frail and little in the river."
"I wish to tell you about a drive yesterday 'down the other side of the river'; the river frozen; the snow very white and thinly spread like nicest frosting over the fields, and the pine woods as black as they could be, -- no birds, but the tracks of every sort of little beastie. They seemed to have been all out on visits and errands and going such distances on their little paws and claws; somehow it looks too much for a mouse to go half a mile along the road or across a field. Think how a hawk would see him! I think we knew every track but one, -- it had long claws like a crow's and a tail that never lifted; we settled upon a big old rat who had come up from an old wharf by the river-side."
"Oh, you should see the old robin by my bedroom window a-fetching up her young family! I long to have you here to watch the proceedings. Oh, the wide mouths of the three young ones, -- how they do reach up and gape all together when she comes near the nest with a worm! I am getting to be very intimate with the growing family. I hate every pussy when I think what a paw might do. I waited by the window an hour at tea-time, spying them."
Besides the wild creatures, there were pet animals that were very dear to her. Read what she says about a few of these: first, about Sheila, her beautiful saddle-horse.
"She is careful when I come home late through the shadowy, twilighted woods, and can hardly see my way; she forgets then all her little tricks and capers, and is as steady as a clock with her tramp, tramp, over the rough, dark country roads. I feel as if I had suddenly grown a pair of wings when she fairly flies over the ground, and the wind whistles in my ears."
I mourn for poor Crabby -- poor little dog! I hate to think we shall never see him again. I never liked him so much as I have this summer, in his amiable and patient age. However, I had worried much about what should come next when he was blinder and feebler, and it is good to think that his days are done so comfortably."
Besides Crabby, we hear of Jock, and Roger, and Browny, each of whom was good company for her, at one time or another, in her lonely pasture walks.
I am sure you will care for what she writes about the pet bird that had belonged to her father.
"I came home this last time to find that dear bright wise little Bobby, father's tame little bird that he was so fond of, was dead and gone. There never was a little creature with so true and good a heart. He knew so many things -- though not one trick! and he would chirp at me until I answered and spoke to him, and then would sing himself to pieces. How often I have laughed and begged him to be still; and now that live little voice is still enough and its wisp of grey feathers. John and I put him into a little box, and buried him when nobody else knew it, down under the grass on father's grave, where so much sweet cheerfulness lies still already. It was one of the dear links with those old days, you know, dear, and I can't help thinking that Bobby's spark of life is not put out altogether."
OTHER OUT-OF-DOOR FRIENDS
It was not only animals that Miss Jewett loved, but all out-of-door things. When she was a very little child, she would come triumphantly in, with the first green grass blades, a gift for her mother, tightly clasped in her warm little hand. In a letter to the poet, Whittier, who was a dear friend of hers, she once spoke of "the country out of which I grew and where every bush and tree seem like my cousins."
She speaks constantly of flowers and trees as if they were as near and dear as cousins. One day in the fall she wrote to a friend, "I see from the window that a row of zinnias are all brown, but the upper flower-bed is as bright as ever -- all the friendly marigolds -- and I shall have them tucked up with a blanket if it is cold again tonight." Here is what she has to say about others among her "cousins."
GOOD-BYE TO THE WOODS
"The woods I loved best had all been cut down the winter before. I had played under the great pines when I was a child, and I had spent many a long afternoon under them since. There never will be such trees for me any more in the world. I knew where the flowers grew under them, and where the ferns were greenest, and it was as much home to me as my own house. They grew on the side of a hill, and the sun always shone through the tops of the trees as it went down, while below it was all in shadow. . . . I loved those trees so much that I went over the hill on the frozen snow to see them one sunny winter afternoon to say good-bye, as if I were sure they could hear me, and looked back again and again, as I came away, to be sure I should remember how they looked. And it seemed as if they knew as well as I that it was the last time, and they were going to be cut down."
THE DEAREST TREE
"There is another solitary tree which is a great delight to me, and I go to pay it an afternoon visit every now and then, far away from the road across some fields and pastures. It is an ancient pitch-pine, and it grows beside a spring, and has acres of room to lord it over. It thinks everything of itself, and although it is an untidy housekeeper, and flings its dry twigs and sticky cones all around the short grass underneath, I have a great affection for it. I like pitch-pines better than any trees in the world at any rate, and this is the dearest of its race. I sit down in the shade of it and the brook makes a good deal of noise as it starts out from the spring under the bank, and there always is a wind blowing overhead among the stiff green branches."
THREE YEARS LATER
"Alas, when I went to see my beloved big pitch-pine tree that I loved best of all the wild trees that lived in Berwick, I found only the broad stump of it beside the spring, and the top boughs of it scattered far and wide. It was a real affliction, and I thought you would be sorry, too, for such a mournful friend as sat down and counted the rings to see how many years old her tree was, and saw the broad rings when good wet summers had helped it grow and narrow ones when there had been a drought, and read as much of its long biography as she could."
THE POPLAR FAMILY
"I miss very much some poplars which stood on the western shore, opposite the great house, and which were not long since cut down. They were not flourishing, but they were like a little procession of a father and mother and three or four children out for an afternoon walk, coming down through the fields to the river. As you rowed up or down they stood up in bold relief against the sky, for they were on high land. I was deeply attached to them, and in the spring when I went down river for the first time, they always were covered with the first faint green mist of their leaves, and it seemed as if they had been watching for me, and thinking that perhaps I might go by that afternoon."
Miss Jewett must have been especially fond of poplars, for in the beautiful garden behind her old home some noble poplars are standing, which she planted there with her own hands. You see she not only loved the trees which she found already growing in the world, but she helped to make the world more beautiful by planting and tending trees of her own. Just try planting a tiny tree some day, and see what pleasure it will mean for you and other people later on.
HER LOVE OF HOME
Miss Jewett traveled widely in foreign lands and cared deeply for the beauty that she saw there. This was partly because she had been able to see the beauty in her own country and in her own home. The commonplace dandelion, she tells us, was always her favorite flower. And once when she was in Athens, one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the world, she wrote about "the wintry sky, of such astonishing blue, with its blinding light, like one of our winter mornings after a snowstorm." So you see, you and I may look at the blue winter's sky any clear day after a snowstorm, and say to ourselves, "The sky looks like this in Athens."
Here are other words of hers to show that traveling abroad had made her more keenly alive to the beauty that lay all about her at home.
A JOURNEY IN THE PASTURE
"I did have the most beautiful time yesterday afternoon. I feel as if I had seen another country in Europe. Oh, a great deal better than that, though I only went wandering over a great tract of pasture-land down along the river."
A PLOUGHED FIELD
"Where the land has been plowed its color is as beautiful as any color that can be found the world over, and the long shining brown furrows grow warm lying in the sun."
A NEW ENGLAND LAKE
"The house where I stayed is so close to the lake that the little waves come clucking up to the very walls, and one lands as immediately as if it were Venice, and hears the loons calling as if it were still a wilderness."
You would be astonished to know what a busy woman Miss Jewett was, and how many stories she wrote. There are long ones and short ones, stories for children and stories for grown people, nearly twenty books in all. Writing stories may seem to you like an easy kind of work, especially for any one who began when she was a little girl. But Miss Jewett's stories cost many hours of patient, painstaking work. It was work that was worth doing, for the stories have given pleasure to more people than you or I could easily count.
One good thing about these stories is that they help different kinds of people to understand one another. Miss Jewett knew and loved country people and city people, rich people and poor people; and she put all kinds into her books. Then the out-of-door world that was so dear to her constantly finds a place in her stories. Surely the next best thing to being there, is to read stories that make us imagine we are out of doors.
More than this, people are made better and happier by reading such stories as she wrote; for although her stories are sometimes sad, they are more often merry; and they are always kind. She was quick to see the funny things that people say and do; but she knew how to tell them without "making fun of" the people themselves. But perhaps the best thing about the stories is that they are -- as we say – "true to life." So true are they that in years to come, people may turn to them to learn what life was really like, in the last century, in New England country places. Such stories have what we call historical value.
But greater than Miss Jewett's love for the out-of-door world, in which she was always happy, and for her work, to which she was deeply devoted, was her love for her friends. This you may see again and again in her stories and her letters. Like all the best and wisest people, she was very grateful always for what other people had done for her, and was quick to speak her gratitude. In writing once of a lovely old-fashioned story by Mrs. Stowe, The Pearl of Orr's Island, she told gratefully how the opening chapters of the story taught her "to see with new eyes."
Once when speaking of a friend's visit she wrote, "It is a great pleasure to have had her here in the old house; such guests never really go away -- which makes an old house very different from a new one."
Among her friends, in a little seashore town which she sometimes visited, was an old fisherman. After he had grown so aged and feeble that, instead of going out in the fishing-boats, he sat at home knitting stockings, he thought, one spring day, that he saw Miss Jewett driving by. Hurriedly catching up the old spy-glass that he had used at sea, he made sure that it was she, and then toiled over to the moorings, where he had been but once before in many months, to bid her welcome.
You know when an author writes a book, he often puts at the beginning what is called a dedication; that is, a few words in which he offers the book to some dear friend or distinguished person, as if it were a gift. In her dedications, Miss Jewett shows her warm affection for her family and her many friends.
In her first book, Deephaven, she writes : --
"To my father and mother -- my two best friends -- and then to all my other friends whose names I say to myself lovingly, though I do not write them here."
Another book is dedicated "To my dear Sister Mary"; and another, --
To my dear younger sister
C. A. E.
I have had many pleasures that were doubled because you shared them, and so I write your name at the beginning of this book.S. O. J.
This dedication will interest you, I am sure: --
This book of stories
is dedicated with grateful affection
John Greenleaf Whittier.
But the dedication into which she put the warmest gratitude of her whole life is placed at the beginning of Country By-Ways, published soon after her father's death. You must read these words aloud to see how beautiful they are, how like a poem.
T. H. J.
My dear Father; my dear Friend:
The best and wisest man I ever knew;
Who taught me many lessons and showed me many things
As we went together along the
HER LAST YEARS
With the last years of Miss Jewett's life came illness, and suffering, and the laying aside of her work. All this she bore with great patience and sweetness. Her love of out-of-doors, of books, and of people, remained strong and tender. She was surrounded by those who loved her and delighted to serve her.
The end of the sweet, radiant life came, in early summer, in the beautiful old homestead where it had begun almost sixty years before. But such lives never really end. Although they leave the world poorer because they have passed out of it, they leave it richer because they have been in it, and grateful for all they have given it.
Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, "Idealized New England," The New Republic (May 8, 1915) 20-21.
"WHAT a terrible book," I said, "what a supremely cruel book!"
"A tragic masterpiece," she contradicted, "a landmark in American literature. Against that iron New England background Mrs. Wharton's few figures have an almost Euripidean quality."
"But the Greeks never made their audiences writhe," I protested. "Could you write choruses to 'Ethan Frome,' melodious choruses to be chanted by tranquil, veiled women and offering some alleviation to the bitter lot of man? No," I went on with heat, "you'll find only jibbering fiends to break Ethan's agony. The story is a fine example of what hate can accomplish as creative inspiration; and of the difference between observation and understanding."
"Come now," she said, "that sounds like local prejudice. You should be sufficiently disaffected by New York and Europe to perceive the depleted side of you native states."
"Have I not seen the industrious Swede and the inscrutable Finn absorbing the land cleared by my ancestors' vitality?"
"Well then! And you care so much for the French classic manner -- how can you fail to appreciate the rapidity, the suppressions, the sharp yet delicate shadings of this poignant New England drama?"
"Ah, but that's just why the book wounds me so. My acquired literary sense, which Mrs. Wharton pricks to admiration on every page, here conflicts with something far more real and subconscious -- the knowledge I was born with of the kind of people, the kind of place, yes and the kind of drama of weakened will she is so relentlessly describing. And I tell you that in spite of the vraisemblance of the surface, she has got them all wrong. She has nowhere dug down into the subsoil."
"You don't mind quarreling with the authorities," she remarked. "Of course you read Mr. Herrick on Mrs. Wharton in THE NEWREPUBLIC?"
"Yes, it was precisely the article which sent me back to the sources. No doubt Mrs. Wharton is more psychologist than social historian; no doubt, as he said, her real interest is in the subtler and more universal sort of spiritual conflicts. But I can't admit that the conflict between love and duty in 'Ethan Frome' is less conditioned by special environment, than, for example, Lily Bart's struggle."
"You will grant that men tied to wives older than themselves, ill, ugly and querulous, are doomed in every quarter of the globe to fall in love with girls like blackberries who put red ribbons in their hair."
"Certainly. But Ethan and his wife Zeena, and her young cousin, Mattie Silver, are not generalized types. Would Mr. Herrick accept them as they stand, for Ohio or Illinois? They are New England country people of old stock living in a lonely snowed-in hill town in the Berkshires. Mrs. Wharton's deliberate purpose is to show what life in Starkfield really means to a man who has been there too many winters; to show the grim New England skeleton that the summer resident usually fails to discover during his pleasant months in the elm-shaded village -- unless he happens upon a degenerate chore-boy, or sees a poor little girl in short skirts carrying her shame to school under a cape."
"True, and the New England writers have largely ignored the skeleton. The 'idyll' has been done to death, like the conscience. I commend Mrs. Wharton for finding a new subject in an overworked field."
"So do I, but if 'Ethan Frome' is a New England tale in the same sense as Miss Brown's or Mrs. Freeman's stories or 'The Country of the Pointed Firs' -- and this is just the point I am venturing to make against Mr. Herrick -- then surely one is justified in asking, as he does about the New York novels, whether the author has been fair to her subject. Do Zeena's false teeth click true, do Ethan and Mattie make love in Starkfield fashion, would they have taken the fatal coast that brought about the intolerable horror of their lives?"
"Ugh," said my friend, "those false teeth -- what a sure realistic note! I can never forget the glass by the bed, into which the wife dropped them when she blew out the candle at night in the terrible gray, cold room."
"Of course you can't. Neither could Mrs. Wharton. You both look at Starkfield with the eyes of the sophisticated stranger who arrives there is a blizzard, and stumbles through the drifts into Ethan's run-down 'place.' You notice the superficial things that would make you miserable. Ethan suffered in all sorts of ways, but not from false teeth: he was brought up on them! His mother had them; his cousins and neighbors had them; he probably admired Mattie less because she hadn't 'had her molars out'!"
"Well, I waive the teeth," said she with a shudder. "Let's take the coasting parties and the church sociable. Surely Mrs. Wharton has those in key?"
"In the unconsciously contemptuous key of the person who has a box at the opera. How should cosmopolitans understand what such diversions mean to Starkfield folks? They have all sorts of consolations if you only knew. Even when winter breaks and the teams sink up to their axles in mud, they have things to live for and look for -- pussy-willows, for instance. Laugh if you like! Do you remember 'Miss Tempy's Watchers' and the one thorny quince tree she 'kind of expected into bloomin' ' every spring?"
"You mean that because of its very repressions, its very barrenness, and physical deprivations, New England life still produces a sort of flower -- "
"Pale as snowdrops, hidden in dead leaves like hepaticas and arbutus; yet precious to those who know where to look for it. That is the sort of flower Ethan's and Mattie's love was, but they could never have expressed it to each other."
"Mrs. Wharton lets them express it so little," she objected.
"Ah, but a word, a touch would have spoiled it for them. I think Ethan, dim and weakened descendant of rugged forefathers that he was, would have had the spirit to drive his Mattie to the station when his wife sent her packing. But he would not have dreamed of stopping for that preposterous coast for death. It was just Mrs. Wharton's own sense of the blankness and emptiness, the lack of beauty and passion in Starkfield lives, that made her construct that tremendous fourth act for her lovers and condemn them to its gruesome, long-drawn epilogue."
"You think they would have driven on silently to the station and parted with a dumb handshake and a look?"
"Sustained by something they did not understand, something they half rebelled against and yet could not possibly foreswear."
"Then Ethan's real tragedy would have been that he had nothing real, tangible, to cling to -- only an idea, a feeling, a dream to carry him through those slow gray years when Zeena continued to flourish on patent medicines?"
"Exactly. The real New England tragedy, as Mrs. Wharton herself realized at bottom, is not that something happens but that nothing does. Yet if Ethan was tender to Zeena instead of strangling her complaining voice in her lanky throat, it was because when he was out alone in the pasture lot and heard the hermit thrush singing in the pines he knew he had been right. The image of his girl was warm in his heart then and undefiled, like Martha's memory of her 'lady.' "
"Miss Jewett again! It isn't fair. She had a natural love of light and sun, an aversion to the shadow and cruelty and ugliness of life which Mrs. Wharton has the courage to face and to probe."
"Is that the essential point of difference? I don't think so. There are chapters in Miss Jewett's works -- in 'Deephaven' for example -- and passages in her letters which show her full knowledge of the shadow even though she did not often linger there. For that matter, almost any of her stories if told from outside in rather than from inside out might be sordid and grim. That's the bearing of our whole argument, isn't it? Take the 'The Queen's Twin.' What was she? To most people a poor, cracked old creature, the victim of a silly delusion. It needed the feeling heart of Mrs. Todd to realize that she was, in fact as in fancy, the sister soul of royalty, a woman with a shining destiny."
"You evidently think the only creative truth is that perceived by love. I believe any strong passion is worth recording."
"Possibly. Indifference could not have written 'Ethan Frome.' But if Mrs. Wharton had realized Ethan as Miss Jewett did the Queen's Twin, as she herself loved and understood her most significant creation, Lily Bart, we should get some shock of those deep-down unwritable things which are the vital parts of novels as they are of human beings. We should get life, not a literary copy of it."
"It's no use," said my friend, "to argue on her own soil with the descendant of a band of hopeless idealists who see the hardest facts in a sort of Platonic glow. I am afraid I must still read and admire 'Ethan Frome.' "
"Wait till you are old. That is a New England counsel, but just wait! Then the 'Queen's Twin,' and the 'Dunnet Shepherdess' will still be full of living human poetry and truth and the salt-sweet scent of high coast pastures, and 'Ethan Frome' will be rotting in his grave."
From Henry James, "Mr. and Mrs. James T. Fields." Atlantic Monthly 116 (July 1915) 21-31.
To speak in a mere parenthesis of Miss Jewett, mistress of an art of fiction all her own, even though of a minor compass, and surpassed only by Hawthorne as producer of the most finished and penetrating of the numerous 'short stories' that have the domestic life of New England for their general and their doubtless somewhat lean subject, is to do myself, I feel, the violence of suppressing a chapter of appreciation that I should long since somewhere have found space for. Her admirable gift, that artistic sensibility in her which rivaled the rare personal, that sense for the finest kind of truthful rendering, the sober and tender note, the temperately touched, whether in the ironic or the pathetic, would have deserved some more pointed commemoration than I judge her beautiful little quantum of achievement, her free and high, yet all so generously subdued character, a sort of elegance of humility or fine flame of modesty, with her remarkably distinguished outward stamp, to have called forth before the premature and overdarkened close of her young course of production. She had come to Mrs. Fields as an adoptive daughter, both a sharer and a sustainer, and nothing could more have warmed the ancient faith of their confessingly a bit disoriented countryman than the association of the elder and the younger lady in such an emphasized susceptibility. Their reach together was of the firmest and easiest, and I verily remember being struck with the stretch of wing that the spirit of Charles Street could bring off on finding them all fragrant of a recent immersion in the country life of France, where admiring friends had opened to them iridescent vistas that made it by comparison a charity they should show the least dazzle from my so much ruder display. I preserve at any rate the memory of a dazzle corresponding, or in other words of my gratitude for their ready apprehension of the greatness of big 'composed' Sussex, which we explored together almost to extravagance -- the lesson to my own sense all remaining that of how far the pure, the peculiarly pure, old Boston spirit, old even in these women of whom one was miraculously and the other familiarly young, could travel without a scrap of loss of its ancient immunity to set against its gain of vivacity.
There was vivacity of a new sort somehow in the fact that the elder of my visitors, the elder in mere calculable years, had come fairly to cultivate, as it struck me, a personal resemblance to the great George Eliot -- and this but through the quite lawful art of causing a black lace mantilla to descend from her head and happily consort with a droop of abundant hair, a formation of brow and a general fine benignity; things that at once markedly recalled the countenance of Sir Frederick Burton's admirable portrait of the author of Romola and made it a charming anomaly that such remains of beauty should match at all a plainness not to be blinked even under the play of Sir Frederick's harmonizing crayon. Other amplified aspects of the whole legend, as I have called it, I was afterwards to see presented on its native scene -- whereby it comes back to me that Sarah Jewett's brave ghost would resent my too roughly Bostonizing her: there hangs before me such a picture of her right setting, the antique dignity -- as antiquity counts thereabouts -- of a clear colonial house, in Maine, just over the New Hampshire border, and a day spent amid the very richest local revelations. These things were not so much of like as of equally flushed complexion with two or three occasions of view, at the same memorable time, of Mrs. Fields's happy alternative home on the shining Massachusetts shore, where I seem to catch in latest afternoon light the quite final form of all the pleasant evidence. To say which, however, is still considerably to foreshorten; since there supervenes for me with force as the very last word, or the one conclusive for myself at least, a haunted little feast as of ghosts, if not of skeletons, at the banquet, with the image of that immemorial and inextinguishable lady Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, the most evidential and most eminent presence of them all, as she rises in her place, under the extremity of appeal, to declaim a little quaveringly, but ever so gallantly, that 'Battle-hymn of the Republic,' which she had caused to be chanted half a century before and still could accompany with a real breadth of gesture, her great clap of hands and indication of the complementary step, on the triumphant line,
'Be swift my hands to welcome him, be jubilant my feet!'
The geniality of this performance swept into our collective breast again the whole matter of my record, which I thus commend to safe spiritual keeping.
From William Dean Howells: A Study of the Achievement of a Literary Artist
By Alexander Harvey
New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1917.
. . . . All through his criticism -- this is very significant -- one notes that Howells seems inclined to exempt Jane Austen from his censure of the art of British novelists in general. Jane Austen wins the approval of Howells because her methods are those of the realism he professes.
If she had dealt in adventures of the tremendous kind Howells, I fear, would never have praised her art. The business of the novelist is to reflect what Howells calls life. Now the thing that goes by the name of life to Howells is but a superficial aspect of it.
Howells seems in his criticism to have no suspicion of the melancholy fact that life is preposterous, melodramatic, that it is more romantic than Ariosto's "Orlando." He will allow no combination of psychological insight with imagination and fancy. I suspect that his reluctance to give Shakespeare his due springs from a dislike of the ghost in "Hamlet." There are no ghosts, no fairies. Howells notes further:
If Miss Jewett were of a little longer breath than she has yet shown herself in fiction, I might say the Jane Austen of Portsmouth was already with us, and had merely not yet begun to deal with its precious material. . . . One comfortable matron, in a cinnamon silk, was just such a figure as that in the Miss Wilkins's story where the bridegroom fails to come on the wedding-day; but, as I say, they made me think more of Miss Jewett's people. The shore folk and the Down-Easters are specifically hers; and these were just such as might have belonged in "The Country of the Pointed Firs," or "Sister Wisby's Courtship," or "Dulham Ladies," or "An Autumn Ramble," or twenty other entrancing tales.
The words will repay study. They sum up in a brief paragraph the whole Howells gospel. They are like the little piece of butter which the housekeeper tastes out of the tub at market and which, to the discerning, affords a measure of the quality of the whole.
Notes from Harvey's Index – which seems to be a wild document
Jewett, Sarah Orne. I don't give a fig for her but Howells seems to think her great. 171
Sissy, The. It is amazing to observe how Howells raves over the sissies. For instance: "At Boston, or near Boston, live those artists supreme in the kind of short story which we have carried so far: Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, Miss Alice Brown, Mrs. Chase-Wyman, and Miss Gertrude Smith, who comes from Kansas, and writes of the prairie farm-life, though she leaves Mr. E. W. Howe (of The Story of a Country Town and presently of the Atchison Daily Globe) to constitute, with the humorous poet Iron-quill, a frontier literary center at Topeka. Of Boston, too, though she is of western Pennsylvania origin, is Mrs. Margaret Deland, one of our most successful novelists. Miss Wilkins has married out of Massachusetts into New Jersey, and is the neighbor of Mr. H. M. Alden at Metuchen." And so on and so forth! What she has done in literature.
Sissy School. This is native American and Anglo-Saxon to the backbone.
Wilkins. This is the maiden name of the lady who has since become Mrs. Freeman and whose tales I am sorry I am forced to disparage owing to my objection to the sissy school of literature. Howells has no objection to it, of course. Hear him rave: "Even the power of writing short stories, which we suppose ourselves to have in such excellent degree, has spread from New England. That is, indeed, the home of the American short story, and it has there been brought to such perfection in the work of Miss Wilkins, of Miss Jewett, of Miss Brown, and of that most faithful, forgotten painter of manners, Mrs. Rose Terry Cook[e], that it presents upon the whole a truthful picture of New England village life in some of its more obvious phases."
From William Joseph Long, Outlines of English and American Literature.
New York: Ginn and Co., 1917.
We name only, by way of indicating the wide variety that awaits the reader, the charming stories of Grace King and Kate Chopin dealing with plantation life; the New England stories, powerful or brilliant or somber, of Sarah Orne Jewett, Rose Terry Cooke and Mary E. Wilkins; the tender and cheery southern stories of Thomas Nelson Page; the impressive stories of mountaineer life by Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock); the humorous, Alice-in-Wonderland kind of stories told by Frank Stockton; and a bewildering miscellany of other works, of which the names Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Hamlin Garland, Alice French (Octave Thanet), Rowland Robinson, Frank Norris and Henry C. Bunner are as a brief but inviting index.
The realistic movement in American fiction began, as we have noted, with the short-story writers; and presently the most talented of these writers, having learned the value of real scenes and characters, turned to the novel and produced works having the double interest of romance and realism; that is, they told an old romantic tale of love or heroism and set it amid scenes or characters that were typical of American life. Miss Jewett's novels of northern village life, for example, are even finer than her short stories in the same field. The same criticism applies to Miss Murfree with her novels of mountaineer life in Tennessee, to James Lane Allen with his novels of his native Kentucky, and to many another recent novelist who tells a brave tale of his own people. We call these, in the conventional way, novels of New England or the South or the West; in reality they are novels of humanity, of the old unchanging tragedies or comedies of human life, which seem more true or real to us because they appear in a familiar setting.
Note on p. 518
¹ Several of Howells's earlier novels deal with New England life, but superficially and without understanding. However minutely they depict its manners or mannerisms they seldom dip beneath the surface. If the reader wants not the body but the soul of New England, he must go to some other fiction writer, to Sarah Orne Jewett, for example, or to Rose Terry Cooke.
From Bliss Perry, The American Spirit in Literature. New York: Yale, 1918,1921, pp. 248-250.
Let us glance back to 'the abandoned farm of literature," as a witty New Yorker once characterized New England. The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a decline in the direct influence of that province over the country as a whole. Its strength sapped by the emigration of its more vigorous sons, its typical institutions sagging under the weight of immense immigrations from Europe, its political importance growing more and more negligible, that ancient promontory of ideas has continued to lose its relative literary significance. In one field of literature only has New England maintained its rank since the Civil War, and that is in the local short story. Here women have distinguished themselves beyond the proved capacity of New England men. Mrs. Stowe and Rose Terry Cooke, women of democratic humor, were the pioneers; then came Harriet Prescott Spofford and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, women with nerves; and finally the three artists who have written, out of the material offered by a decadent New England, as perfect short stories as France or Russia can produce -- Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Alice Brown. These gifted writers portrayed, with varying technique and with singular differences in their instinctive choice of material, the dominant qualities of an isolated, in-bred race, still proud in its decline; still inquisitive and acquisitive, versatile yet stubborn, with thrift passing over into avarice, and mental power degenerating into smartness; cold and hard under long repression of emotion, yet capable of passion and fanaticism; at worst, a mere trader, a crank, a grim recluse; at best, endowed with an austere physical and moral beauty. Miss Jewett preferred to touch graciously the sunnier slopes of this provincial temperament, to linger in its ancient dignities and serenities. Miss Brown has shown the pathos of its thwarted desires, its hunger for a beauty and a happiness denied. Mary Wilkins Freeman revealed its fundamental tragedies of will.
from Mrs. Humphry Ward
A Writer's Recollections
New York: Harper's, 1918
Then Philadelphia, where I lectured on behalf of the London Play Centers; Boston, with Mrs. Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett – a pair of friends, gentle, eager, distinguished, whom none who loved them will forget; Cambridge, and our last sight of Charles Eliot Norton, standing to bid us farewell on the steps of Shady Hill; Hawthorne's house at Concord; and the lovely shore of Newport. The wonderful new scenes unrolled themselves day by day; kind faces and welcoming voices were always round us, and it was indeed hard to tear ourselves away.
From Walter C. Bronson, A Short History of American Literature, New York: Heath, 1919.
Studies of New England life had been made before 1870 by HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1812 -1896) in The Minister's Wooing (1859), The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), and Old Town Folks (1869), the first and last describing religious and social conditions in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the early years of the Republic, and the second narrating the lives of simple folk on the coast of Maine; the manner is too leisurely for present taste, but the pictures give truly and vividly much of the essence of New England life and character. HENRY WARD BEECHER (1813 – 1887), in Norwood (1867), did the same thing, less skillfully, for the period of the Civil War, including one of the earliest fictitious portraits of Lincoln. ROSE TERRY COOKE (1827 – 1892), a pioneer in the more terse and realistic manner, put into her stories the intimate knowledge of rural life and character gained by teaching school, beginning with Miss Lucinda (in The Atlantic Monthly, 1861) and continuing many years; Somebody's Neighbors (1881) is a collection of some of her best stories, although The Deacon's Week (1885) is preferred by some readers. HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD (1835 - ), who, after partial success in romantic fiction and poetry, turned to more realistic work in such sketches as A Village Dressmaker and A Rural Telephone, strikes a deeper note, combining realism of setting with the romance of passion, and suffusing the whole with a poetic atmosphere; this is particularly true of The Wages of Sin in Old Madame and Other Tragedies (1899). SARAH ORNE JEWETT (1849 -1909) writes with gentle sympathy and delicate truthfulness of life along the Maine coast, interpreting the quiet nobility of simple men and women in whom still survive the best traditions of the earlier New England, with special fondness for taciturn old sailors; Deephaven (1877), A Country Doctor (1884), and The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) show her at her best. MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN (1862 - ) excels Miss Jewett in artistic concentration upon single effects, and draws with remarkable precision and sureness of hand, but she has less breadth and geniality, painting in water-colors the more neutral and cramped types of Yankee character; A Humble Romance (1887) and A New England Nun and Other Stories (1891) remain her classic work, her so-called novels, Pembroke (1894) and Jerome, a Poor Young Man (1897) lacking structural unity, and her latest short stories showing a sad decline. ANNIE TRUMBULL SLOSSON (1838 - ) in Seven Dreamers (1890), and other dialect stories, describes, with mingled humor and pathos inclining toward religious sentimentality, various odd characters in rural Connecticut and New Hampshire. The more refreshing and enjoyable by contrast with the feminine delicacy of these women writers are the masculine vigor and broad humor of ROWLAND E. ROBINSON (1833 – 1900), who faithfully portrays the rural Vermonter in Uncle Lisha's Shop (1887) and several other collections of dialect sketches. ALICE BROWN (1857 - ), much overrated at present, in her dialect stories, Meadow Grass (1895), Tiverton Tales (1899), The Country Road (1906), etc., added nothing to previous studies of New England life except more emotionalism; she makes overmuch of old maids' platonic substitutes for marriage, and her style lacks simplicity and naturalness; her novels, such as Paradise (1905) and The Story of Thyrza (1909), are deficient in constructive power and grasp of passion; her play, Children of Earth (1915), similar in theme to her stories, was a failure on the stage, and is little better as a closet-drama.
Somewhat akin to these studies of local conditions are the novels on American history. Many things contributed to cause an outburst of this species of prose fiction: the popularity of European historical novels; the works of Parkman and Fiske, combining historical accuracy with romantic coloring and dramatic intensity; reaction from the depressing realistic novel; and quickened patriotism after the Spanish-American War, reënforcing the national pride and sense of power which followed on the reëstablishment of the Union. The result was a flood of fiction compounded of history and romance in greatly varying proportions. LEWIS WALLACE (1827 -1905) was a forerunner in this field with his Fair God (1873), a story of the early Spanish régime in the New World, full of dash and color, but rather flashy than truly brilliant, like his better known Ben Hur, a Tale of the Christ (1880). MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD (1847 – 1902), a somewhat later pioneer, in The Romance of Dollard (1888), The Lady of Fort St. John (1891), The Chase of St. Castin (1894), etc., pictured the achievements of French explorers and settlers in Canada with glowing colors and much vivacity of style, although her work cannot be ranked very high either as historical fiction or as a study of human nature. S. WEIR MITCHELL (1829 – 1914), a brilliant and versatile physician, achieved his greatest success as an author in Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker (1897), a novel of the American Revolution; there is too much antiquarian detail regarding Philadelphia, the centre of the action, and the character-portrayal is somewhat conventional, but the story as a whole is vivid and pleasing, and reaches true pathos in the picture of André's last hours. Early Virginian history has been treated skilfully, although quite without touch of greatness, by MARY JOHNSTON (1870 - ) in Prisoners of Hope (1898), To Have and to Hold (1900), Audrey (1902), etc. PAUL LEICESTER FORD (1865 – 1902), a diligent student of American history, is still rather historian than novelist in Janice Meredith (1899); the action of the novel covers the whole period of the American Revolution, and although the love story begins piquantly enough, it is soon apparent that the heroine is being moved mercilessly from place to place in order to keep her affairs and the historical events together. The strength of the book is in the truth and vividness of the historical pictures, in which the brutality, cowardice, and treachery of some of the Revolutionists are candidly revealed; the portrait of Washington, however, although frankly human, is not powerful enough to be true to the original. MAURICE THOMPSON (1844 – 1901) produced a very popular novel in Alice of Old Vincennes (1900), dealing with events in Indiana under the French during the Revolutionary War. Two writers already mentioned, MRS. FREEMAN and MISS JEWETT, attempted historical fiction with small success, the former in The Heart's Highway (1900), a story of Virginia in the seventeenth century, and the latter in The Tory Lover (1901).
From "Maine's Contribution to Literature"
John Clair Minot.
Maine Library Bulletin 9 (1919) pp. 31-34.
And the women writers of Maine! Thirty years ago George Bancroft Griffith compiled a book of eight hundred and fifty pages, "The Poets of Maine." It was on lines similar to those followed in "The Bowdoin Poets," published in 1840, and the "Native Poets of Maine," published in 1854. Griffith found nearly 450 Maine writers worthy of places in his compilation – though it will readily be admitted that only by a very liberal and charitable construction can many of them be enrolled as poets – and of that number 167 were women. A present day compilation, if made equally comprehensive, would probably mean half a dozen volumes as large as Griffith's.
The women writers of Maine – not to mention again those already referred to – include many authors widely known and loved – Harriet Prescott Spofford, with more than a score of novels and books of verse to her credit, who declines at eighty-three to lay aside the pen she has wielded so happily; Sarah Orne Jewett, whose charming stories of the country of the pointed firs won her the degree of Doctor of Letters from Bowdoin in 1901, the first woman to receive a degree from that college; Martha Baker Dunn, poet and essayist, whom the country came to know better through the generous praise that President Roosevelt gave one of her articles in the Atlantic Monthly ; Emma Huntington Nason, poet and historian of old Hallowell, the mother of Professor Arthur Huntington Nason of New York University – himself the author of several very scholarly works; Caroline Dana Howe, of whose books of poems and thirty hymns, nothing is better known than her song, "Leaf by Leaf the Roses Fall;" Elizabeth Akers Allen, writer of much exquisite verse, but of nothing more certain to endure than her
"Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!"
Ella Maude Smith Moore, of Thomaston, whose poem beginning
"'Rock of Ages, cleft for me'
Though[t]lessly the maiden sung,
Fell the words unconsciously
From her girlish, gleeful tongue,'
has been going the rounds for more than forty years, and carries in its lines the same undying appeal that vibrates through Mrs. Allen's "Rock Me to Sleep;" Clara Marcelle Greene, many of whose poems have dramatic strength and fire; Frances Laughton Mace, a prolific writer of graceful poems among which "Only Waiting" is perhaps the most familiar; Ellen Hamlin Butler of Bangor, who has written many good poems in the past forty years, but nothing better than her recent "By Wireless," expressing, first, the call that goes forth from the hearts of the Homeland to our sailors and soldiers,
"Be strong, be strong, O Beloved, pure-hearted and high of will!
Knights are ye and crusaders our plighted vows to fulfill.
The God who girded your fathers shall arm you with His might,
And the soul of the great Republic goes with you into the night."
And then the answering call that comes back to us from those on the battle front:
"Stand fast, stand fast, O Beloved! In the glory of sacrifice
Give as we give our life-blood and scorn to reckon the price.
Pour forth your treasure and spare not! Bend to your toil nor stay!
In the name of the God of our fathers keep faith as we fight today."
Would that we could linger longer with these women writers of Maine. There are others – Kate Vannah, Julia May Williamson, Anna Boynton Averill, Olive E. Dana, Julia Harris May, Annie Hamilton Donnell, Kate Putnam Osgood, Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, to name a few, as well as some of our own time – on whose work it would be fitting and pleasant to dwell if time permitted. Let it be granted that those whom I have named will never be counted among the great makers of literature, still we may claim for them that they have brought to many lives that which the master poet sought when, at evening time, he begged one whom he loved:
"Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling
And banish the thoughts of day.
* * * *
Read from some humbler poet
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer
Or tears from the eyelid start.
Who, through long days of labor
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
L. A. Pittenger, ed. A Collection of Short Stories. New York: Macmillan, 1919, pp. xiv-xvi.
QUALITIES OF THE SHORT STORY
IT was not until well along in the nineteenth century that any one attempted to define the short- story. The three quotations given here are among the best things that have been spoken on this subject.
"The right novella is never a novel cropped back from the size of a tree to a bush, or the branch of a tree stuck into the ground and made to serve for a bush. It is another species, destined by the agencies at work in the realm of unconsciousness to be brought into being of its own kind, and not of another." -- W. D. HOWELLS, North American Review, 173: 429.
"A true short-story is something other and something more than a mere story which is short. A true short-story differs from the novel chiefly in its essential unity of impression. In a far more exact and precise use of the word, a short-story has unity as a novel cannot have it. . . . A short-story deals with a single character, a single event, a single emotion, or the series of emotions called forth by a single situation." -- BRANDER MATTHEWS, The Philosophy of the Short-Story.
"The aim of a short-story is to produce a single narrative effect with the greatest economy of means that is consistent with the utmost emphasis." -- CLAYTON HAMILTON, Materials and Methods of Fiction.
The short-story must always have a compact unity and a direct simplicity. In such stories as Björnson's The Father and Maupassant's The Piece of String this simplicity is equal to that of the anecdote, but in no case can an anecdote possess the dramatic possibilities of these simple short-stories; for a short-story must always have that tensity of emotion that comes only in the crucial tests of life.
The short-story does not demand the consistency in treatment of the long story, for there are not so many elements to marshal and direct properly, but the short-story must be original and varied in its themes, cleverly constructed, and lighted through and through with the glow of vivid imaginings. A single incident in daily life is caught as in a snap-shot exposure and held before the reader in such a manner that the impression of the whole is derived largely from suggestion. The single incident may be the turning-point in life history, as in The Man Who Was; it may be a mental surrender of habits fixed seemingly in indelible colors in the soul and a sudden, inflexible decision to be a man, as in the case of Markheim; or it may be a gradual realization of the value of spiritual gifts, as Björnson has concisely presented it in his little story The Father.
The aim of the short-story is always to present a cross-section of life in such a vivid manner that the importance of the incident becomes universal. Some short-stories are told with the definite end in view of telling a story for the sake of exploiting a plot. The Cask of Amontillado is all action in comparison with The Masque of the Red Death. The Gold-Bug sets for itself the task of solving a puzzle and possesses action from first to last. Other stories teach a moral. Ethan Brand deals with the unpardonable sin, and The Great Stone Face is our classic story in the field of ideals and their development. Hawthorne, above all writers, is most interested in ethical laws and moral development. Still other stories aim to portray character. Miss Jewett and Mrs. Freeman veraciously picture the faded-out womanhood in New England; Henry James and Björnson turn the x-rays of psychology and sociology on their characters; Stevenson follows with the precision of the tick of a watch the steps in Markheim's mental evolution.
The types of the short-story are as varied as life itself. Addison, Lamb, Irving, Warner, and many others have used the story in their sketches and essays with wonderful effect. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is as impressive as any of Scott's tales. The allegory in The Great Stone Face loses little or nothing when compared with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. No better type of detective story has been written than the two short-stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. Every emotion is subject to the call of the short-story. Humor with its expansive free air is not so well adapted to the short-story as is pathos. There is a sadness in the stories of Dickens, Garland, Page, Mrs. Freeman, Miss Jewett, Maupassant, Poe, and many others that runs the whole gamut from pleasing tenderness in A Child's Dream of a Star to unutterable horror in The Fall of the House of Usher.
The short-story is stripped of all the incongruities that led Fielding, Scott, and Dickens far afield. All its parts harmonize in the simplest manner to give unity and "totality" of impression through strict unity of form. It is a concentrated piece of life snatched from the ordinary and uneventful round of living and steeped in fancy until it becomes the acme of literary art.
WILLA SIBERT CATHER
By Latrobe Carroll
Bookman 53 (May 1920) 212-215
ON the Nebraska prairie some years ago, a little girl rode about on her pony, among settlements of Scandinavians and Bohemians, listening to their conversation, fascinated by their personalities. She was Willa Sibert Cather, who, as a woman, was to give in her novels the story of their struggle with the soil. Ever since those early years, she has been studying people, until she is today one of that small group of American writers who tell of life with beauty and entire earnestness. She has won the praise of those critics whose standards are highest, whose condemnation of insincerity and distortion is severest. Listen to Randolph Bourne: "She has outgrown provincialism and can now be reckoned among those who are richly interpreting youth all over the world." And to H. L Mencken: "There is no other American author of her sex, now in view, whose future promises so much."
Miss Cather's reputation is of recent growth. Though her first novel, "Alexander's Bridge", was published in 1912, she remained comparatively unknown until about five years ago. Then critics realized that every successive book of hers had shown an advance, and began to look forward with interest to her future work. She is, however, still unknown to large sections of the American reading public.
Not long ago, she sat in her New York apartment in Greenwich Village, and talked to me about her books. She seems just the one to have written them. She is sincere, vigorous, self-controlled. There is no flippancy about her. She has not made herself the heroine of any of her novels, but she is akin to her own heroines. In "The Song of the Lark", one of the characters remarks that Thea Kronborg, the central figure, "doesn't sigh every time the wind blows". Miss Cather herself is that sort. She has a mental sturdiness.
She spoke of the beginnings of her impulse to write.
"When I was about nine," she said, "father took me from our place near Winchester, Virginia, to a ranch in Nebraska. Few of our neighbors were Americans -- most of them were Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Bohemians. I grew fond of some of these immigrants -- particularly the old women, who used to tell me of their home country. I used to think them under-rated, and wanted to explain them to their neighbors. Their stories used to go round and round in my head at night. This was, with me, the initial impulse. I didn't know any writing people. I had an enthusiasm for a kind of country and a kind of people, rather than ambition.
"I've always had a habit of remembering mannerisms, turns of speech," she explained. "The phraseology of those people stuck in my mind. If I had made notes, or should make them now, the material collected would be dead. No, it's memory -- the memory that goes with the vocation. When I sit down to write, turns of phrase I've forgotten for years come back like white ink before fire. I think that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen. That's the important period: when one's not writing. Those years determine whether one's work will be poor and thin or rich and fine."
After a high school preparation, Miss Cather entered the University of Nebraska. She said, of this time:
"Back in the files of the college magazine, there were once several of my perfectly honest but very clumsy attempts to give the story of some of the Scandinavian and Bohemian settlers who lived not far from my father's farm. In these sketches, I simply tried to tell about the people, without much regard for style. These early stories were bald, clumsy, and emotional. As I got toward my senior year, I began to admire, for the first time, writing for writing's sake. In those days, no one seemed so wonderful as Henry James; for me, he was the perfect writer."
When Willa Cather graduated at nineteen, her instructors and friends expected her to become a "writer" in a few months, and achieve popular success. But they were disappointed. For almost nine years she wrote little besides a volume of verse, the experimental "April Twilights", and a dozen stories for magazines. Most of these stories she now dismisses as "affected" and "bad".
"It wasn't that I didn't want to write," she said of this period. "But I was too interested in trying to find out something about the world and about people. I worked on the Pittsburg 'Leader', taught English in the Allegheny High School, went abroad for long periods, and traveled in the west. I couldn't have got as much out of those nine years if I'd been writing."
In 1905 there was published a collection of her stories, "The Troll Garden". Largely by reason of these, she was offered a position on "McClure's Magazine", of which she was managing editor from 1908 until 1912.
"I took a salaried position," she said, "because I didn't want to write directly to sell. I didn't want to compromise. Not that the magazine demands were wrong. But they were definite. I had a delightful sense of freedom when I'd saved up enough to take a house in Cherry Valley, New York, and could begin work on my first novel, 'Alexander's Bridge'.
"In 'Alexander's Bridge' I was still more preoccupied with trying to write well than with anything else. It takes a great deal of experience to become natural. People grow in honesty as they grow in anything else. A painter or writer must learn to distinguish what is his own from that which he admires. I never abandoned trying to make a compromise between the kind of matter that my experience had given me and the manner of writing which I admired, until I began my second novel, 'O Pioneers!' And from the first chapter, I decided not to 'write' at all -- simply to give myself up to the pleasure of recapturing in memory people and places I had believed forgotten. This was what my friend Sarah Orne Jewett had advised me to do. She said to me that if my life had lain in a part of the world that was without a literature, and I couldn't tell about it truthfully in the form I most admired, I'd have to make a kind of writing that would tell it, no matter what I lost in the process."
"O Pioneers!" placed Miss Cather definitely among the writers who count. It is an epic of the early struggles of Swedish and Bohemian settlers in Nebraska -- a book of beauty and power. In taking for a title the name of one of Walt Whitman's poems, the author drew attention to his influence upon the mood of her narrative.
In "The Song of the Lark", Willa Cather chose a less impressionistic method. It is longer than "O Pioneers!", less concentrated, resembling more closely the conventional psychological novel. It is the story of Thea Kronborg, a Swedish-American singer, who wrenches herself away from an environment antagonistic to art, and becomes an opera "star". Critics took widely divergent attitudes toward the book. To many, it has not the same aliveness as "O Pioneers!" Randolph Bourne found it a digression into a field for which Miss Cather was not really fitted, either by her style, or her enthusiasm. But Edward Everett Hale discovered in it "a sense of something less common than life: namely, art as it exists in life -- a very curious and elusive thing, but so beautiful, when one gets it, that one forgets all else."
Miss Cather's most recent novel, "My Antonia", is a fuller evocation of the "old, old west" than was "O Pioneers!" The descriptions of the western prairie, brief, poignant, lift us from our easy chairs and set us down on those high plains. The book is ruthless, poetical, tremendously alive. It is the finest thing Miss Cather has written. H. L. Mencken laid it down with the conviction that it is the best piece of fiction done by any woman in America. The portrayal of Antonia is masterly.
"She was a Bohemian girl," Miss Cather said, "who was good to me when I was a child. I saw a great deal of her from the time I was eight until I was twelve. She was big-hearted and essentially romantic."
Willa Cather's foreigners are true to type. August Brunius, after noting that the Swede, as presented by writers outside his own country, usually seems absurd to a Swedish reader, goes on to say that in "O Pioneers!" and "The Song of the Lark", Swedes are presented with true insight and art. Small wonder that all Miss Cather's books have been translated into the Scandinavian and are to be translated into French.
Her latest volume, "Youth and the Bright Medusa", is a collection of eight short stories. Simply and vividly told, they are studies of the artistic temperament. In them, there is none of the usual sentimentalizing about the artist. They are widely recognized as work of distinction, An anonymous critic in "The Nation" slyly remarks that the collection "represents the triumph of mind over Nebraska".
Willa Cather's best work is satisfying because it is sincere. In her books, there is none of the sweet reek that pervades the pages of so many "lady novelists". Love, to her, is "not a simple state, like measles". Her treatment of sex is without either squeamishness or sensuality. She loves the west, and the arts, particularly music, and she has sought to express feelings and convictions on these subjects. She tried, failed, and kept on trying until she succeeded. For example, we have her word for it that at college she attempted to tell about immigrants in rough sketches. She drew them more skilfully in "The Bohemian Girl", a short story which appeared in "McClure's Magazine" in 1912. Then came "O Pioneers!", a work of art. In "My Antonia", she reached what she had been advancing toward for many years. Similarly in her exploration of the minds and emotions of artists, she has striven to tell the truth -- the truth stripped of sentimentality. She experimented in "The Troll Garden", succeeded partially in "Youth and the Bright Medusa", grasped fully what she had sought in "The Song of the Lark". It would, of course, be unfair to speak of the books and stories that led up to this novel and to "My Antonia" as preliminary studies, for there is too much in them not touched upon in the two later novels. But there is a certain summing up, in these books, of two subjects which have interested Miss Cather profoundly: the life of foreigners in the west, and the mind and heart of the artist. Of the books, the author herself said: "I think 'My Antonia' is the most successfully done. 'The Song of the Lark' was the most interesting to write."
"I work from two and a half to three hours a day," Miss Cather went on to say. "I don't hold myself to longer hours; if I did, I wouldn't gain by it. The only reason I write is because it interests me more than any other activity I've ever found. I like riding, going to operas and concerts, travel in the west; but on the whole writing interests me more than anything else. If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make it an adventure every day. I get more entertainment from it than any I could buy, except the privilege of hearing a few great musicians and singers. To listen to them interests me as much as a good morning's work.
"For me, the morning is the best time to write. During the other hours of the day I attend to my housekeeping, take walks in Central Park, go to concerts, and see something of my friends. I try to keep myself fit, fresh: one has to be in as good form to write as to sing. When not working, I shut work from my mind."
At present, Miss Cather is writing a new novel -- she says of it:
"What I always want to do is to make the 'writing' count for less and less and the people for more. In this new novel I'm trying to cut out all analysis, observation, description, even the picture-making quality, in order to make things and people tell their own story simply by juxtaposition, without any persuasion or explanation on my part.
"Just as if I put here on the table a green vase, and beside it a yellow orange. Now, those two things affect each other. Side by side, they produce a reaction which neither of them will produce alone. Why should I try to say anything clever, or by any colorful rhetoric detract attention from those two objects, the relation they have to each other and the effect they have upon each other? I want the reader to see the orange and the vase -- beyond that, I am out of it. Mere cleverness must go. I'd like the writing to be so lost in the object, that it doesn't exist for the reader -- except for the reader who knows how difficult it is to lose writing in the object. One must choose one's audience, and the audience I try to write for is the one interested in the effect the green vase brings out in the orange, and the orange in the green vase."
Miss Cather has never sought publicity, or quick success. It took her three years to write "The Song of the Lark", and three to write "My Antonia". Of the two paths of art -- give the public what it wants, or make your work so fine that the public will want it -- she has consistently chosen the path of fine work. She is moving unhurriedly toward a richer self-expression.
William Dean Howells, "A Reminiscent Introduction" to The Great Modern American Stories.
New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920, viii-ix.
From p. 427 – Author Note
JEWETT, SARAH ORN[M]E (1849 – 1909), was born in South Berwick, Maine, of New England ancestry. Her father was a country doctor, and in making his professional calls he frequently took his daughter with him. In that way she became acquainted with many New England types of whom she wrote.
Deephaven (1877); Country Byways (1881); A Marsh Island (1885); A White Heron and Other Stories (1886); The King of Folly Island and Other People (1888); Strangers and Wayfarers (1890); Tales of New England (1892); A Native of Wi[n]mby and Other Tales (1893); The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896); [The Normans] The Tory Lover (1901); Play Days, a Book of Stories for Children (1878 ); Letters of Sarah Orn[m]e Jewett (edited by A. Fields) (1911).
Introduction text – xiii-ix
The three great artists, working always in simple and native stuff, whom I have almost inevitably grouped together in the order of my acquaintance with their stories, are collectively, if not severally, without equal among their contemporaries in their order of fiction. I like the beautiful art, the gentle nature-love and the delicate humor of Sarah Orne Jewett because I knew it first as the very junior editor whom it first came to in settled form, but I do not know that I value it more than the stories of Mrs. Wilkins Freeman or the stories of Miss Alice Brown, which I knew with the rest of the public when they began to appear in response to other editorial welcome. I think The Revolt of Mother had the widest and warmest welcome from the whole English-reading world; Miss Brown's story here is fairly suggestive of her far-reaching study of New England life; and very possibly it is because of my earlier liking for Sarah Orne Jewett's story that I like it most. She is less dramatic in the piece chosen than the others; the story is scarcely more than a placid and whimsical study of scene and character; it was hard to find any story of hers that was more than a study, but how preciously richer than a story this study is!
From Bliss Perry, A Study of Prose Fiction. Boston: Houghton, Miffilin, 1920 (revised 1930)
The use of landscape as an aid in powerful emotional effects begins again, however, with Dickens. It is noticeably rare in Thackeray, although here and there in single phrases and sentences he introduces the element of landscape with singularly delicate effect. But George Eliot, William Black, and Thomas Hardy have written whole chapters, one may almost say books, drenched with their feeling for the natural landscape against which their fictitious personages are relieved. In the stories of Ouida, and in some of the sketches of Lafcadio Hearn, the landscape sense runs riot. But if rightly subordinated to the human element, as is almost always the case in the novels of Turgenieff, or in the stories of Mr. Kipling or Miss Jewett, it becomes an element of extraordinary power and charm.
And yet if the question be put point-blank, "Do not such short story writers as Stevenson, Mr. Kipling, Miss Jewett, Bret Harte, Daudet -- not to mention Poe and Hawthorne -- stand for a new movement, a distinct type of literature?" one is bound to answer "Yes." Here is work that contrasts very strongly, not only with the Italian novella, and other medi?val types, but even with the English and American tales of two generations ago. Where lies the difference? For Professor Matthews is surely right in holding that there is a difference. It is safer to trace it, however, not in the external characteristics of this modern work, every feature of which can easily be paralleled in prehistoric myths, but rather in the attitude of the contemporary short story writer toward his material, and in his conscious effort to achieve under certain conditions a certain effect. And no one has defined this conscious attitude and aim so clearly as Edgar Allan Poe.
It is true, of course, that many stories, and these perhaps of the highest rank, avail themselves of all three of these modes of impression. Bret Harte's "The Luck of Roaring Camp," Mr. Cable's "Posson Jone," Mr. Aldrich's "Marjorie Daw," Mr. Kipling's "The Man who would be King," Miss Jewett's "The Queen's Twin," Miss Wilkins's "A New England Nun," Dr. Hale's "The Man without a Country," present people and events and circumstances, blended into an artistic whole, that defies analysis. But because we sometimes receive full measure, pressed down and running over, we should not forget that the cup of delight may be filled in a simpler and less wonderful way.
Then, too, the tendency to the production of sectional fiction, to which allusion has just been made, has prevented our fiction from taking on even the semblance of national quality. By dint of keeping their eyes on the object, many of our best writers have studied but the narrowest of fields. They do not represent, or pretend to represent, with adequacy the entirety even of that limited province for which they stand as representative authors. We speak, for instance, of Mr. Cable, Miss Murfree, Mr. Page, Mr. Allen, Miss Johnston, Mr. Harris, Miss King, and a half dozen more, as representatives of the South in contemporary fiction; but they exhibit as many Souths as there are writers. Who can select any one book of these skilled story-tellers and say, "Here is the South represented through the art of fiction?" Or take New England, as interpreted by such excellent and such different writers as Mrs. Stowe, Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, Mrs. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. Mrs. Stowe shows one New England, Miss Wilkins another; each is marvelously true to the local color selected; but you cannot take "Old Town Folks" and "Deephaven" and "Pembroke" and "A Singular Life" and say "Here is New England." At best you can say "Here is a part of New England." Now if there is a difference in passing from the Vermont or Massachusetts of Miss Wilkins to the Maine of Miss Jewett, think of the difference in passing from these to the Virginia of Mr. Page, the Northwest of Mr. Garland, the California of Bret Harte, the Alaska of Mr. Jack London! If we can scarcely find a thoroughly representative sectional novel, how shall we expect a representative national novel.
From Blanche Colton Williams, Modern American Writers: Our Short Story Writers.New York: Moffat, Yard, & Co., 1922, pp. 1-21.
MR. GRANT OVERTON in The Women Who Make Our Novels says discriminatingly about the lady whose name heads this chapter: "It is perhaps unfortunate that in a book dealing with American women novelists it should be necessary to confine the consideration of Alice Brown to her novels." Novelist, essayist, poet, dramatist, Alice Brown has done her best work in the short-story. On looking over certain of her earlier collections, however, one might well ask, ''Would the content of these tales not gain if organized into novel form?" Whether Miss Brown's first short-stories are to be regarded as tentative efforts toward noveldom or whether her novels must be viewed as the work of a short-story writer straying afield is a moot question. Not inconceivably she is one of those rare authors destined to compara- tive success in two literary types.
The New Hampshire scenes and persons in Meadow Grass and Tiverton Tales, obviously direct from her memory and observation, occur and recur throughout the volumes. One lays them down and with slight effort constructs a neighborhood history. If not quite novels in embryo or even in the amorphous state, they are at least prophecies. Beginning with High Noon, Miss Brown entered into constructive fiction. Her previous building rested on the knowledge and inheritance of childhood. The High Noon accomplishment is that of an artist finding herself, uncertainly, gropingly, in her chosen form. For this reason the stories are not real nor convincing as are those in the earlier volumes. They are trials toward a new goal. In The County Road, Vanishing Points, and The Flying Teuton the author has arrived. She is sure of her manner, her invention and her technic. She has mellowed to maturity. This is by no means to say that her first books may not be so valuable. From the point of view of literary history they are superior. No historian of New England writing henceforth may afford to neglect her studies — not more than he might omit those of Sarah Orne Jewett or the first work of Mary Wilkins Freeman. On the other hand, no account of the short-story would be complete without emphasis upon the greater art of her second and third periods.
Had Alice Brown so elected she might have ranked higher as essayist or poet than story writer. It is not too much to add that she may be remembered as dramatist. Something of her own feeling about the medium of expression she probably put into the letter Zoe Montrose wrote Francis Hume (in The Day of His Youth): "Do not write verse until you fail to express yourself in prose. Verse should glide full-winged over the surface of the waters where the spirit of God lies sleeping." Her versatility has meant breadth and variety; it has not favored, even if it has not hindered, her intensification in any one of the literary forms. If it has conduced to mixture rather than subtile differentiation of type, then the glory is greater to her short-stories that they have emerged triumphant.
Alice Brown was born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, December 5, 1857. "Her home was not so far from the sea," says Harriet Prescott Spofford, ''that the swift sea-turn did not creep in with its salt dews; and there the sound of the rote after great storms reached her ears and startled her imagination." She went to a district school, which she has undoubtedly commemorated in Number Five, the opening essay in Meadow Grass. "Up to the very hollow which made its playground and weedy garden the road was elm-bordered and lined with fair meadows, skirted in the background with shadowy pines, so soft they did not even wave; they only seemed to breathe." The treasures of the road she touches with lingering hand: the watering trough, the lichened fence, the pasture; the forget-me-not and the milkweed; the little river, the bridge and the meadows.
There her environment was not unlike that of her compeers over America; there history repeated itself. There was the boy who led his class (he does his hayin' now by hand); there was the youngster who ran away (he has become the shif'less citizen); there the inseparable friends fell in love with the same girl (only one remains); there was the little girl who lived with the selec'man's wife and who had only one beautiful thing to remember all her life — a pink cambric dress given her by the lady who "boarded'' a few weeks in the neighborhood.
It is deducible from her Tiverton stories that, apart from her school life, Miss Alice absorbed all the customs of the country and saw everything. She watched the making of rugs, hand-woven coverlets, occasionally the carding of wool into rolls and the spinning of rolls into thread; she knew how to make "riz doughnuts" and pies and biscuits; she knew what it was to visit in the "sullar" barrels of Bald'ins and barrels of pork. She knew how butter was kept cool (for she has recorded an instance of a napkin lost in the well); she knew how to chum and how to ''make the butter come.'' She observed the hogsheads under the eaves, where insects came daily to their death. She officiated at the winding of grandfather's clocks, took sharp note of false teeth, and knew that chewing cloves or wearing cracker poultices supposedly abated the pain of an aching molar. She was aware that a medicated stocking-leg is soothing to a sore throat. She was familiar with the cinnamon rose, the clove pink and the currant worm; she must have loved the larkspurs and ladies' delights, for she uses them over and again; she took note of hollows under syringa bushes where hens had bathed. She walked lanes bordered with raspberry and rose; roaming the fields and woods, she learned thoroughwort, spearmint, pennyr'yal, wormwood and tansy. She loved the forest under the sun and under the moon. Always she has loved trees; from her first stories to her latest, she is a Druid.
With adjoining communities she was on terms of acquaintance. Penrith figures occasionally; Horn o' the Moon frequently; Sudleigh often. Sudleigh, rival of Tiverton! The name is no mask for the initiated; it serves as well as the real for others. It is perhaps an example of unconscious humor or native shrewdness that New England thrift is illustrated in the Sudleighites (not by the Tivertonians) who sold ice water on a memorable occasion for a penny a glass.
Above all, Alice Brown knew people. Her picture of an old lady climbing upon an antiquated steed by means of chair and ''cricket" one would take oath is memory drawn; her village witch is reminiscent, albeit speaking, we doubt not, Miss Brown's own philosophy: "There's a good deal missed when ye stay at home makin' pies an' a good deal ye can learn if ye live out-door." Some years have passed since we saw her Children of Earth at Mr. Ames's Little Theatre; but we have not forgotten the village fool whose presence in the play testifies to his creator's kinship with Shakespeare. Miss Dyer and Mrs. Blair, of Joint Ownership (in Meadow Grass) are true neighborhood types. Then there are Parson True and his daughter, Farmer Eli Pike and his family, including Hattie's Sereno, and the Mardens, who, though types, are individualized, and we hazard, all of them, from originals. There is the old lady who, despoiled of youth's desire, approached octogenarianhood wearing a hat that proudly sported lavender roses; there is the vexatious Widow Poll, who tagged along where she was not wanted and who thrust her heavy foot by accident, premeditated or unpremeditated, into Heman's violin case (if she did not wear Congress gaiters, with elastic sides, some of her sisters did); there are the comforters of the sick who talk of death under circumstances similar to those attending the comfortee; there are those who immolate themselves on the shrine of ancestor worship and drag out barren lives — if service is ever barren.
Her nomenclature is redolent of New England: Caleb (Kelup), Eli, Cyrus, David, Elkanah, Solon, Liddy, Luceba, 'Mandy, Dorcas, Delilah.
And if her characters are not idealized portraits of childhood acquaintances they may well have been. If we go up Tiverton way we believe we shall find them all — older, perhaps, or even in the churchyard or recognizable in their descendants[.] " 'Ain't you Rufe Gill?' Fielding made the concession of his verb to place and time. The other straightened himself. 'Well, no,' he said, 'I ain't. But father is.' " (From A Runaway Match, in High Noon.)
In The End of All Living, her final sketch in Tiverton Tales, Miss Brown pictures the churchyard behind the First Church, on a sloping hillside, "Overrun with a briery tangle, and relieved by Nature's sweet and cunning hand from the severe decorum set ordinarily about the dead." For interest, the burial ground in Plymouth offers fit comparison with the spot described by Miss Brown, as Irving's Westminster Abbey is its companion-piece in literature.
About 1871 or '72, Miss Brown began her course at Robinson Seminary in Exeter. During the hardest winter months she lived in Exeter, but the rest of the year she walked to and from her home, nearly four miles.
It is less easy to determine from her work what she gathered in that period of advanced schooling. But she must have tucked away a good bit from the English poets, Wordsworth, Keats, Milton, Rossetti and Tennyson; in those days she was training to teach. Her first essays are touched with unconscious rhythm of poetry. "— or when the board was set, what faces smiled," ends a sentence in Number Five, "a haunting spirit in perennial bliss" closes The End of All Living. Perfect iambic pentameters, each. It was from her poetic power, Harriet Prescott Spofford said some years ago, her friends expected the most.
Miss Brown taught for a few years in the country and Boston, but "hating it more and more every minute," as she herself has said, she gave up teaching for writing. After working for a time on the Christian Register, she became, in 1885, a member of the staff of The Youth's Companion. There she ground out stuff from the latest books and magazines and wrote stories. Eventually she resigned to devote herself entirely to writing.
In 1886 she first went abroad, spending the greater part of the year in France; in 1890 she went again, "enjoying five months of gentle vagabondage in England." Part of the time she spent in London, but more of it in Devon and Cornwall, regions for which she was made eager through the history of her native village. It will be recalled by those who have read The Flat-Iron Lot (Tiverton Tales), "the first settlers came from Devon.'' Six years later, By Oak and Thorn, a collection of travel reminiscences, incorporated Miss Brown's reaction to her pleasant holiday.
In 1895 she made another journey, in the companionship of Louise Imogen Guiney, walking all of ten weeks in Wales, Shropshire and Devon, and going up to London for a season with the younger English poets. In collaboration with Miss Guiney, she published a booklet on Robert Louis Stevenson, a study which is also an appreciation.
In 1895 Meadow Grass appeared.* Reviews of the book favored Farmer Eli's Vacation. C. M. Thompson, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, July, 1906, states that he regards it as Miss Brown's best achievement. But in story value and structure it is inferior to Told in the Poorhouse, A Righteous Bargain, or Joint Owners in Spain, not to go outside of the same covers. As has been indicated in reconstructing the early days of Miss Brown's life, these are tales, presumably, of the Hampton Falls neighborhood. The homely dialect of this and her succeeding collection, Tiverton Tales (1899) contributes to verisimilitude and drama as it inspires the reader with sympathy for the dramatis person?. In English fiction one must go to George Eliot for fit comparison; Mary Ann Evans, one of, and yet apart from, Warwickshire folk, saw their oddities and foibles. Miss Brown stands in the same relation to her Tivertonians. She is one of them at heart, and yet she is not quite democratic. Not that she feels aloofness or means to convey superiority. She suffers from or profits by a point of view, native to her and strengthened by absence, which recognizes them as ''characters.'' In so recognizing them she unconsciously aligns herself with the external standards of conventionality and culture. Now and
then she drops into an "I" use which brings her singularly back into the magic circle of her own. Mr. C. M. Thompson liked her dialect stories because he knew her class of people; a writer in Reedy's Mirror later remarked that if one cannot sympathize with her people it is because he is so saturated with the New England atmosphere. The combined comment offers two somewhat contradictory angles from which results agreement that she is successful.
The technique of these stories reveals the tryer-out. After All, for example, maintains unity by a nice emphasis upon character; it works out its theme. But the ''story" falters. So the dramatic note occurs, but by fits and starts, showing that the author has the sense of drama but has not learned properly to subdue the unimportant, to graduate to scale and to point up her climaxes. She sees the universally dramatic and pathetic in human relations, however small the revealing occurrence. Told in the Poorhouse will illustrate as well as any of the tales her early inclination to the dramatic:
Josh Marden and his wife Lyddy Ann have been married for ''fifteen year" when Josh's second cousin 'Mandy comes to help with the work. She starts trouble. Josh "looked at 'Mandy an' he got over seein' Lyddy Ann, that's all." On Josh's birthday 'Mandy gave him a present of a bill folder. He discarded the old one. Lyddy took it back for her own. "An' arterwards it come out that the old pocket-book was one she'd bought for him afore they was married — earned in bindin' shoes." Later, when 'Mandy presumed to sit in Lyddy's place at table, the wife ordered her up. "You've took my husband away, but you shan't take my place at table." Josh orders Lyddy into the foreroom. 'Mandy leaves. For some years Lyddy keeps to her side of the house, Josh to his. At last he falls sick, suffers a stroke, and Lyddy tends him. Before he dies he makes trial of speech. Lyddy thinks she understands, " 'Yes, Joshuay, yes, dear!' An' she got up an' took the pocket-book 'Mandy had gi'n him off the top o' the bureau an' laid it down on the bed where he could git it. But he shook his head, an' said the word ag'in, an' a queer look — as if she was scairt an' pleased — flashed over Lyddy Ann's face. She ran into the parlor, an' come back with that old pocket-book he'd give up to her, an' she put it into his well hand. That was what he wanted. His fingers gripped it up, an' he shet his eyes. He never spoke ag'in."
The stories in Meadow Grass and Tiverton Tales reveal, in the complimentary sense, their feminine authorship. Miss Brown sees events through the woman's eyes, which means that she sees them more truly than if she attempted the masculine point of view. For the sexes rarely envision correctly other than through their respective lenses. And although Miss Brown's later stories succeed in assuming the masculine angle, she grew in years and in practice before attempting it. Whether, therefore, playing up a woman heroine or villain Miss Brown's earlier stories emphasize the woman's outlook. Her men are convincing, but slightly drawn; they appear infrequently, as men on a New England farm are infrequently at the house. Her children are shadowy. Either they are cowed and humble, like Rosie of the March Wind, or they are well-behaved and inconspicuously demure, like Claribel of After All. Yet, later on, Miss Brown was to show her sympathy with girlhood in The Secret of the Clan (1912).
If Miss Brown's mental attitude challenges comparisons with that of George Eliot, her characters bring back memories of Cranford. Deacon Pitts, mentioned in Dooryards, prefatory sketch in Tiverton Tales, had a ghoulish delight in funerals. This morning the butcher had brought him news of death in a neighboring town. Suddenly, as he turned back toward the house, bearing a pan of liver, his pondering eye caught sight of his aged wife toiling across the fields. ''He set down his pan and made a trumpet of his hands. 'Sarah!' he called piercingly. 'Sarah! Mr. Amasa Blake's passed away! Died yesterday!' '' Who can forget the Cranford lady, threatened to surrender by a fit of coughing, her delicious morsel of gossip! And if the gentleman evokes the thought, "At least Tiverton is not composed altogether of Amazons!'' still he betrays his kinship with the females of Mrs. Gaskell's species.
Tiverton Tales can hardly be described as elaborating the sentiment of love; yet the greater number of them embody the passion as it slighted or glanced at or enveloped her people. The Mortuary Chest, most delightful of the series, introduces the elderly maiden and her old lover — the clergyman who had married elsewhere and who now recalls the past with his first love; Horn o' the Moon presents Doctor Mary, self-appointed to nurse Johnnie Veasey, and left forlorn when Johnnie goes away to marry the other girl; A Stolen Festival, which tells something about the first wedding anniversary of Letty and David, betrays his forgetfulness of the day, Letty's pitiful attempt to celebrate, and her early schooling to the difference between the ways of men and women; A Last Assembling, comparable only to Miss Wilkins's A New England Nun, with a glint of Cornelia Comer's Long Inheritance threading through it, psychologizes the refusal of Dilly to marry Jethro after many years; A Second Marriage unmistakably reveals the hidden springs of Amelia's decision not to marry the love of her boyhood, Laurie Morse.
But the most individual story in the volume is The Way of Peace, which recounts the sorrow of a daughter for her mother and her successful attempt to impersonate that mother. When she saw herself in the mirror she was comforted. And her way of peace was assured when the youngest of her nephews and nieces crept up to her and asked, "Grandma, when'd you get well?" Pathological and nostalgic, perhaps, but saved by its uncompromising honesty.
In making a study of Alice Brown's development, her novels and other works should be taken into account. It is to be regretted that the present comment must omit them, with only suggestions here and there, which may be traced out to the fuller completion of the tapestry.
Her early story-writing was diversified, then, by a historical study, Mercy Otis Warren, in connection with which she did much research work acquainting herself fully with the revolutionary era. A volume of poems, The Road to Castaly, also marks her productivity before 1900. King's End and Margaret Warrener were published in 1901.
The volume of stories succeeding Tiverton Tales marks a distinct change in her subject-matter and her method, or more accurately a reversion to the novelette experiment, The Day of His Youth. In High Noon (1904) sentiment is pronounced and increased, love dominates, and the business of marriage provokes the author's analytical powers. Admirers confessed of Miss Brown's work, we think it not too harsh to say that such stories as The Book of Love are Myrtle Reedian, at best — in the language of the hero, Graham — "a kind of divine nonsense." A Meeting in the Market Place, His Enemy, Natalie Blayne, A Runaway Match, Rosamund in Heaven, The Miracle, The Map of the Country, and The End of the Game all are permeated by a scientific sentimental interest in love. The disappointed, the hope of union after death, the adjustment of temperaments, the salvation through service of those love has passed by — these and similar themes constitute the illuminatingly subjective side of the volume.
Prominent among her characters, now, are literary men and women. Her own attitude is more consciously literary. The title, High Noon, she follows out by a proverb from the Persian, "One instant only is the sun at noon," and indicates thereby her recognition of the crucial moment. She is studying the nature of the short-story and short-story writers. In The End of the Game she speaks of the short-story as "perfect of form and sonnet-like in finish," mentions Prosper Merimee — the earliest of conte writers — and concludes The End of the Game in a Lady-or-Tiger manner, which certainly points to study of Stockton. Her local color, save for the marsh, is disappearing. The best of the lot is Natalie Blayne, in that it is more objective and is possessed of sufficient humor to redeem the sentiment elsewhere overstrained.
In The County Road (1906) the author returns to her country folk but creates with a noticeably freer hand than in Meadow Grass and Tiverton Tales. In ten years her Tiverton friends have advanced, with the rest of the world. Blue coverlets still exist, but the book telling how to make them Cynthia of Bachelor's Fancy finds in the attic. Nancy of the masculine pipe and tobacco still wanders, Sudleigh stage runs, and shoe-binding continues. But she looks forward, not backward. Her young people meet on nearly equal terms with the old folk. It is true that Abigail and Jonathan in A Day Off are the protagonists and their daughter plays a secondary rôle, but the daughter provides causation for the mother's acts throughout It is also true that Old Immortality, the most distinctive story in the volume, has an old couple for its chief actors. But A Winter's Courting, The Looking Glass, The Twisted Tree, and Bachelor's Fancy have for heroines young and beautiful women. If her study of love is still pathological, it is also more sane and hopeful. By logical growth and development Miss Brown uses old scenes in a novel way. Her temperament has become pronounced and her art has advanced at the expense of locale. The creator has displaced the copyist. Oddly enough, the sea has gained hold upon Miss Brown. Cynthia of Elephant's Mountain, worn threadbare, obsessed by her husband's much greasing of his boots, leaves the country and takes refuge with her sister by the sea. The scene is Fastnet, and the Captain of the tale is one after Miss Jewett's order.
Her dramatic power has grown. A Day Off, for example, is constructed in scenes, the action of which is developed through dialogue. Her characters stand on their own feet, here as in the other stories.
She elaborates her theories of soul-communion. The Cave of Adullam emphasizes the joy of living in spirit beside the heart's love; Bankrupt (of Meadow Grass) is its prototype. Miss Lucretia of one is Dorcas of the other in a similar situation.
A new note of allegory enters The County Road, extended in her subsequent stories. Sylvia of The Twisted Tree in her sick-soul condition is obsessed with the idea that the tree symbolizes herself. (O. Henry touched the theme in The Last Leaf). Haven, who loves Sylvia, grafts new shoots upon the tree; Sylvia recovers. It is worth while following out Miss Brown's interest in this motif as expressed in A Home-spun Wizardry (Harper's, October, 1913) and A Mind Cure (Harper's, August, 1914).
We have emphasized the beginning of Miss Brown's work, for in it lies the germ of all her subsequent development. We may pass over Country Neighbors (1910), The One-Footed Fairy and Other Stories (1911) and study her perfect orientation in Vanishing Points (1913). This collection was also preceded by her novels, Rose McLeod and Paradise.
Her setting may be, now, Boston or Darjheeling; her characters may be young, middle-aged or old; they may be curates, editors or autocrats of civic affairs; they may be Aunt Harriets of Overland, or Elisha Porsons of commercial circles. She may set her stage for men, alone, as she does in The Master — one of the best "man" stories ever written by a woman; for the actors in young love, as in The Discovery or The Flight of the Mouse; for millionaires and journalists, as in The Lantern. She may write in the person of a man-narrator or as the camera-author. It matters not. Her people act and interact so as to give the illusion of life.
She breasts out against new subjects, swimming with the times. She makes, for instance, a case of social theories and practices in The Man in the Cloister and concludes that human kindness is the solution of the problem presented. She has advanced in the plot or "fable." She has a story to tell, not merely a thesis to illustrate, a "character" to hit off. She is adept at creating suspense, pause, climax; she weaves the fabric of her plot by clues and forecast and their fulfillment. Whole scenes may be lifted and acted on the stage with but slight changes for "directions." In The Master, for example, the table scene; in The Lantern, the scene between Porson and the Marshalls. She is not always skillful with coincidence; the double one in The Clue will strain the reader's credulity. So the poor architecture of The House With the Tower (Harper's, May, 1914), is righted by a storm that rises all too easily. But she apologizes for coincidence in a later volume: "It is true that the most extraordinary and exact coincidences happen, as if pieces in the mosaic of life, made to fit together in some mysterious forecast of destiny, rush toward each other and are finally joined."+ Perhaps she is colder and remoter in some of her later tales. If so, the reason lies largely in the truth that she leaves her characters to declare themselves: the story is more objective than her earlier and comparatively subjective interpretations.
March 21, 1913, Winthrop Ames, of The Little Theatre, New York, inaugurated a drama contest. One thousand six hundred and forty-six plays were submitted. In 1914, the award of ten thousand dollars was made to Alice Brown for Children of Earth. It is not a good acting play, as the published version may show to those who did not see it while on the boards. But the fidelity to New England life is not less than that evinced in Meadow Grass and Tiverton Tales; it is imaginative and poetic. It illustrates in its non-success the paradox that some of the most dramatic story-writers fall short on the actual stage.
The Flying Teuton (1918), following Bromley Neighborhood and The Prisoner, carries on the method of Vanishing Points, with an emphasis upon the supernatural. She had already touched it in The Tryst and There and Here of High Noon. Her Tryst of the Flying Teuton is the companion piece of the former Tryst in that the earlier story looks mystically into the future and the life beyond, while the later illustrates the theory of transmigration of souls and hints at remote pasts of two who meet in Paestum. The Flying Teuton, the story lending its name to the book, is a sort of modem Flying-Dutchman that has been classed among the great short-stories produced by the World War. A Citizen and His Wife is not far behind it — a spy story combined with a unique love motive: a traitor is betrayed by his wife who loved him only a little less than her country. The Island emphasizes Miss Brown's favorite thesis, that life and love are continuous in a vast and beautiful way, touched long before in A Meeting in the Market-Place (High Noon). It conceives the ideal as one where Keats's magic casements are part of the mansion of the soul, where Shelley's Skylark is real and where invisible colonies reach out to aid England. It is but a step from this story content to The Wind Between the Worlds (1920) and its theme of whether or not communication with the dead is possible. It also finds reverberation in Old Lemuel's Journey (Atlantic Monthly, June, 1920), which takes the dying man upon a mysterious visit before his final demise.
A quarter century has elapsed between Miss Brown's first stories and her latest. She has become a citizen of the world; her story people have become citizens of the world. And yet as a world-weary traveler returns with joy to his native heath, she occasionally writes of her home folk. Her flavor is less strong as the cosmopolite is less remarked than the villager. There are readers who prefer the meadow and Tiverton, those who prefer the denizens of the world — burning laurel leaves idly for ceremonial, pasting book-plates in volumes newly arrived from England, telling stories in French and referring easily to ''roses from Paestan rosaries.'' It is perhaps a trifle to be lamented that some of us like the author so well in all her phases we cannot tell which Alice Brown we fain would see immortal. But we are content to leave all her works on the knees of the gods.
*Preceded by her early novel, Fools of Nature.
+The Flying Teuton, page 48.
Volumes of stories by Miss Brown:
Meadow Grass, 1895.
Tiverton Tales, 1899.
High Noon, 1904.
The County Road, 1906.
Country Neighbors, 1910.
The One-Footed Fairy, 1911.
Vanishing Points, 1913.
The Flying Teuton, 1918.
Homespun and Gold, 1920.
Miss Jewett's Chemistry of Story Writing
Christian Science Monitor (July 2, 1923), p. 19.
"TODAY I am plunged into the depths of the rural districts, and this promised to be one of my dear country stories like the 'Only Son.' Good heavens! what a wonderful kind of chemistry it is that evolves all the details of a story and writes them presently in one flash of time! For two weeks I have been noticing a certain string of things and having hints of character, etc., and day before yesterday the plan of the story comes into my mind, and in half an hour I have put all the little words and ways into their places and can read it off to myself like print. Who does it? for I grow more and more sure that I don't."
Thus wrote Sarah Orne Jewett from her quiet home in South Berwick, Me., on a certain Thursday in December, 1889. Her most delightful letters, which have been compared to Dean Swift's famous Journal to Stella for their lightness and delicacy of touch and for their rare command of the so-called "little language," contain many such references to the wonderful chemistry of story writing. Now we read, "I am bewitched with a story," and again, "I made up a first-rate story," or "One began to write itself this morning."
* * *
Those who know her story of "The Gray Man" will find a peculiar pleasure in her account of its genesis and beginning: "I am thinking and planning my stories over and over, and first of all seems to come the gray man. It was very funny; I had the solitary man whom I talked about at first, and then came the 'man who never smiled,' and I coquetted over these two estimable characters for some days, when suddenly without note or warning they turned a double somersault and one swallowed the other, and I found they were really one person! The Gray Man was masquerading a little, that was all, and by this time I have ever so many notes about him and I long to write him all down before I see you again."
Or perhaps equally interesting is this reference to the simpler beginning of her "Marsh Rosemary": "In the meantime I will simply state that the next story is called 'Marsh Rosemary,' and I made it up as I drove to the station in Wells this morning. It deals with real life. Somehow dear, dull old Wells is a first-rate place to find stories in. Do you remember how we drove up that long straight road across the marshes last summer? It was along there the Marsh Rosemary grew."
* * *
Yet we must not infer that the wonderful chemistry did more than evolve Miss Jewett's clever stories. She struggled with the problems of composition even as many another, and at times found it a tiresome task, though she loved it much. We read how with much "grumbling and groaning" she got two numbers of a serial ready for the printer, and how the stories often fell short of her early dreams of them.
This reference to "The Tory Lover" is typical: "'The Tory Lover' got itself quite done at last, -- though almost every day I get hurried notes from the House with questions about last things. I grow very melancholy if I fall to thinking of the distance between my poor story and the first dreams of it, but I believe that I have done it just as well as I could. I was delighted the other day when Mrs. Agassiz said that she had been doubtful in the beginning, but had really liked each number better than the last, and I found that my people had made her a real pleasure in the end. One needs these things for cheer."
And again we read: "What a joyful time it is to be close to the end of a long piece of work, and sad, too – like coming into harbour at the end of a voyage. The more one has cared to put one's very best into a thing, the surer he is to think that it falls short of the 'sky he meant.' But it is certain that everything is in such work that we have put in. The sense of failure that weighs the artist down is often nothing but a sense of fatigue. I always think that the trees look tired in autumn when their fruit has dropped, but I shall remember as long as I remember anything a small seedling apple tree that stood by a wall in a high wild pasture at the White Hills, -- standing proudly over its first small crop of yellow apples all fallen into a little almost hollow of the soft turf below. I could look over its head, and it would have been a heart of stone that did not beat fast with sympathy. There was Success! – but up there against the sky the wistfulness of later crops was yet to come."
* * *
Surely there is inspiration and encouragement for all in the story of the tiny apple tree, just as in these words of advice to Mrs. R.: "But tell Mrs. R---- that the only way is to keep at work! If I were she I should read half a dozen really good and typical stories over and over! Maupassant's 'Ficelle' for pathos and tragic directness, for one, and some of Miss Thackeray's fairy stories – 'Cinderella,' for instance, which I have always admired very much – old-fashioned romance put into modern terms, and Miss Wilkins' story about getting the squashes in one frosty night, and the cats being lost! I can't remember its name though the story is so clear and exquisite to my mind; and Daudet's 'La Cherve de M. Sequin' and 'La Mule du Papa.' These are all typical and well proportioned in themselves and well managed, and I speak of them because they come readily to my mind, and give one clear ideas of a beautiful way of doing things. One must have one's own method; it is the personal contribution that makes true value in any form of art or work of any sort.
"I could write much about these things, but I do not believe that it is worth while to say anything , but keep at work! If something comes into a writer's or a painter's mind, the only thing is to try it, to see what one can do with it, and give it a chance to show if it has real value. Story-writing is always experimental, just as a water-color sketch is, and that something which does itself is the vitality of it. I think we must know what good work is, before we can do good work of our own, and so I say, study work that the best judges have called good and see why it is good; whether it is, in that particular story, the reticence or the bravery of speech, the power of suggestion that is in it, or the absolute clearness and finality of revelation; whether it sets you thinking, or whether it makes you see a landscape with a live human figure living its life in the foreground."
* * *
Which brings us again to a sense of that wonderful chemistry at which she herself marveled. Here is the creed that made it possible: "In short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality – you can write about life but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it – we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves. If we have patience with cheapness and thinness, as Christians must, we must know that it is cheapness and not make-believe about it. To work in silence and with all one's heart, that is the writer's lot; he is the only artist who must be a solitary, and yet needs the widest outlook upon the world."
Edward J. O'Brien, The Advance of the American Short Story
New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1923.
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) is equally satisfactory, and may take her place in this chronicle as the best of the New England regionalists. The body of her contribution to the American short story is much larger than that of Cable, and exhibits a wider range of interest. The daughter of a country doctor, she accompanied as a child her father on his rounds, and in her gentle reticent mind stored up the impressions which she was to record later with a slightly hesitant art. Her style has been likened to that of Hawthorne which it superficially resembles, but in recalling her better stories we realize that their charm is that of a mild Indian summer of golden sunlight on russet leaves, while that of Hawthorne recalls the reflective glow of smoldering fire in autumn after the leaves have fallen. She is a pastoral poet in prose who is entirely content with simple familiar things, and the tragedy of New England which is seldom hidden is reconciled to life by dumb acceptance, and subdued to the light which transfigures it very gently. Although that life is already dim and a little spectral, she has caught its beauty and transferred it to the page before it is too late, and the gentle melancholy of the picture forbears to pass judgment upon what her eyes have seen. It is the best side of New England which she records, and much is missing that later chroniclers have set down. We do not, however, reproach Miss Mitford for not seeing what Mrs. Gaskell and others have recorded. In like manner, we may turn to Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and others for the harsher aspects of New England reality.
Miss Jewett achieved a style as personal as that of Cable, and was equally successful in concealing her literary influences. These were various and catholic enough, ranging from Hawthorne and the Caroline poets to Italian novelle and Addison and Steele. Her self-contained reticence is an English inheritance half-forgotten, though remembered in the presence of other races. Between these quiet lines we may often read a great deal which has been left unspoken, and here and there a philosophy of writing may be gathered from her pages. "One is shown over many a house in these days," she writes, for example, "where the interest may be more complex, but not more definite."¹ Henry James, we may remember, suggests that the modern short story may be either a picture or an anecdote. Miss Jewett, as well as he, would express her preference for the picture. And there along the Maine coast, which we know so well after reading her stories, with its stony precipitous land, its very walls of stone hedging stony fields, its gray inlets with bursts of sunlight over the wind-driven salt spray, its little white houses, and its tiny human havens, she brooded during "those long hours when nothing happened except the growth of herbs and the course of the sun," ² and distilled the pungent fragrance of simple things into faithful chronicles and little sunny vignettes. She takes us into her intimate friendly confidence, and the landscape is a subtle background in gentle shadow for the little pastoral plays she has witnessed and set down. Many writers have followed her in recording New England life. None has maintained so even and so high a level of quiet permanent distinction.
¹ The Country of the Pointed Firs, 1910, p. 201.
² The Country of the Pointed Firs, 1910, p. 208.
From John Louis Haney, The Story of Our Literature. New York: Scribner's, 1923
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849 -1909) occupies a distinctive place in our literature because she described, at first hand and with rare fidelity, the social conditions prevalent in the decaying settlements along the Maine coast. Her striking pictures of that transitional New England life are at their best in Deephaven (1877) and The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), but others of note are scattered in similar collections of her tales. No one who has become familiar with Miss Jewett's stories is likely to misunderstand the characters or the life of the New England coast during the past two generations.
Fred Lewis Pattee, The Development of the American Short Story
New York: Harper, 1923
The growing popularity of unique local settings and highly individualized characters as material for fiction brought to light a new area in the much-cultivated New England environment. The literary beginnings of Sarah Orne Jewett were almost exactly contemporaneous with those of Harte and Miss Woolson and Cable, her first story, indeed, "Mr. Bruce," appearing in The Atlantic as early as 1869. Unlike any of these three, however, she was indigenous to the region she portrayed, for generations indigenous; she wrote always with complete knowledge and with perfect sympathy. South Berwick, Me., was her birthplace, a distinctive old town, not far removed from Portsmouth, N. H., which once, to quote her biographer, had "seemed the capital of New England and the governors and clergymen thereof rulers and potentates." The legends of a glorious past lay over the region like a Washington Irving atmosphere. She tells us that not long after her twentieth year she awoke to the fact that the New England of her early favorite authors, Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Cooke, Lowell, and the rest, was rapidly becoming a New England of tradition only, and that the New England even of her own childhood before the War was passing, if not already gone. Her native town had once been a prosperous deep-sea port with busy wharves and wealthy merchants, and there had been a courtly society in its richly furnished manor houses, "Judges and Governors and grand ladies," and in these same mansions now so decayed and pathetic, even yet there were to be found survivals of this aristocracy, families fallen on evil times because the shipping had left the old harbor for more prosperous ports, yet a group that still preserved "the best traditions of culture and of manners, from some divine inborn instinct toward what is simplest and best and purest."
A frail child, she had been taken much by her father, a country doctor, on his professional rounds over a wide territory, and from him she had learned the story of every family in the region, had gathered the wisdom of a kindly and much-experienced soul, and had come to know the lives of her people with a peculiar intimacy. She had no suspicion at first that she was gathering material for literary use; she did not enter literature deliberately and with aforethought, with the beginner's perplexity as to what her field was to be. Her work came to her almost as a matter of duty. By 1870 a new social movement had come into American life – the modern summer-vacation ebb and flow had begun.
The steady inflow of immigration, and the way in which these cities had drawn to themselves, like masses of quicksilver, much of the best life of the remotest villages, had made necessary a reflex current that set countryward in summer. This presently showed itself to be of unsuspected force and significance: it meant something more than the instinct for green fields and hills and the seashore; crowded town and the open country were to be brought together in new association and dependence upon each other. . . . [T]the increase of wealth, and of the number of persons who had houses in town and country both, – all these causes brought about great and almost sudden changes in rustic life. Old farmhouses opened their doors to the cheerful gayety of summer; the old jokes about the respective aggressions and ignorances of city and country cousins gave place to new compliments between the summer boarder and his rustic host.*
The summer boarder had arrived and he was penetrating into the remotest districts. He was portrayed by Howells in his earlier novels as a new type. His arrival in numbers in her native Berwick filled the daughter of the country physician with something akin to resentment. To many of them countrymen were mere "hayseeds," rustics, peasants – or to put it in her own words:
The young writer of these Deephaven sketches was possessed by a dark fear that townspeople and country people would never understand one another, or learn to profit by their new relationship. She may have had the unconscious desire to make some sort of explanation to those who still expected to find the caricatured Yankee of fiction, striped trousers, bell crowned [bell-crowned] hat, and all, driving his steady horses along the shady roads. It seemed not altogether reasonable when timid ladies mistook a selectman for a tramp, because he happened to be crossing a field in his shirt sleeves. At the same time, she was sensible of grave wrong and misunderstanding when these same timid ladies were regarded with suspicion, and their kindnesses were believed to come from pride and patronage. There is a noble saying of Plato that the best thing that can be done for the people of a state is to make them acquainted with one another. It was, happily, in the writer's childhood that Mrs. Stowe had written of those who dwelt along the wooded seacoast and by the decaying, shipless harbors of Maine. The first chapters of ["]The Pearl of Orr’s Island["] gave the younger author of ["]Deephaven["] to see with new eyes, and to follow eagerly the old shore paths from one gray, weather beaten [weather-beaten] house to another where Genius [genius] pointed her the way.*
Deephaven was the result, a bundle of sketches, as she herself termed them, loosely bound into a kind of unity as experiences during a summer vacation. The book attracted but little attention. From its first story, "Shore House," in The Atlantic in 1873, to the final collection was four years, and the short stories that followed the book came only two or three or four in a year. It was not until well into the eighties that her position as a writer was at all fixed. She refused to yield to the demands of time. "What shall I do with my 'White Heron,' now she is written?" she once asked concerning one of the most typical of her sketches. "She isn't a very good magazine story, but I love her." She wrote to please herself, to satisfy her own artistic requirements. Her stories are etchings made con amore, centering always about a character or a group of characters and seldom about a situation or a culminating action. Material came first – her neighbors in the little circle that she loved, and then the background of "the country of the pointed firs," which to her was the whole world. With her a short story was not, as with Poe, a deliberate thing of form, of impression, of effect upon the reader: it was a sympathetic study in individuality. She worked always with emotion, with real people in mind, perhaps in view, and as a result her unit of measure was short. Her genius was lyric and not epic; it was essentially feminine and not masculine. Charles Egbert Craddock, she once observed, was able to take time and to build elaborately on broad foundations "a good big Harper's story," but "not S. O. J., whose French ancestry comes to the fore and makes her nibble all around her stories like a mouse. They used to be as long as yardsticks, they now are as long a spools, and they will soon be the size of old-fashioned peppermints, and have neither beginning nor end, but shape and flavor may still be left them."
Faithful as her pictures are to the environment she knew so well, she is not to be counted as a realist or a local-color worker dominated by her material. Her own definition is illuminating: "the trouble with most realism is that it isn't seen from any point of view at all, and so its shadows fall in every direction, and it fails of being art." She tells always truth, but not the whole truth. Her Deephaven undoubtedly had in it the same average amount of vulgar democratic unloveliness and coarse sin as might be found in any other town in America East or West, but she recorded only the things lovely and of good report. Her pages are as free from the harsh and the harrowing as even Irving's. In her senile captains and forlorn feminine survivals, her housewives on isolated farms and far-off coast islands, her David Berrys and Miss Chaunceys and Miss Debbys and Sister Wisbys, she sees only the heroic. For her, romance lay in the commonplace, even in humble little farmhouses and grimy fish houses. "Mr. Howells thinks that the age frowns upon the romantic, that it's no use to write romance any more; but dear me, how much there is left in everyday life, after all." Her humble characters cast, all of them, long shadows in a single direction, and over them always is the golden light of a vanished past, faint sometimes and evanescent, yet akin always to the glow that tints the far hillsides of romance.
In a way both Cable and Miss Jewett were reactionary influences. Mark Twain and his like were adding epic fling to American fiction, the sweep and vastness of the American frontier, and its coarseness and its democratic abandon, and he was to be followed by the Kipling school, raucous, masculine, far-flung in its materials. Miss Jewett worked always patiently, lovingly, in the small, with subdued passion, with grace and refinement and artistry and perfection of style. She was of the eighteenth century rather than the nineteenth, a Mrs. Gaskell, a Jane Austen, a White of Selborne. In our vulgar, headlong democracy she found only refinement; surrounded by our democratic coarseness and crudeness, she yet made sketches that are patrician in their fastidious beauty. She worked always with emotion, but seldom does she topple over into the sentimental. She prolonged the feminine influence upon American fiction and she prolonged the Washington Irving softness and sentiment that still was keeping one area free from the tumult and the shouting of the "Goths from over the mountains." The best of her stories may be chosen, perhaps, from the eight selections made from all her books and published with the title Tales of New England: "Miss Tempy's Watchers," "The Dulham Ladies," "An Only Son," "Marsh Rosemary," "A White Heron," "Law Lane," "A Lost Lover," and "The Courting of Sister Wisby."
*Texts of the block quotations vary slightly from Jewett's published text. I have restored the original text; materials in brackets indicate changes made by Pattee.
THE REIGN OF DIALECT
The 'eighties in the history of the American short story were ruled by the "local colorists." It was the period of dialect stories, of small peculiar groups isolated and analyzed, of unique local "characters" presented primarily for exhibition. The short-story writer now thought first of materials, often only of materials. Reviewers now spoke much of "realism," a comparatively new term in American criticism. After Howells had reviewed James in the Century Magazine (1882), the words "romanticism" and "realism" became shibboleths of opposing camps, with realism in the lead. Maurice Thompson, himself a romanticist, wrote, in October, 1884, "No matter how much the theorists differ at other points, they all agree that towards realism is the strongest trend of to-day's fiction literature." "Realism" in the 'eighties meant selected bits of nature pictorially presented, native stuff unidealized, ordinary folks – never extraordinarily ideal or extraordinarily repulsive –in the ordinary sequences of life; no elaborate plots, no heroes, no heroines, no inflated diction. The age was turning more and more to the concrete and the practical. As a result of the enormous activities and the material expansion that had followed the war, pragmatism was beginning to displace the old idealism. But the reading masses were conservative; the generality of them clung to the romantic; the two forces were in conflict. Even Howells was not strictly a realist in the 'seventies and early 'eighties; he chose with fastidious care the social areas he depicted; there was much in the world about him that he never permitted himself to see at all. So with James, so with Miss Woolson, so with Miss Jewett: they sentimentalized life, they looked only for the good in humanity and idealized it. It was a compromise: it satisfied fully neither side. Then had come the discovery that it was possible to produce all the effects of realism, to appear to be working scientifically in the actual materials of common life, and yet to be as romantic in fundamentals and effects as the most deliberate of romanticists. There were unexplored social areas in American where the bare truth was stranger than any romance. After the success of Harte and Eggleston and Cable, great numbers of writers turned from the old worked-out claims of fiction to prospect in new and startling environments. Studies of local uniqueness began increasingly to appear in the magazines. Following the vogue of The Hoosier Schoolmaster, dialect began to run to extremes. The Century Magazine received Page's story, "Marse Chan," written entirely in the negro dialect, as early as 1880, but it was not until 1884 that they had the courage to publish it. The appearance of this instantly acclaimed dialect piece and the publication the same year of Charles Egbert Craddock's In the Tennessee Mountains stands as the high-water mark of the local color flood. Its subsidence began in the later 'eighties.
To realize the change that came over the short story in the early 'nineties one has but to place the work of Sarah Orne Jewett beside that of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Both dealt with New England life and character, but so differently that it is hard to realize that the two sets of pictures can both of them be true.
The New England environment, especially in its rural areas, furnished a surprisingly rich field for feminine study. A score of five-foot shelves would hardly hold the literary ventures of women in this area so suited to their powers. Annie Trumbull Slosson, Mrs. Chace Wyman, Anna Fuller, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Eliza Orne White, Alice
Brown, are but the beginning of the list of feminine writers who have continued the traditions of Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Cooke, Miss Jewett, and Mrs. Freeman. Their work, though much of it is well done, has added little that need detain the student of the American short-story evolution.
From William P. Trent, John Erskine, Stuart P. Sherman, and Carl Van Doren, editors.A Short History of American Literature. New York: Putnam, 1923.(326-27)A transition from another source is to be found in the stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), who also stands on the border line between the real and the romantic. She was affected not at all by Harte, but by Mrs. Stowe and Rose Terry Cooke. In her Deephaven (1877) she struck the new note of the decade, concreteness, geographical locality made so definite and so minutely real that it may be reckoned with as one of the characters in the story. Rose Terry Cooke had written of New England; Miss Jewett wrote of Deephaven, which was Berwick, Maine, her native town. Mrs. Stowe and Mrs. Cooke wrote of the New England flood tide; Miss Jewett wrote of the ebb, not despairingly like Miss Wilkins and the depressed realists, but reverently and gently. Over all her work is the hint of a glory departed, that Irving-like atmosphere which is the soul of romance. She delighted in decaying old seaports with their legends of other and better days, of old sea captains mellow and reminiscent, and of dear old ladies serene in spite of the buffets of timeHer knowledge of her materials was intimate and thorough. All through her girlhood she had ridden much with her father, a country doctor, as he went his daily round among his patients. From him she learned the soul of the region, and she sympathized with it, and later she interpreted it in story after story based accurately upon what she knew. Unlike Mrs. Cooke, she came late enough to avoid the mid-century gush of sentiment. With her it became pathos, the pathos of sympathy and understanding; there is a grip of it in each one of her tales. One does not cry over a story like A White Heron, but one feels at the end of it like finding the sturdy little heroine and calling her a good girl. No art can go farther. Her delight was in the simple and the idyllic rather than in the dramatic. A story like A Native of Winby has very little of plot; but no tale was ever more worth the telling. It is a quivering bit of human life, a section of New England, a tale as true as a soul's record of yesterday.There remains the element of style. She was one of the few creators of the short story after the seventies who put into her work anything like distinction. She was of the old school in this, of the school of Irving and Hawthorne and Poe. Indeed her style has often been likened to Hawthorne's, effortless, limpid, sun-clear in its flowing sentences, and softened and mellowed into a Sleepy-Hollow atmosphere – the perfect style, it would seem, for recording the fading glories of a charming old régime.Her best stories are perhaps Miss Tempy's Watchers, The Dulham Ladies, The Queen's Twin, A White Heron, and A Native of Winby. Lightness of touch, humour, pathos, perfect naturalness – these are the points of her strength. She was a romanticist, equipped with a camera and a fountain pen.
So completely was local colour the vogue of the eighties that the novelist was regarded as a kind of specialist who moved in a narrow field of his own and who was to be reprimanded if he stepped beyond its limits. The movement had three phases: first, the Irvingesque school that romanticized its material and threw over it a softened light, -- Harte, Miss Jewett, Cable, Page; second, the exhibitors of strange material objectively presented, -- Charles Egbert Craddock, Octave Thanet, and the dialect recorders of the eighties; and third, the veritists of the nineties who told what they considered to be the unidealized truth concerning the life they knew, -- Garland, Miss Wilkins, Frank Norris, and the rest. This third group approached its task scientifically, stated its doctrines with clearness, -- as for example in Hamlin Garland's Crumbling Idols, -- and then proceeded to work out its careful pictures with deliberate art. Garland's Main-Travelled Roads, stories of the settlement period of the Middle Border, have no golden light upon them. They tell the truth with brutal directness and they tell it with an art that convinces. They are not mere stories; they are living documents in the history of the West. So with the Maupassant-like pictures of later New England conditions by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, in A Humble Romance (1887) and A New England Nun (1891). If the florid, sentimental school of the mid-century went to one extreme, she went to the other. Nowhere in English may one find more of repression, more pitiless studies of repressed lives, more bare searchings into the soul of a decadent social system. She wrote with conviction and a full heart of the life from which she herself had sprung, yet she held herself so firmly in control that her pictures are as sharp and cold as engravings on steel. Her fault is that she repeated a few formulas too frequently.With the nineties came the full perfection of short story art. Within their limited field A New England Nun and Main-Travelled Roads many not be surpassed. In another area of the short story James Lane Allen's Flute and Violin stands by itself, and in still another such work as Margaretta Wade Deland's Old Chester Tales, Grace King's Monsieur Motte, and Alice Brown's Meadow Grass. No more exquisite work, however, may be found in the whole range of the local colour school than that in Kate Chopin's (1851-1904) Bayou Folks (1894). She was of Celtic blood and spontaneously a story-teller. She wrote with abandon, yet always it was with the restrained art that we have got into the habit of calling French. Such stories as Désirée's Baby, the final sentence of which grips one by the throat like a sudden hand out of the dark, and Madame Célestin's Divorce, with its delicious humour and its glimpse into the feminine heart, are among the few unquestioned masterpieces of American short story art.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.
The Jewett Journal