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Sarah Orne Jewett Letters of 1869

SOJ to Horace Scudder

     I beg your pardon for troubling you again but this is quite important to me. Is it too late to change the signature to my story "The Shipwrecked Buttons?"1 For that is signed 'S. Jewett,' and I thought a while ago that I would adopt that instead of the one I have used hitherto -- 'Alice Eliot.' I see that a story of mine in the December is credited to the latter (Alice Eliot),3 and it would be a very great satisfaction to me if the story you have, could be the same. I hope it's not too late, and if you can have it changed I shall be more obliged than ever to you.

     Thank you for your note which I received last week.

     Most respectfully,

     'Alice Eliot'    

     1 By Alice Eliot, Riverside Magazine for Young People, IV (January 1870), 30-35; collected in  Play Days.

    2"Mr. Bruce," by A. C. Eliot, Atlantic Monthly, XXIV (December 1869), 701-710; collected in Old Friends and New.

     3The origin of Miss Jewett's  nom de plume Alice Eliot and its variant A. C. Eliot is a matter of speculation. It may have derived from the nearby town of Eliot, Maine, which she visited often as a child, or from George Eliot, whose life and works she spoke and wrote about.
    The motive for her vacillation between pen names and real name is also vague.  Between January 1868 and May 1871 she signed her first eight publications respectively A. C. Eliot, Alice Eliot, A. C. Eliot, Alice eliot, Alice Eliot, Sarah Jewett, Sarah O. Sweet, and S. O. J.  (See Clara Carter Weber & Carl J. Weber,  A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett [Waterville, Maine,1949], 29-30.) Miss Jewett's own explanation for these mutations is to be found in "Looking Back on Girlhood," Youth's Companion, LXV (January 7, 1892), 6: "I was very shy about speaking of my work at home, and even sent it to the magazine under an assumed name." Scudder could see no wisdom in this nimble name-changing and in a letter dated May 21, 1870, advised her to "drop all use of . . . pseudonym." (Houghton Library, Harvard.)


This letter is edited and annotated by Richard Cary in Sarah Orne Jewett Letters; the ms. is held by Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, Maine.

SOJ to Horace Scudder

     South Berwick, Maine
     November 30, 1869

     Dear Sir:

     Thank you for your kind note and especially for your criticisms on my two stories.1 They will help me, I know. You were right about "Mr. Bruce" and if I were talking instead of writing I would tell you of ever so many things that might have been very different. I couldn't expect it to be perfect. In the first place I couldn't write a perfect story, and, secondly, I didn't try very hard on that. I wrote it in two evenings after ten, when I was supposed to be in bed and sound asleep, and I copied it in part of another day. That's all the work I 'laid out' on it. It was last August and I was nineteen then, but now I'm twenty. So you see you are 'an old hand' and I 'a novice' after all. Do you remember in "Mr. Bruce" I made Elly say that, like Miss Alcott's Jo,2 she had the habit of 'falling into a vortex?' That's myself, but I mean to be more sensible. I mean to write this winter and I think you will know of it.

     I like the Riverside M[agazine] so much, and what you have written, and you are delightful to have dear old Hans Andersen.* I don't see the Riverside regularly though. I'm not a bit grown up if I am twenty and I like my children's books just as well as ever I did, and I read them just the same. I'd like to see the "Buttons" in print; you said the 18th, I think. It's a dreadful thing to have been born very lazy, isn't it, Mr. Scudder? For I might write ever so much; it's very easy for me, and when I have been so successful in what I have written. I ought to study -- which I never did in my life hardly, except reading, and I ought to try harder and perhaps by and by I shall know something I can write really well.3
     There was no need for me to write this note and I'm a silly girl. I know it. But your letter was very nice and you are kind to be interested in my stories. So I beg your pardon and will never do so any more.
     You said you had seen my name before. It was some verses -- "The Old Doll"4 -- two or three years ago, I think. I must hunt them up. I believe they were very silly.

     Yours very respectfully and gratefully,

     'Alice Eliot'

Cary's Notes

     1 "Mr. Bruce" and "The Shipwrecked Buttons."*

     2 Jo March, the unconventional heroine of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868).

     3 Miss Jewett's schooling consisted of sporadic attendance for several years at Miss Olive Raynes's school in South Berwick and four years at Berwick Academy, from which she was graduated in 1865. Her real education came through association with her father, Dr. Theodore Herman Jewett. In her early teens Miss Jewett began to suffer from acute attacks of rheumatism. Believing that her health would improve out-of-doors, Dr. Jewett took her with him on his professional rounds. ("I used to follow him about silently, like an undemanding little dog.") At each backland farm and coastline fishing shack she absorbed invaluable impressions of people and households; between stops she observed the particularities of nature; and as they rode along he transmitted to her an abiding knowledge and love of good books. Miss Jewett dedicated Country By-Ways "To 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 Country By-Ways." A man of simple tastes who "was impatient only with affectation and insincerity," he recognized long before she did the direction her life was taking, and advised her, "Don't try to write about people and things, tell them just as they are!" The first two poems in Verses are poignant memorials "To My Father," and in 1901 Miss Jewett presented a stained-glass window in his memory to Bowdoin College, of which he was an alumnus and former faculty member.

     4 Miss Jewett had evidently submitted this poem to Riverside Magazine and had received a rejection. "The Old Doll" subsequently appeared in the Independent, XXV (July 24, 1873), 933.

Additional Notes

Hans AndersenWikipedia says: "Hans Christian Andersen ... (1805 - 1875) was a Danish author. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is best remembered for his fairy tales."

"Mr. Bruce" and "The Shipwrecked Buttons:  "Mr. Bruce" by A. C. Eliot appeared in Atlantic Monthly in December 1869 and was collected in Old Friends and New, 1879.  "The Shipwrecked Buttons," by Alice Eliot, was in Riverside Magazine in January 1870 and collected in Play Days, 1878.

This letter is edited and annotated by Richard Cary in Sarah Orne Jewett Letters; the ms. is held by Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, Maine.

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.

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