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Reviews of The King of Folly Island

From "Books of the Month," Atlantic Monthly (August 1888), p. 288.

The King of Folly Island and Other People, by Sarah Orne Jewett (Houghton), contains eight stories, of which three are already known to our readers; but the charms of Miss Jewett's stories is not exhausted by a single reading.

From "Recent Fiction," Overland Monthly and Out West 12: 68 (Aug. 1888), pp. 213-217.

     In a pleasing volume Sarah Orne Jewett has gathered together seven of the short stories that she has printed in several magazines, adding to them one new one. All of them are of New England life with one exception, when the scene shifts to Acadia. Miss Jewett's work is of the conscientious sort that gives her likenesses a photographic character. Every reader familiar with the life of rural New England can name the originals, or if not the originals, yet what might have been the originals of all the principal characters. The conscientiousness, the curiosity, the love of gossip, the veneration, the pride, the pugnacity, the thrift, that characterize the Yankee when unspoiled by city influences, -- all these are typified and illustrated on Miss Jewett's pages. This work is admirably done, but the reader that seeks for excitement, for plot, or for the dramatic, must seek elsewhere.


From "The Bookshelf," Cottage Hearth 14 (August 1888), p. 262.

     The King of Folly Island, and Other People. By Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston. As one takes up a new book by Miss Jewett, the first emotion, on reading the opening pages, is one of gratitude, almost as to a personal friend. Her work always comes to us with the same freshness and purity of sentiment, the same unaffected style, and simple coloring of quaint scenes and characters, the same wholesome presentment of life as sweet and enjoyable, which made her earliest work so welcome to American readers. The first of the sketches in the book before us is exquisitely done, and deserves to rank with the "White Heron" - to our mind the best of her previous work.


From "Editor's Study," Harper's 77 (October 1888), p. 801.  [William Dean Howells]

     Perhaps we can make clearer some points concerning Mr. Denison's work by contrasting it with Miss S. O. Jewett's in her late volume, The King of Folly Island, and other sketches. Here there is a knowledge of common life (we call it common, but it is not vulgar, like the life of most rich and fashionable people) not less intimate than his, and a kindness for it quite as great; but it is studied from the outside, and with the implication of a world of interests and experiences foreign to it. Of course Miss Jewett's lovely humor, so sweet and compassionate, goes for much in the tacit appeal, the mute aside, to the sympathetic reader for his appreciation of the several situations: but nothing is helplessly or involuntarily good in the effect; all was understood before and aimed at, and there is a beautiful mastery in the literature, which charms equally with the fine perception. From first to last both are so unfaltering in such a sketch as "Sister Wisby's Courtship" or "Miss Peck's Promotion" that one is tempted to call the result perfect, and take the consequences. At the same time the writer's authority is kept wholly out of sight; she is not sensibly in her story any more than a painter is in his picture. It is in this that her matured skill or her intuitive self-control shows to the disadvantage of a very clever writer like the author of Tenting at Stony Beach, who has herself too much in mind, and lets the reader see it. With the latter, humor occasionally degenerates into smartness; nevertheless it is for the most part very genuine humor, and it includes a lively sense of character both among the South Shore natives and the summer folks. The pretty girl of our civilization, who pushes into the canvas home of the tenters, is caught with much of Mr. James's neatness, while Marsh Yates, the "shif'less toot," and his beautiful, energetic wife, and Randy Rankin and her husband, are verities beyond his range.


From "New Novels," The Academy 54 (August 18, 1888) 100.

     Miss Jewett's volume is very able, and, to us, very irritating. It contains, in addition to The King of Folly Island, seven elaborate examples of the new American story, which is not a story at all, but rather an episode in a story of which the beginning, or the end, or both, remain untold. Our children may learn to delight in this kind of thing - and unless rumour errs we have among us living adults who, at any rate, pretend to delight in it - but there are those of us who are too old to learn new tricks of appreciation, and to whom the game of pretension is not worth the candle. Some people object to the doctrine "Art for art's sake" because they consider it dangerous to morality; but we may fight shy of it on the ground that it is all but fatal to interest. The "finish" of these stories, for such in default of another name we must call them, is so delicate and perfect that connoisseurs of "craftsmanship" will probably be thrown into ecstasies of admiration; but one commonplace middle-aged critic feels inclined to ask the brutal question. "What is the use of finishing a thing which is really not begun?" A mere episode or situation can be treated with effectiveness and interest - has, indeed, been treated so again and again by a great living poet; but, then, Mr. Browning always gives us hints which suggest antecedents and consequences - the action which has come before, the action which must follow. Miss Jewett gives us no such hints, with what result may be imagined. The feeling that one ought to admire is a poor substitute for the consciousness of enjoyment.


The King of Folly Island. The Saturday Review 66 (August 18, 1888), 222.

     In fiction we have Miss Jewett's The King of Folly Island; and Other People (Boston and New York: Houghton & Mifflin), a collection of nouvelles, as the nouvelle is practised in America, sober in method, intelligent in theory, and very dull and disenchanting in effect. Mr. Armiger Barczinsky's A Shadowy Partner (London: Swan Sonnenschein), a "shilling unreadable" of the mildest type, tells how a young man got to know his shadow, and by taking the thing's advice became a renowned author, a successful speculator, and the hero of a trumpery imitation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In Mr. Justin Maguire's Alastor: and Irish Story of To-day (London: Simpkin) Mr. Gladstone is described as "the greatest statesman of the age," while of the passing of the heroine -- a lady who marries one man and loves another -- it is noted that "Her sin was expiated, the Avenger's work complete, and the moon bent down from her star-girt throne and kissed into a beauty it had never possessed in life the pallid awestruck face." As for "Rita's" new book, The Seventh Dream (London: White), it is only to be described as a sentimental nightmare of the next world, and a travesty of this one. The style is inflated, the aim mysterious, the plot not quite intelligible, the invention vague, the effect not memorable; and that is all.


From "Book Reviews," The Epoch 4 (September 7, 1888) 88.

           There is generally a strong undertone of sadness in Miss Jewett's short stories, eight of which are included in the volume under consideration. Seven have been previously published in various magazines, the only new one being "A Village Shop," which is quite equal to any of the others. These tales do not conform strictly to the rules for short-story writing which are observed by the best masters of the craft in France and this country, and which Mr. Brander Matthews not long ago summarized and considered in an excellent magazine article. Miss Jewett's writings are episodic and discursive, lacking that completeness of form and purpose that the ideal short story possesses. Some are merely character sketches, while others read like fragments from longer works. Yet in all there is considerable charm, due to the singularity of many of the types of character presented and the evident faithfulness with which they are described, and to the purity and charm of the style. Nor should we omit to pay just tribute to Miss Jewett's keen and loving observation of nature and her minutest facts, whether her scene is laid in the far-off, rocky, wind-swept and barren slopes of the most eastern of Maine's islets, or amid the abundant foliage of late Summer in a more southern and genial part of New England. "The King of Folly Island," which is selected to give its name to the book, is not to our thinking the best. The honor we believe lies between "The Courtship of Sister Wisby" and "A Village Shop." "Miss Tempy's Watchers" is nothing more than a conversation between two mature women who are passing a night, watching the body of their friend, yet a great deal is learned, by the reader, of the character of the watchers, while the lovable and self-sacrificing disposition of the dead woman is strongly brought out, and the good influence to be exercised by memory is made manifest.


The King of Folly Island. The Nation 47: 1214 (October 4, 1888) 274.

     'The King of Folly Island' includes half a dozen sketches of New England life, all so like previous sketches by Miss Jewett that we might as well be reading the last volume, or the volume before that. The fishermen, the countrymen, the old maids by hill and shore, are familiar friends, and there is no obvious reason for presenting them under new names, except to keep before us the author's skill in the delineation of them. The last sketch (there is not a story in the volume ), "M?re Pochette," is of French Canadian life, somewhere between the settlements, the Eastern States, and the St. Lawrence country. The location is indefinite, but it serves. The sketch does not indicate any more definite acquaintance with the people than with the topography. M?re Pochette, the several curés, and the rest are conventional peasants, not Canadiens. The sweeping characterization of the habitants as, "hardening into solid farmers," growing "stupid and heavy," "drinking gin and bad beer," is an unjustifiably severe criticism of the French in the Province of Quebec. It betrays almost as superficial a knowledge of their actual condition as the reference to "merry, vine-growing ancestors" does of their history. It is not recorded that their ancestors were gloomy, but it is set down with exactness that the vine-growing provinces furnished but few colonists for New France. There were forests and snow and savages to be encountered in the new land - not a prospect seductive to vine-growers, merry or sad. The best that can be said for Miss Jewett's tentative excursion into foreign territory is that she has not the blighting tendency to misrepresent for romantic effect, and that thus far the Canadians are fortunate in her hands.


From "Novels of the Week," The Athenaeum 3181 (October 13, 1888) 48.

     "The King of Folly Island" is one of a number of stories reprinted from several American magazines. It is not quite easy to understand the author's popularity in America. She writes well, her stories are cleverly begun, and often she show a good deal of power of presenting individuality; but she is sadly wanting in the gift of construction, and seems to come to an end without knowing what she was driving at. To read her stories, therefore, is to suffer a series of disappointments.


The King of Folly Island. The Literary World 19 (27 October 1888), 365.

     Miss Jewett's graceful command of the picturesque attributes of humble New England seaboard life is exemplified once more in the collection of studies embraced under the above-quoted title. Stories in the proper sense of the word Miss Jewett does not give us. There is in her pages no evolution of character, she reveals no gradual unfolding of motive, she is incapable of constructing a plot. But how fine and true, within its narrow limits, her work is! Given a situation suited to her peculiar talent, she has no rival in the gentle art of depicting two or three people in certain simplified relations and making them denizens of reality. Her art is photographic in fidelity to general outlines and essential details, while having a softness of tone that bare description could never rival. The whole secret of her success is sympathy. She knows and loves the sterile hillsides and rude coasts where her fancy loves to wander, and the people who inhabit them are with her objects of unfailing interest. Only once in the volume before us does she step aside from her familiar province to enter other fields. "Mère Pochette" is perhaps worthy of a place with Miss Jewett's other productions, but certainly it lacks vitality and is, compared with the rest of the book, a most lame and impotent conclusion.


The King of Folly Island. THE ATHENAEUM 3950 (JULY 11, 1903), 59.

    The King of Folly Island.  By Sarah Orne Jewett.  (Duckworth.)  -- With one exception the eight stories included in this little volume are reprinted from American magazines. They are thoughtful, well-written stories of American life, and contain more good stuff than the average reader is likely to find in them. The author's method is discursive, rambling, diffuse. Now in the short story excursions from the main point of the theme must be made fascinating if the average reader is to win though them to the story's kernel. Mere talent is hardly sufficient equipment for the short-story writer who would lead his readers by these roundabout, vague ways; the task demands something nearer akin to genius; and the author of the present volume does not show genius, only considerable literary ability and conscientious workmanship. Her stories are scarcely stories at all, but pleasant essays in fiction, quiet, well-bred, sincere, and unpretentious. We commend the work, while we urge that the short story demands more concentration.

"The King of Folly Island."  THE SATURDAY REVIEW
(London) 96 (July 25, 1903), 117-118

    For all except the writer's friends -- and very often for them also -- the republication in volume form of short stories which have already appeared in magazines is extremely trying. Unless the stories are very good or the author very distinguished the reader is apt to be exasperated at the reprint, while the fact that he has been induced to buy a volume in the belief that it is new matter, afterwards to discover that it contains stories which he was pleased, perhaps, to read once but which he certainly does not wish to read twice, is sufficient to make him eschew the purchase of "collections" for the rest of his natural life. If then we except this volume of Miss or Mrs. Jewett from the list -- a long one -- of short stories which should not have been republished we shall be understood to give it no small measure of praise. The stories were, in our opinion, deserving of collection in volume form because they deal with unusual and out-of-the-way aspects of life and because they contain certain literary qualities which give them a permanent value, so that he who hath once read can turn yet again to the pages and find therein both pleasure and profit for himself.


The King of Folly Island. THE BOOKMAN(London) 24:143 (August, 1903) 186.

    Miss Jewett writes with delicate humour and pathos and a quiet charm of manner that is nowhere else to be met with outside the pages of Miss Mary E. Wilkins. Yet the similarity between the two writers is less a similarity of style than of subject; they both deal with the curious old-world lives and customs of New England, and it is therefore inevitable that there should be occasional family resemblances between their characters, and it is because each faithfully reproduces the types that are equally familiar to both that one traces similarities between them that naturally result not from one being influenced by the other, but from both writing under the same inspiration. "The King of Folly Island" and the other seven stories in this book are made of such slight episodes that to reduce them to a bald outline would ruin them, yet they are told with such exquisite art as makes them more affecting and more effective than any rush and strength of plot could do. It is one of the few volumes that are worth reading and keeping to read again.


Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College

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