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The Reception of The Story of the Normans
Reviews and Criticism
Introduction by Terry Heller
This webpage collects contemporary reviews and later critical discussions of The Story of the Normans, providing a view of the book's reception. Taken together, the items show that Jewett's work was valued by most of its early readers, but that it has been judged seriously flawed by literary critics and biographers.
Of 40 contemporary reviews collected here, 33 are positive, 4 offer a mixture of praise and critique, and 3 are strongly negative. Those who praise the book tend to focus on its readable and engaging telling, the narrative voice's lack of pretension to professional authority, and the effective use of professional historians. The mixed and negative reviewers focus on Jewett's lack of historical authority, asserting that they would prefer the volume to be written by a professional historian rather than a fiction writer. They seem, as well, to be unappreciative of concessions to popular readers and of those elements that digress from political and military history into domestic and private life. At least some of the negative reviewers, then, seem unsympathetic to the series's goal of entering "into the real life of the peoples, and to bring them before the reader as they actually lived, labored, and struggled -- as they studied and wrote, and as they amused themselves."
The two most negative reviews appear in British publications and refer to the 1891 publication in England by T. Fisher Unwin. These reviewers seem skeptical that an American woman novelist could be qualified to write about a period of British history in which warfare was central. Among these, The Speaker 5 (23 January 1892) is especially interesting for placing the book within a contemporary flourishing of popular history, pointing out a competing series, "Epochs of History" and a number of other similar collections, and lamenting their uneven quality. I have examined several of the Unwin volumes in the Story of the Nations series, in addition to The Normans, and have found in none of them the prospectus for the series that appears in nearly all of the Putnam's editions I have seen. The prospectus makes clear the guidelines the authors recruited by Putnam's followed in preparing their volumes:
It is the plan of the writers of the different volumes to enter into the real life of the peoples, and to bring them before the reader as they actually lived, labored, and struggled -- as they studied and wrote, and as they amused themselves. In carrying out this plan, the myths, with which the history of all lands begins, will not be overlooked, though these will be carefully distinguished from the actual history, so far as the labors of the accepted historical authorities have resulted in definite conclusions.The prospectus also asserts that taken together, the titles in the series constitute a "universal history," suggesting that there will be some effort in each to connect the partial story to some meta-narrative about the meaning of human history. In the absence of this knowledge, it is possible that British reviewers measured Jewett and other volumes in the series against a standard of academic rather than popular history writing, finding her work wanting in just the ways that it embodied the popularizing aims of the series.
Posthumous criticism takes a decisive direction from the beginning with Ferman Bishop's argument that her preparation for the volume included developing a theory of race. Bishop identifies Jewett as a Nordicist, and this label has stuck ever since, even though, as I argue in "Jewett and Nordicism," it is an anachronistic and seriously misleading characterization. After Bishop, critics nearly always treat this title as a proof-text illustrating Jewett's purported racism, a burden the text does not seem well suited to sustain, as I show in Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans.
Related to the question of how Jewett's argument is relevant to nineteenth-century discourse on race is the disputable assertion that her book reveals Jewett's acceptance of Darwinism. In "Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans," I suggest that her theory of history is traditionally Christian rather than Darwinist.
Another problem in the history of reception is general agreement among critics that Jewett's target audience is juvenile readers. The information I have gathered on The Story of the Nations series shows that in 1885-86, Putnam's marketed the series as for young readers, but it appears the publisher backed away from this, possibly in response to both authors and reviewers. The first few titles that seemed deliberately aimed at young readers drew complaints from reviewers. By the time Jewett was completing her work, Putnam's seems to have changed course. Volumes that appeared in 1886, such as The Story of Norway and The Story of Spain, included the first version of the prospectus for the series, specifying young readers as the target audience, but The Story of the Normans includes the revised prospectus, in which the audience is not specified. While some of the earliest reviewers spoke of the Normans as a juvenile title, most did not. Indeed, Atlantic Monthly 59 (June 1887) noted that though the series was supposed to be for younger readers, The Story of the Normans did not seem particularly aimed at this audience. Sword and Travel, July 1891, however, thought the British edition did read as if intended for young readers. Some parts of the book may be aimed at younger readers, but this is difficult to judge. Chapter 4, for one example, draws upon Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Little Duke, a juvenile title, to present a fictionalized glimpse into the childhood experience of Richard the Fearless. However, it seems less clear that Jewett's adaptation of the story also aims at juveniles. The Speaker reviewer finds a mixture of tones, arguing that the narrative seems to veer between talking down to readers and then addressing them as mature adults. This question would seem to require more careful analysis.
Contemporary reviews, then, along with good sales suggest that on the whole The Story of the Normans was a successful enterprise for Jewett. However, later readers have seen the text as unsuccessful on its own terms and as unintentionally revealing Jewett's complicity in American racist discourse.
Notices and Reviews
A number of these items are transcribed from a clippings folder collection at the Houghton Library of Harvard University: MS AM1743.26 (17). Each of these is marked "HL." Some clippings are not fully identified; hence their citations are incomplete here. Help with completing these is welcome; please contact the site manager.
"Notes" in The Critic 158 (8 January 1887), 23.
Prof. E. A. Freeman, when requested by the Messrs. Putnam to write the story of a nation for their popular Nations series, very much to their surprise selected Sicily, a land which, he argued, 'presents before all others the Story of the Nations, not of one only, but of all that have ever been of any moment in the Mediterranean.' The next volumes of this series will be Miss Sarah [Sara] Orne Jewett's 'The Story of the Normans' and Mme. Ragozin's 'Story of Assyria.' The 'Story of Chaldæa,' by Mme. Ragozin, has been highly praised by Profs. Max Müller and Sayce in letters to Mr. George Haven Putnam.
The New Orleans Daily Picayune, 13 February 1887, 10.
This book belongs to the fine series being published under the general title of "The Story of the Nations." The author, Miss Sarah [Sara] Jewett, is one of the most graceful, sympathetic and popular of the magazine writers, but even her most devoted admirers will be pleasantly surprised to find with what depth, comprehension and eloquence she has lent her pen to the romantic and thrilling career of the Normans. Miss Jewett's book relates chiefly to the Norman conquest of England, and it will always remain one of the best and most readable of the series.
The Standard (Chicago), Thursday, 17 February 1887. (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS. Told Chiefly in Relation to their conquest of England. By Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Chicago: S. A. Maxwell & Co. Price. $1.50
Some part of the story of the Normans is given in that volume of this excellent series which treats of Norway itself, and written by Mr. Boyesen. It is that part of it which concerns Norway chiefly. The book now in hand takes up the story where Boyesen leaves it, dealing with the Normans in their relation to English history. Soon after the time of William the Conqueror Norman and Anglo-Saxon, in England, accepted the situation as regards to their joint occupancy of the island, so that, although it is long before the races blend, it ceases to be necessary to treat of either Norman or Saxon as any thing else but English. Thus it is that, as the title to this volume implies, the subject of it is the Normans with principal reference to that notable conquest. The author begins with Norway and the Vikings, but the scene soon changes to that part of France where the Normans made their first great conquest; the race of Rolf the Ganger by whom this conquest was achieved being traced in their various fortunes and in their growth to that measure of power which made William the Conqueror equal to his own great enterprise. With the story of this achievement, a briefer record of the reign of William Rufus and of the first Henry, the book closes. The book is what its title implies -- the "story," not in any large sense the history, of the Normans. Not that it is less true than history, but that it runs lightly along on the surface of events, picturesque, descriptive, with that sort of fluent narrative which makes all this writer's books so fascinating and popular. She has studied the subject, evidently, with conscientious fidelity, but quite as evidently has not attempted to rival those more elaborate works in which the philosophy of the history, the causes and results of what is narrated, is dwelt upon. We think the book will be highly popular with those for whom especially it has been written.
The Dial, March 1887, 274.
Brief Notes on New Books
The name of Sarah Orne Jewett on the title page of "The Story of the Normans," the latest number of the "Story of the Nations" (Putnam), leads us to expect a narrative of blended symmetry and strength; and our expectation is perfectly fulfilled. The quiet, earnest spirit, the scrupulous veracity, the careful construction, the finished style, which mark the essays and stories of Miss Jewett, distinguish this more serious and comprehensive work. She has studied the subject faithfully, mastering it to a degree which enables her to treat it with an original picturesque force. It has all the charm of a romance, with the truth of a veritable history. The record of a people, written with such simplicity and beauty, impresses lastingly the mind of the reader, old or young. "The Story [story] of the Normans" is confined to a few generations, extending from the middle of the ninth to the beginning of the eleventh [twelfth?] century; but as Miss Jewett relates it, it is relieved from all obscurity and elevated to its due rank and importance. We are not to forget that the lives [lines?] of our ancestry go back to the Northman as well as to the Anglo-Saxon, and that to him Englishmen and Americans are indebted for some of their most estimable qualities. It is, in truth, our earlier history we trace in this story of the Norman Dukes.
Dartmouth Literary Monthly 1:6 (March 1887), 294-5.
Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.
Some peoples, like some individuals, are born brilliant, beautiful, venturesome, as others are born stolid or stupid. They seem to be endowed with a greater suppleness of mind, a loftier spirit, a keener sense than their fellows. Nor are these gifts the index of inferior force and endurance, as we sometimes think. Nature, like fortune (if they are not identical), has her favorites on whom she lavishes her most precious gifts of mind and body. Among such favorites of Nature were the ancient Persians in western Asia, and in Europe the Normans. The Persians are better known to the classical student than any other Asiatic nation. This is owing to their long struggle, now aggressive, now defensive, with the Greeks and Romans. Nor was this prominence undeserved. The character of the Persian compares not unfavorably with that of his western cousins. The names of the great Cyrus, the wise Darius, the savage Cambyses even, are not unworthy of their place in history beside the heroes of Marathon and Salamis. Æschylus's Persians shows us that the Greeks themselves were far from despising their great foe. We are a little apt to think of the Persians as a vast horde of enervated barbarians, swarming over the world in a course of conquest as purposeless as it was cruel. In this we are eminently unjust to the Greeks and Persians alike. We accord to the former a foolish fear of the latter, cheapen their triumph over them, and we fail utterly to appreciate that force and endurance that have kept the Persians even to our own day a united and discrete people. Far from being enervated, they were one of the most vigorous offshoots of the pure Aryan stock; far from being barbarians, in anything but the Greek sense, they were preëminently intellectual and ready-witted, and remarkably spiritual in their religion and philosophy. They have been called the "nerve of the East," as the Hindoos "the brain." Few Asiatics interest our Western temper more than do this fair shepherd people, with their noble manners and their simple worship on the sunny mountains of Iran. Yet in spite of Persia's superior birthright, fate has decreed that she should never influence the world save negatively. Paradoxically, it seems to have been what Persia has not done that has advanced the race. She did not conquer Greece, and the world will forever be in debt to the culmination of Greek genius incident upon the Persian war. She could not resist Alexander, and thus the Hellenization of the East became of the vastest importance to the subsequent spread of the English church. She could not become mistress of Byzantium, and the lingering life of that too-easily forgotten empire has fulfilled a mission that has been, and is yet to be, of great weight in the destinies of Europe. Persian history has been a thread connecting the somewhat inconsequent rise and fall of the Asiatic powers. Parthian, Babylonian, Jewish, Egyptian, Saracen, and Turkish history all blend with hers. Whether as the ruling power, or the oppressed of all, in the checkered story of the East, Persia is ever a prominent figure in our interest and imagination. Although Mr. Benjamin, our late minister to that country, has written an accurate enough account of its history, his style is bald, sometimes rather careless, and he fails to hold us as the merits of the subject would lead us to expect. We regret, too, that he has not thought it worth while to dwell a little more largely on some subjects than he has. We could well have spared half of his opening chapters on the legends of Persia if he had devoted an equal space to a more adequate account of Zoroaster and his religion, its wonderful revival under Artaxerxes the Sassanian in the third century of our era, and the subtle influence it exerted on the Christianity of that day. Such an account, imperfect as it would have to be, would not have encroached upon the domain of ecclesiastical history, and in this day of Oriental scholarship would not have failed to interest us beyond any mere mythic chronology.
The central position held by the Persians in Asia is paralleled by the Normans in Europe. The story of the Normans is the key to the history of Europe, as that of Persia is to Asiatic history, but with a difference. The Persians were overrun by all nations; the Normans overran all nations. The Persians kept their nationality intact and separate; the Normans assimilated themselves to every people they conquered. The Persians were superior in civilization to their neighbors; the Normans were the pupils of their subjects. The instances are rare in history of a nation not only assimilating a foreign civilization, but developing it beyond those from whom they borrowed it. The Saracens are the only striking instance of this besides the Normans, and they were the less remarkable in that their culture decayed as rapidly as it grew, a bright mirage of the desert as compared with the permanent splendors of the Norman name.
Charlemagne, when he wept at the sight of the Norse long ships sweeping past the shores of his domain, was a poor prophet, mighty emperor though he was. He did not see, it was impossible that he should see, that of that fierce pirate breed was to come the flower of Christian knighthood and kinghood, the fairest and proudest and most royal race that the world had seen for many an age. The Normans were the last of the Teutons to take their position in the new map of Europe: the last, but by no means the least. European history would have been very dull, very similar to the interminable annals of the German states, but for this saving element of grace and romance. The Normans were the little leaven of imagination that leavened the stolid lump of western Christendom. By their poetic alchemy they transmuted all they touched into that something so exquisitely fair that we call mediævalism. War became a crusade, arms chivalry, the Roman system of patronage feudalism, by their magic use. We judge feudalism and chivalry now by the light of the subsequent abuses of them; and it is only by severe research and much against our prejudices that we can discover and enjoy their pristine loveliness and beneficence. Compare the empire of Charlemagne and the empire of Barbarossa. We are apt to think of the Normans almost wholly in connection with England; but their influence was no less pronounced on France, and even in Italy they are not without witness. It would be very interesting to trace the Norman in the wit and the polish of which the French are so proud. On the other side of the Channel, many though the losses were to England by the Conquest, we doubt if even the most violent Saxon-maniac, if I may use the term, would care to blot out the names of her first dozen kings. With all their faults of pride and treachery, never did more kingly kings, all in all, sit on any throne than the Plantagenets. Miss Jewett has fulfilled a task as agreeable to herself, we doubt not, as to her readers. It is with a fond imagination and a loving hand that she depicts for us this Viking's brood. The fascinating beauty for which they were so famous still haunts their story, and still dazzles those who never saw them nor even the land of their birth. In a vignette style our author's story passes from incident to incident, each delightful, each full of exquisite color and character. In her tenderness and loving reverence Miss Jewett reminds us of Miss Yonge at her happiest. The history of the Normans has been more completely told, but their story never more charmingly, than by Miss Jewett.
We wonder if any strain of Viking blood in Victor Hugo is answerable for the wonderful art with which he describes the awful tempests in The Toilers of the Sea and The Man who Laughs, and made him the champion of the Norman troubadour against the classicists of the grand siècle. However that may be, Victor Hugo has certainly proven that the old Norse spirit still exists in France. Whatever follies this nineteenth century has plunged into, and they are not few, it must be admitted that it has been remarkably fertile in great literary names. This is nowhere more true than in France, in its great romantic revival with Hugo as its chief creation and creator. The Norman element seems again to have conquered for itself a place in literary geography....
Persia (The Story of the Nations Series), by S. G. W. Benjamin. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York. $1.50.
The Normans (Story of the Nations Series), by Sarah Orne Jewett. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York. $1.50.
Central School Journal (Keokuk, IA), 10 April 1887, 13-14. (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NATIONS. The Normans. By Sarah Orne Jewett. The Moors in Spain. By Stanley Lane-Poole. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Octavo, beautifully illustrated, per volume, $1.50. The series of histories outlined by the publishers under the title, The Story of the Nations is excellent every way. Mrs. Jewett has told the story of the Normans admirably. In a simple graphic style, she has portrayed the Norman heroes and their conquests, their lives and customs; and withal has been historically accurate. In The Moors of Spain, Mr. Lane-Poole gives a vivid idea of those wonderful people. The history is entertaining as well as instructive and clearly evidences the scholarly ability of its author. The volumes are profusely and elegantly illustrated. Some of the illustrations being unusually fine. Mechanically the books are superb.
The New England Magazine 5:30 (April 1887), 603.
A LARGE number of American readers should be interested in the history of the Normans, since in their veins runs a rill which, in some degree, had its source in Normandy in times antedating William the Conqueror. In her history of this people, Miss Jewett has treated an important as well as an interesting subject in a sprightly and in a worthy manner. In their own land they are brought to our view in the persons of the first seven dukes, the successive rulers of Normandy, who were "typical of their time and representative of the various types of the national character." The author regards these Normans as the foremost people of their day, "the most thoroughly alive, and quickest to see where advances might be made." This is observed to be true in regard to their methods and skill in government, and in the extension of their power and their national growth. It is shown in their very striking and original architecture, which has had so wide an influence, and whose beauties are constantly reproduced in modern structures. The same eminence is perceived in the social field; for it is admitted that this people were gifted with sentiment and with good taste, together with intellectual cleverness. Yet as with others there is a dark side to this picture, -- failures in point of noble action, and misfortunes that involved much privation. These were owing, as usual, to a blindness to the inevitable results of certain courses, and the accompanying unwillingness to listen to their best teachers. In order that we may understand the old Norman beauty and grace, their manly strength, courage, and courtesy, the author would have us go now to the shores of Norway, where in the country of the saga-men and the rough sea-kings, beside the steep-shored harbors of the viking dragon-ships, linger still the constantly repeated types of our earlier ancestry, and where the flower of the sagas blooms as fair as ever. This is a rather romantic view of the subject, but in a certain sense, it is probably a true one.
The Story of the Normans, by Sarah Orne Jewett. New York and London. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1887. Cloth, 12 mo.; pp. 373. $1.50.
The Advance 22 (21 April 1887), 246.
In The Story of the Normans, by Sarah Orne Jewett, we have one of the best histories yet published in The Stories of the Nations series. Miss Jewett's stories of New England life have given her an established literary reputation. The same charm of style which has made these stories attractive, and the same power of picturesque and vivid description distinguish this more serious historical work. Her graphic pen gives an air of living reality to the characters and acts of such heroes as William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Duke Richard the Good, Robert the Magnificent, and the great William the Conqueror. Less complete and valuable as a history of the Norman Conquest of England than Thierry's work, Miss Jewett's work is yet more valuable than his, as supplying a history of the Norman from the first beginnings of his power in Northern Europe, to the culmination of that power in the great victory of William at the Battle of Hastings. As a compendious, convenient and altogether trustworthy manual of Norman history, it is to be preferred above the elaborate and exhaustive work of Sir Francis Palgrave. It's literary merits will give it favor alike with the old and the young. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.)
North American Review 144: 366 (May 1887), 548.
It seems a pity that a collection of brief, popular histories so happily conceived, and for the most part so well executed as "The Story of the Nations" series should in any instance have departed from the general aim of assigning the exposition of a given subject to some writer specially qualified by original research for the work. We are not. aware that the compiler of the volume, [The Story of the Normans; by Sarah Orne Jewett. G. P. Putnam's Sons.] devoted to that division of the Northmen which is mainly associated with the Duchy of Normandy and with England, has such special qualifications, which are, on the contrary, undoubtedly possessed by Professor Freeman, or, if he was unobtainable, by more than one other English student of Northwestern Europe in the early middle ages. Hack work, though it may be performed with a certain neatness and dexterity, is, in our judgment, out of place in a series of this order, whose pretensions to fresh and independent treatment have been, upon the whole, well founded.
Atlantic Monthly 59 (June 1887), 859.
The Story of the Normans, told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England, by Sarah Orne Jewett. (Putnams.) This book belongs to a series designed in a general way for young people, but there is little in Miss Jewett's treatment which especially calls up such an audience. We like best those portions, both at the beginning and end, and where she touches upon the artistic contribution of the Norman life, which enable her to lay aside for a while the strictly historical manner. Miss Jewett seems hardly to feel the more rugged force of the Norman character, or rather she is perhaps a little out of sympathy with Norman savagery, and more desirous of getting to the finer development. Her quiet style makes the book a somewhat amiable presentation of the subject, and she writes sometimes as if the work were an effort. A little sharper historical analysis might have given strength to her work, but we must nevertheless congratulate the author on the success which she has attained in a difficult task.
Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine 9:54 (June 1887), 664-5.
The Story of the Nations.
OF THE late issues of the Stories of the Nations, two* are so intimately connected in subject matter that they may be considered together. The Story of the Moors is merely an expansion of one of the most important and romantic of the series of movements forming the Saracenic invasion of Europe. This Saracenic episode is one of the most intensely interesting in the history of Christendom, and yet it is one which has not hitherto received any adequate popular treatment. There is an element of romance and of mystery in the sudden rise of this Asiatic flood, which fiercely menaced the shores of Europe, and then subsided as quickly as it had risen, leaving almost no trace of its presence. The Arabs, for more than one thousand years, had dragged on a colorless, unambitious existence in their desert peninsula. Contented in their low condition, they continued their primitive, uneventful life, just beyond the reach of the mighty movements that were convulsing the then civilized world, uninterested in, even ignoring, the conflicts being waged at their very doors. From this inglorious tranquillity they were aroused by the teachings of one man. Without predecessors to open the way for him, without any preparatory mental development of the people, Mohammed changed not merely their religious thought, but revolutionized their whole character. From a peaceable, contented, trading people, they became a restless, ambitious, implacable race of warriors.
After the death of Mohammed the era of conquest began. He had decreed that the faith of Islam should be spread by the sword, and so successfully was this policy carried out by his successor, that within four years after his death, Chaldea, Babylonia, and the greater part of Syria, including Jerusalem, had fallen into the hands of the Moslems. For one hundred years the irresistible spread of their power continued, until their possessions enclosed the Mediterranean on three sides, and they threatened European civilization from two directions. But the weakness which finally caused their overthrow, began to assert itself almost from the day of the prophet's death. The Saracens never formed a compact nation. The people were always divided into numerous tribes, which never fused into one mass. No attempt was made to assimilate the widely varied peoples who came under their sway, and the Kalifate gained no coherence, but rather became less united as its territory increased. In the election of the third Kalif, but twelve years after the prophet's death, the various factions began to assert themselves, and internal dissensions did not cease until the power of the Saracens had been completely lost.
The period of the greatest power of the Saracens was brief, almost momentary. They spread over Northern Africa and into Spain, but almost before the Goths had been overcome, the Berbers had regained extensive portions of the African conquests. They swept over Arabia, Persia, and Asia Minor, but Constantinople was the rock against which they dashed themselves continuously but ineffectually for one thousand years. It formed the defense of Christendom during the development of the western nations. The eighth century saw the greatest power of the Saracens; the ninth century marked their highest intellectual development. Arts, sciences, and literature flourished until Christendom sent her scholars to drink at the Moslem fountain. But the increase of learning brought with it a scepticism, which sapped the foundation of the Moslem power. The removal of the capital to Bagdad had given a preponderance to Persian influence, and their religious views prevailed. The Koran and the religion of Mohammed were finally attacked by the Commander of the Faithful himself. In the absence of any national unity, Islam had been the only cohesive force of the Kalifatte, and, when it was thus awakened, factions sprang up in every direction, and the conquered territory dropped away part by part.
As compared with the earlier books of this series, The Story of the Saracens is marked by a decided improvement in the way of maps, and the same may be said of The Story of the Moors; the latter book is also conspicuous for its clear, terse, vigorous, and interesting style. The series does not confine itself to the stories of the nations most familiar to general readers, but does some good work rummaging around in the dark corners of history, and throwing an attractive light upon them. Two of the dark corners thus illuminated are Normandy and Persia.** Perhaps in the case of the former, it would be more proper to say the Normans, for the sojourn of this people in the land to which they gave a name is the least important part of their life-story as a nation. The Normans are peculiarly interesting to us, for they formed a curious element in the development of the English-speaking race, mingling as they did the hardy race characteristics of the north, with the manners and customs of the Latin races of the south, acquired during their contact with those people in France. Miss Jewett has told the story of this people well. Her style is clear, picturesque and attractive, and she is particularly happy in her vivid presentation of the life and manners of these rough people. Mr. Benjamin writes the story of Persia most sympathetically. He makes the narrative entertaining, almost fascinating, but the early history of this, like most other Oriental countries is more or less shrouded in the mists of succeeding ages, and he has not always been scholarly in separating that which is authentic from what is purely traditionary. The latest issue of the series, The Story of Ancient Egypt*** sustains well the excellence of the earlier issues. There is always a danger in calling on a specialist to address a popular audience on his favorite subject, particularly when that audience is composed of those whose minds are so immature as to prevent their entering sympathetically into the discussion of those abstract questions which form his pastime. In the present instance, however, Prof. Rawlinson has succeeded unusually well in combining the spirit of scholarly research with his popular exposition. The subject is handled with that firm grasp and true perspective which one has a right to expect from the reputation of the author, and yet the readers will find the style clear and interesting throughout.
*The Story of the Saracens. By Arthur Gilman. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
The Story of the Moors in Spain. By Stanley Lane Poole. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
** The Story of the Normans. By Sarah O. Jewett. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
The Story of Persia. By G. W. Benjamin. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
***The Story of Ancient Egypt. By George Rawlinson and Arthur Gilman. Published by Geo. P. Putnam's Sons. New York: 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
The Nation, 2 June 1887, 477. (HL)
The Story of the Normans, told chiefly in relation to their Conquest of England. By Sarah Orne Jewett. [The Story of the Nations.] G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1877.
The romantic history of the Normans has found a worthy chronicler in Miss Jewett, who has made out of her material one of the most interesting volumes of the series. The title-page would lead one to fear lest the earlier history of the Normans and their adventures in the South be somewhat neglected for the English conquest. It is not so, however. The whole career of the Normans is well told: their life in the North, the annals of the duchy, and the adventurous conquest of southern Italy and Sicily. Only, our sense of proportion and completeness would have been better satisfied if this last subject had been carried out a little further -- to the death of William the Good, the end of the Norman period in Sicily, as the death of Henry Beauclerc was in England. The account of the peasants' revolt we will mention as particularly good. There are many excellent illustrations, especially from the Bayeux Tapestry; but we cannot see the pertinence of a full view of Canterbury Cathedral and the doorway of Chartres Cathedral to a history of the Norman period.
The Boston Globe, 188_ . (HL)
Sarah Orne Jewett is the author of "The Normans," the latest volume of "The Story of the Nations," a series that better than any other fulfills the purpose of providing youth with the essential facts of the history of every nation, entertainingly and in becoming style. The ease, grace and taste of her imaginary writings do not suffer any hindrance when they deal with the arbitrary realities of historical narrative, but maintain their power, suggesting everywhere that she has entered capably and heartily into the purpose.
This volume, like some of the published ones, contains pages of history familiar to special students only, and covers quite fully a period that is hurried over in nearly every history of England.
And it helps in all its parts to a better appreciation of Norman character than most readers possess. It is issued in the beautiful manner of the series, with extra paper, and superior maps and illustrations, and in keeping in other respects with the high quality of the subject matter.
New York G. P. Putnam's Sons. Boston: Cupples, Upham & Co.
Daily Chronicle, 7 January 1891. (HL)
The Latest Books."The Normans: Told chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England." By Sarah Orne Jewett, (London T. Fisher Unwin)
The story of the Normans is well worthy of a place in the interesting series of "Stories of the Nations." To readers of every nationality the history of that daring and chivalrous race will be interesting; to Englishmen it must have an irresistible charm. From the days when the hardy Norsemen in their rude boats first swooped down upon the shores of Britain, Gaul and Spain, to the time when their dukes met the kings of France to pay them scornful homage at Rouen and Paris, when Norman knights showed their prowess in battle and taught a nobler courtesy to the chivalry of France, when the beauty and charm of Norman ladies took and held captive the Princes of Europe, when Norman valour and genius, after planting a rich if rude literature in the snows of Iceland, left their traces in relics of noble architecture and manifold beauty along this valley of the Seine, built up the kingdom of the two [Sicilies?], and grafted on the sluggish Anglo-Saxon stem the energy which blossomed forth in the Chaucers and Shakespeares, the Drakes and Raleighs of England, the story of the Normans is one brilliant world-romance. We feel a proud wonder at the progress our modern world had made during the last fifty years with the aid of numberless inventions; but what of the contrast between the men of the dragon ships, who came south with Rolf, and startled the people of Jumièges, some time early in the tenth century, and the gallant host assembled in 1066 around Duke William from all parts of Europe by the blessing of Hildebrand and the Pope, when the duke awaited at St. Valery a fair breeze to carry him across to Sussex? The hundred years of Norman progress, with only strong hearts and hands to hew the way, may well compare with the fifty years of modern progress, though the telegraph and the steam-engine, with a train of conquered forces of nature have aided it. We have found out many inventions in modern days, but it may be doubted if our architects of the present time excel those of Normandy, if the examination schools of Oxford present any fairer enthusiasm for learning than did the Abbey of Bec under Lanfranc, if our civilization is adequate to produce a stronger will or a keener intellect than the stern Conqueror's, pious and just withal, who dug so deep the foundations of England's greatness.
Of the original home of the Normans nothing is known. Of course, they came along that mysterious Aryan track which the philologists are painfully rooting up. We learn from anthropologists too, that they must have been preceded in their northern wilds by an earlier race, dark-haired and inferior in stature, of whom traces remain in corners of the Pyrenees, where they have sheltered and preserved their speech, and even among the Celts of North Britain. At some date anterior to history the fair-haired Norsemen dispossessed them, built their huts on the rocky shores of the fjords, and trained themselves for other conquests by braving the icy blasts and battling with the sea storms. After such intractable opponents the feeble folk of southern lands were an easy prey, and the dragon ships became a terror to the shores and river banks of Western Europe and even of the Mediterranean.
The story is told with considerable picturesqueness by the American author of this book; only it reminds me disagreeably sometimes of the American tourist's accents of surprise at the wonders of the Old World. Mr. Freeman's great work has been a mine of wealth for Miss Jewett to quarry from; the volume throughout gives evidence of painstaking research of the second-hand order, and the modesty of the author lays claim to nothing more. What we should most desire, but have by no means got yet, is a book giving from firsthand knowledge the results of such learning as Mr. Freeman's without his cumbersomeness. A writer keeping that end in view and really possessed by his theme, would be secure against such efforts after strong writing, that are really a weakness, as mar the present volume. "William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest," by Thomas Carlyle, would have been a boon to literature. To those who are not very particular about literary form, Miss Jewett's volume will afford much interesting information. But it certainly is not the story of the Normans "told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England," unless we are content to believe that the Norman conquest of England was achieved on the field of Senise. It only began there. If that victory had not been followed up by a real conquest in the rule of William, the arrow that pierced Harold would not have been of much account in the history of England. Our author apparently knows a few facts about William's reign. A judicious dash of the pen across superfluous sentences that take up about one-third of the volume would have left space for such treatment of the real and lasting conquest as might have justified the words on the title page.
Manchester Guardian, 9 June 1891. (HL)
The Normans: Told Chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England, By SARAH O. JEWETT. Story of the Nation Series. London: Fisher Unwin, 8vo, pp. xvi, 373.
Miss Jewett is, we believe, known as a novelist in the United States, where she commends herself to the New England public as a pourtrayer of their country life. She has not been well advised in attempting to deal with the history of the Normans in the 11th century. She does not possess the necessary knowledge of the period, nor is she well acquainted with what has been written upon it in recent times. Her book, consequently, has little to commend it to the student, while it is too vague and colourless to please the reading public. It is but fair to add that she seems to have taken some pains to write in good grammar and good taste, and it is possible that if she had known as much about the Normans and their land as she is said to know about New England and the New Englanders, she might have written a book worth reading. As it is, it is a waste of time to read what it has been a waste of time to read and print. In the never-to-be-forgotten life of Mookerjee it is written that "none can be great impromptu," and one may safely recommend this aphorism to Miss Jewett, for certainly history cannot be written impromptu. The illustrations in the volume are of a mixed character; those taken from the Bayeux Tapestry and from an Old English manuscript are good, the maps are fair, but the rest are neither helpful nor artistic.
Freeman's Journal (Dublin), 12 June 1891. (HL)
THE NORMANS: TOLD CHIEFLY IN RELATION TO THEIR CONQUEST OF ENGLAND. By Sarah Orne Jewett. London: T Fisher Unwin, Paternoster Square; and G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York. 1891.
This is one of the valuable historical series of publications entitled "The Story of the Nations." It deals with one of the most notable races of medieval Europe, and traces their life history down to the accomplishment of that which was, perhaps, their most notable achievement, the conquest of England by Duke William, which, the authoress maintains, was a battle won in the cause of progress. At the very outset she refers to the climatic influence of the Gulf Stream upon the southern coast of Norway, and though she does not pursue that topic to ethnological consequences, there is certainly a great deal to be said upon the effect which climate had had in the making of races. The [unreadable word ] of atmosphere in which the hardy Norsemen were raised must have been to them a source of vigour and energy. In eighteen chapters the manners, customs, and doings of the Normans are set down from the time of their first Duke Rolf, who lived A.D. 911 to the accession to the English Throne of William Rufus in A.D. 1086. The earlier chapters are conversant with the ruthless raids upon English and other shores of those ancient "sea kings" and "vikings," who could build sound and safe ships, or rather boats propelled by oars and sails, who made long and adventurous voyages in them, and who, in a word, were never as much at home as when they were at sea. Grand men, physically speaking, they must doubtless have been, although all the things that they were in the habit of doing would not meet with general approval on the part of the people now, no more than they did even the from the clergy. We read that "if a sea king heard of a fair damsel anywhere along the neighbouring coast he simply took ship in that direction, fought for her, and carried her away in triumph with as much of her goods as he was able to seize." These very ancient Northmen were not farmers -- their country was too barren and ungenial for that -- they were hunters and fishermen. They were also Pagans, and addicted to sacking and plundering the Christian churches when they could get at them, and murdering the ecclesiastics. But in due time they were converted to Christianity, and then the fierceness of their spirit underwent mitigation, and later on, under the influence of feudalism, they developed into Christian knights animated by motives of religion and virtue, and only allowing themselves to fight for noble objects. The authoress makes an interesting quotation from Guizot's History of France of the ritual of twenty-six articles, to which the candidate for knighthood in Normandy in William the Conqueror's early days was obliged to swear before his shield be admitted into the order. The reader will recognize in these a lofty code of ethics; but the authoress warns him against supposing that they were generally held or acted on. "It would not do," she says, "to take these holy principles or the pageant of knight-errantry for a picture of Normandy in general. We can only remind ourselves with satisfaction that this leaven was working in the mass of turbulent, vindictive society. The priests worked very hard to keep their hold upon their people, and the austerity of the Church proved equal to many a subtle weakness of faith and quick strain of disloyalty. When the priesthood could not make the Normans promise to keep the peace altogether they still obtained an astonishing concession and truce. There was no fighting from Wednesday evening at sunset until Monday morning at sunrise. During these five nights and four days no fighting, burning, robbing, or plundering could go on, though for the three days and two nights left of the week any violence and crime were not only pardonable but allowed. It is mentioned that in William the Conqueror's time every landed gentleman fortified his house against his neighbours, and had a secure and loathsome prison in his cellar for their frequent accommodation. Even Mr. T. W. Russell will admit that the subsequent exclusive use of the cellar for the keeping of the gentleman's wine was at all events a step in the right direction. The book has a number of interesting illustrations, one of them being Falaise Castle, the birthplace of William the Conqueror, whilst the others include representations of Norman ships, men in armour, etc. The printing, paper, and binding are excellent.
The Publisher's Circular, 13 June 1891. (HL)
From Mr. T. Fisher Unwin. -- 'The Normans: told chiefly in relation to their Conquest of England' ('The Story of the Nations'), by Sarah Orne Jewett. The story of the Normans must always be one of paramount importance to English people, by virtue of our descent and intimate association. Miss Jewett begins with 'The Men of the Dragon Ships,' who sailed from Norway and Sweden to carry what may politely be called commerce, but which was in point of fact piracy. From this time she leads us by gradual steps up to the days of Harold Harfager, who, about the middle of the 9th century, did great things in Norway. And from this time it is but a little while before we find one Rolf the Ganger [Ranger] sailing up the Seine from the Hebrides with a small fleet, and casting anchor at that still delightful and picturesque town, Jumièges, five leagues from Rouen. Once established in this district, the Normans soon made themselves known to the old inhabitants of Britain, and from this time forward their history is more or less intimately connected with the history of England. Miss Jewett has a romantic subject, and her volume is one of the most interesting in the series. It is also interesting as showing to many people who never quite realised the fact that the Normans of the Conquest were only French by association, and were directly descended from the old Norse Vikings, from whom we also, by virtue of the Norman invasion, may claim descent.
Leeds Mercury, 24 June 1891. (HL)
There was a great difference, Miss Sarah Orne Jewett reminds us at the outset of the new volume in the "Story of the Nation's Series," between the manner of life in Norway in far-off days and that which prevailed in England or France. The Norwegian stone, for instance, though admirably adapted for arrow-heads or axes, was not fit for building purposes. There is little clay, moreover, in the land to fashion into bricks, so that wood has usually been the only material for houses. In England or France castles or fortresses were built at an early age, but the people of Norway could build no strongholds that a lighted torch could not destroy. That perhaps was one reason why they came to trust more to their ships than to their houses, and why some of their great leaders and chieftains declined to live on shore at all. If their houses were somewhat fragile, they were often very gracious, and a good deal of dignity and hospitality have always been characteristic of Norse life. Hospitality was one of the chief virtues of the people, and in ancient times every guest was entertained with stories from the Sagas. Each great family possessed its own Skald, or poet, and they ranked much higher in social position than the minstrels and troubadours of a later age in France. The monkish chroniclers of England and France gave the Vikings a bad name, and there is reason to think that the censure, though not altogether undeserved, was exaggerated. The fact was, the "countries to the southward were spiritless, and bogged down by Church influence and superstition, until they had lost the energy and even the intellectual power of their ancestors five centuries back. The Roman Empire had helped to change the Englishmen and many of the Frenchmen of that time into a population of slaves and laborers, with no property in the soil and nothing to fight for but their own lives." The black raven adorned the Vikings' flags, and it became only too familiar in other harbours than their own. They were bold, energetic, fearless men, and made themselves masters of the high seas. They knew nothing of the mariner's compass, but they studied the sky and steered by the aid of the stars. They carried on board their "dragon-ships" captive ravens, and when bewildered in which direction to steer for land, they let the birds loose and followed their flight. The Vikings had their own rough code of honour: -- "To join the most renowned company of Vikings in Harold Haarfager's time, it was necessary that the champion should lift a great stone that lay before the King's door, as first proof that he was worth initiating. We are gravely told that this stone could not be moved by the strength of twelve ordinary men. They were obliged to take oath that they would not capture women and children, or seek refuge during a tempest, or stop to dress their wounds before the battle was over." The manner in which the Norsemen, under William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Robert the Magnificent, and William the Conqueror, took, so to speak, the world by storm, and established their supremacy in France, in England, and even in Italy, is described in a group of picturesque chapters in this volume; and the narrative ends with the period when the vitality of Normandy was turned into new channels, and is to be traced in the history of England, France, and the Low Countries. Miss Jewett contents herself with describing the characters of the first seven Dukes and Edward the Confessor, whom she regards as men who were not merely typical of their time, but representative of the different phases of national character. She thinks that the secret of Normandy's success was "energetic self-development and apprehension of truth; the secret of Normandy's failure was the blindness to the inevitable effects of certain causes, and unwillingness to listen to her best and most far-seeing teachers." Carlyle said once to a friend, "There has never been a nation yet, that did anything great, that was not deeply religious." The age of faith -- the period in which the cathedrals were built and the monasteries founded -- was identical with the greatest era in the history of the Normans. ("The Normans, told chiefly in relation to their Conquest of England." By Sarah Orne Jewett, Illustrated. T. Fisher Unwin, London.)
John Bull, 11 July 1891. (HL)
SHORT NOTICESThe new volume of The Story of the Nations, now in course of publication by Mr. Fisher Unwin, deals with The Normans, and has been entrusted to Mrs. Sarah Orne [Ann] Jewett, an American lady, who is somewhat afflicted with a mania for picturesque writing, which is carried to such an extent as to become rather tiresome, even though relieved by such Yankee colloquialisms as the assertion that the Archbishop of Canterbury, martyred by the Danes, "squarely refused" to pay Danegelt, and such a remarkable non sequiter as that in the description of the French King, who died "only thirty-three years of age, in spite of his tempestuous reign and always changing career." But for the general reader such a method of writing history is probably preferable to the old Dryasdust system, and though a severe critic would desire a somewhat more chastened literary style, it may have its attraction for the class for whose benefit the history-made-easy series, of which it forms part, is primarily designed. The story is mainly told in relation to the Norman conquest of England, and a good use has been made of Mr. Freeman's great work, which is a perfect storehouse of material ready at hand for the compiler of such a volume. Mrs. Jewett begins with the men of the dragon ships, and feels a keen delight in tracing back her own pedigree as a citizen of the United States to the hardy race of Northmen, whose beginnings she has here chronicled, though it is not till Rolf the Ganger [Gauger] launched his ship from the island of Vigr, that they emerge from the shadow-realm of Sagaland into the domain of actual history. Though Normandy was not actually reunited to France till 1204, the historian regards the young Prince who was drowned on the White Ship as the last real Norman Duke, and has not carried on her narrative through the long years that intervened, nor does she deal with the influence of the Northmen upon the later Kingdom of France. Her interest attaches more to the growth of the Duchy itself, and to that English conquest which transplanted the main seat of Norman Rule from the banks of the Seine to those of the Thames. Even the Italian side of the history of the Normans, picturesque as it is, does not long divert her from the pursuing of what she regards as the main stream of her story. We cannot say that the book on The Normans will take rank as one of the best volumes of the admirable series of which it forms part, but it is certainly not the least interesting volume in that series, and has so many merits that we cannot but regret the overtendency to the picturesque, and the introduction of some few American vulgarisms which interfere with its literary merit.
Sword and Travel, July 1891. (HL)
The Normans; told chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England. By SARAH ORNE JEWETT. T. Fisher Unwin.
Who does not wish to know a story so intimately interwoven with our own? Only cubs of the same wolves that bare the Anglo-Saxon people could have crossed the channel, and subdued that unconquerable race. Who those Normans were, and how like the rest of the hardy Norsemen, whose blood is in our veins, this chronicle will tell. It reads to us as if it had been written for the young, -- which we say not to its detriment. The record is not long, but it is full of daring and freaks of fury. This is No. 29 of the "Story of the Nations." These books ought to be a mine of wealth to those who own the copyrights; at any rate, we view them as mental treasures out of whose depths we may dig gold.
The Speaker 5 (23 January 1892), 114-15.
NOVEL HISTORY -- BY A LADY NOVELIST
The Normans; told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England.
By Sarah Orne Jewett. ["Story of the Nations."] London: T. Fisher Unwin.
Of the making of series of popular little history books -- they cannot be called histories -- there seems to be no end. The "Epochs of History" commenced the epidemic, and it has now risen to such a height that every publishing firm, whether of old-established reputation or of mushroom growth, which cannot think of a good title for a series of cheap biographies, such as "English Men of Letters," "English Men of Action," "Great Writers," or the like, must have its historical series. Most of these series have their good volumes. Their harbinger, the "Epochs of History," easily bears the palm. Such books as Dean Church's "Beginning of the Middle Ages," the Bishop of Oxford's "Early Plantagenets," Mr. S. R. Gardiner's "Thirty Years' War" and "Puritan Revolution," and the Bishop of Peterborough's "Age of Elizabeth," are models of their kind. But even this series, graced by such great names and, what is of more importance, by such admirable volumes, was marked by many doleful failures. The bad volumes of this, the best of the cheap historical series, were bad enough; but there has been reserved for this particular collection of national history the "cool malignity," as Charles Lamb would have termed it, of inappropriate illustrations. It is inevitable that all these series should have their failures as well as their successes, and it is only right, for the sake of the publishers as well as the public, to point out these failures, lest the success of one or two good volumes by one or two well-known authors should foist off on unsuspecting readers utterly worthless books which should never have seen the light. The "Story of the Nations," which is Mr. Fisher Unwin's series, has had its share of good volumes. Mr. Morfill's "Russia," Mr. Bradley's "Goths," Mr. Morrison's "Jews under Roman Rule," and Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole's "Barbary Corsairs," are all valuable works, and absolutely the only books in the English language treating their respective subjects according to the lights of the latest historical research. Some of the others, which treat of well-worn subjects, are accurate and spirited little text-books. But there have been some lamentable failures -- lamentable alike for the purchaser, who has been induced to buy the worthless volume because it was one of the series, and for the reviewer, who feels it his duty to speak out clearly and emphatically against dishonest work.
"The Normans" is an instance in point. It is a curious fact that the small book upon "The Normans in Europe" in the "Epochs of History" was also, to put it mildly, not a success. And yet it might be supposed that upon no historical era would it be so easy to write an interesting and accurate little book. Not only is the subject picturesque in the extreme, affording many dramatic situations and striking portraits, but the abundant materials have been worked up by one of the three great living English historians, Professor E. A. Freeman, into a narrative at once interesting and complete. An analysis of the authorities used by Miss Jewett in the book under review will give some evidence of the absolute unfitness of the lady to write an historical work. She naturally quotes largely from Professor Freeman, but the only authors whom she mentions with words of praise are Mr. John Addington Symonds and Miss Charlotte M. Yonge! The former she calls "a charming writer," and no one will cavil at the epithet: but when she deliberately founds the greater part of a chapter on a story for children called "The Little Duke," written by Miss Yonge very many years ago, and speaks with a certain poverty of epithet of this "charming story" in the text, it is time to protest. Among the authorities quoted are the Rev. A. H. Johnson's "Normans in Europe" in more than one place, Sir Francis Palgrave, and, on the Icelandic sagas, instead of writers of reputation on the subject, Depping's "Voyages Maritimes des Normands." But Miss Jewett's knowledge of English novelists and appreciation of their writings is evidently more extensive than her acquaintance with the standard historians of the epoch she attempts to describe. Dickens's "Child's History of England," probably for the first time since its publication, is actually quoted as the authority for an historical statement. "England was made a great grave," says Dickens of the Norman Conquest, "and men and beasts lay dead together," and Miss Jewett calmly accepts this remark as being of sufficient value to deserve quotation. Even more remarkable is her admiration of Lord Lytton as an authority on Anglo-Saxon manners. Surely in this year of grace it would hardly be expected that anyone, even an American lady-novelist, should deliberately say of the family of Godwine, "Lord Lytton's novel, called 'Harold,' makes this famous household seem to live before our eyes" (p. 192).
But enough of Miss Jewett's qualifications for writing or understanding history. Let us turn now to her style of composition. Its great advantage is that it is entirely her own. Without the simplicity of Lady Callcott's "Little Arthur's History of England," it seems in places inspired by a systematic attempt to write down to the level of her readers, whom she then expects to be very juvenile, while elsewhere she indulges in curious philosophical dissertations intended for mature readers. The result of the mixture is occasionally absolutely ridiculous. A few quotations, taken at random on opening the book casually, will justify these remarks. Take, for instance, from the first chapter, entitled "The Men of the Dragon Ships," these two passages:
"Think of those clumsy little ships out on such a journey with their single masts and long oars! Think of the stories that must have been told from town to town after these strange, wild Northern foes had come and gone! They were like hawks that came swooping down out of the sky, and though Spain and Rome and Greece were well enough acquainted with wars, they must have felt when the Northmen came as we should feel if some wild beast from the heart of the forest came biting and tearing its way through a city street at noontime" (p. 20).Miss Jewett understands the feelings of the Vikings as thoroughly as those of the Greeks and Romans and Spaniards harried by them.
"As for the old men," she says, "who had been to the fights and followed the sea-kings and brought home treasures, we are sure that they were always talking over their valiant deeds and successes, and urging their sons and grandsons to go to the South. The women wished their husbands and brothers to be as brave as the rest, while they cared a great deal for the rich booty which was brought back from such expeditions. What a hard thing it must have seemed to the boys who were sick or lame or deformed, but who had all the desire for glory that belonged to any of the Vikings, and yet must stay at home with the women" (p. 27).The following description of the battle of Hastings is too sublime for criticism: --
"And the fight grew hotter and hotter, the Normans were beaten back, and returned again fiercely to the charge, down the hill, now up the hill over the palisades, like a pouring river of men, dealing stinging sword-thrusts -- dropping in clumsy heaps of javelin-pricked and axe-smitten lifelessness; from swift, bright-eyed men becoming a bloody mass to stumble over, or feebly crying for mercy at the feet that trampled them; so the fight went on. . . . There was no sound of guns or smoke of powder in that day, only a fearful wrangling and chopping, and a whir of arrow and lance and twang of bowstring. Yes, and a dolorous groaning as closer and closer the armies grappled with each other, hand to hand" (pp. 307, 308).A more charming "derangement of epitaphs" has not been seen for many a year in a work pretending to be serious.
Miss Jewett's philosophical reflections are couched in equally graphic and exquisitely comic sentences. Here are two as examples. The first contains her ideas on the effect of the Norman conquest of England: --
"Heaven send dampness now and bleak winds, and let poor Eadward's sufferings be short! There was work for a man to do in ruling England, and Eadward could not do it. The Englishmen were stupid and dull; they ate too much and drank too much; they clung with both hands to their old notions of state-craft and government. It was the old story of the hare and the tortoise, but the hare was fleet of foot and would win. Win? Yes, this race and that race; and yet the tortoise was going to be somehow made over new, and keep a steady course in the right path, and learn speed, and get to be better than the old tortoise as the years went on and on" (pp. 243, 244).The second shows her profound grasp of the effects of war: --
"Just here we might well stop to consider the true causes and effects of war. Seen in the largest way possible, from this side of life, certain forces of development are enabled to assert themselves only by outgrowing, outnumbering, outfighting their opposers. War is the conflict between ideas that are going to live and ideas that have passed their maturity and are going to die. . . . Wars may appear to delay, but in due time they surely raise whole nations of men to higher levels, whether by preparing for new growths or by mixing the new and old. Generals of battalions and unreckoned camp-followers alike are effects of some great change, not causes of it. And no war was ever fought that was not an evidence that one element in it had outgrown the other and was bound to get itself manifested and better understood. The first effect of war is incidental and temporary; the secondary effect makes a link in the grand chain of the spiritual education and development of the world" (pp. 255, 256).It is not pleasant for a reviewer to hold up a lady to ridicule. Miss Jewett is a lady who has won some fame as a novelist in the United States; she should stick to her last and not infringe on the domain of the historical writer. To write history needs a special training; it needs wide reading; it demands unceasing labour and whole-souled devotion. A man or woman who can reel off fluent sentences is not thereby justified in thinking he or she can write history, and, above all, popular history, the hardest task in which many eminent historians have failed. We must conclude, however, in spite of seeming ungallant, to amuse our readers by a last gem from Miss Jewett's chaplet: --
"One familiar English word of ours -- hurrah, -- is said to date from Rolf's reign. Rou the Frenchmen called our Rolf; and there was a law that if a man was in danger himself, or caught his enemy doing any damage, he could raise the cry Ha Rou! and so invoke justice in Duke Rolf's name. At the sound of the cry, everybody was bound, on the instant, to give chase to the offender, and whoever failed to respond to the cry of Ha Rou! must pay a heavy fine to Rolf himself. This began the old English fashion of "hue and cry," as well as our custom of shouting Hurrah! when we are pleased and excited" (p. 49).
Editor's NoteThe reviewer seems to assume it is obvious that Jewett is practicing poor history in her discussion of the word "hurrah." As the Oxford English Dictionary does not support this etymology, Jewett probably is not correct, and her use of "is said" hints at her skepticism. However, she is paraphrasing reasonably authoritative sources when she tells this story in Chapter 2. Sir Francis Palgrave presents this idea about the origin of "hurrah," in The History of Normandy and of England, Volume 1, 696-8. See also Duncan, The Dukes of Normandy, pp. 21-2. Jewett's Sources.
Undated Reviews from the Houghton Library Clippings Folder
The Churchman. (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS. By Sarah Orne Jewett. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.)
"The Story of the Nations" series sustains the high reputation it has already attained in this its latest volume. The gifted authoress tells her story of the Normans in that enchanting manner that comes from a thorough acquaintance with the period which she has made in a sense her own, together with an enthusiastic interest in it. Mr. Freeman has told, it would seem, all that can be known of the "Norman period," that is, the period of the Norman conquest of England. His volumes are exhaustive, but are designed for older readers. Here the story is condensed, simplified and adapted to a younger student. The volume is copiously illustrated with cuts new and old, many being the familiar reproductions of the Bayeux tapestry.
Church Messenger. (HL)
"The Story of the Normans." By Sarah O. Jewett. 12 mo., 373 pp. Cloth, extra, $1.50. G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York.
This volume is number twelve of the "Story of the Nations" series. It is a clear, spirited account of the Norman people -- that people whose language and history is so largely our own. It gives an account, among a thousand other events and persons, of the battle of Hastings, of Richard the Good, Robert the Magnificent, Matilda of Flanders, Harold, the Dragon Ships, and is fully illustrated. This series is one of the most valuable ever issued by the Putnams. Rome, Greece, Norway, Spain, Carthage, the Moors in Spain, Chaldea, Germany, Hungary, Saracens, Jews, had all been issued, but none exceeds the "Story of the Normans." The authoress maintains in this volume a high standard for herself and her topic, and the reader will delight to have read her account -- from Falaise to Odo.
The Critic. (HL)
The Normans and the Persians.The famous French picture of 'Les Glaneurs' contains a wealth of moral truth, behind its mere landscape perfection, that may well be applied in other directions -- for instance, to the writing of history. After the heat of the day is passed, after the great historians have come and gone, after the epoch-making volumes based on original research have been written and published in expensive form, viola! Here come along the patient 'gleaners' and popularizers who pick up the overlooked grains and lost stitches, open out the closely-written chronicle of adventure, select the delectable portions of the immense 'story of the nations,' and transforming them by an airy touch, a grace of arrangement, a perfection of style or a gift for saliencies and charment, present the tale to us anew, stripped of all its cumbersome impediments. Such is the duty of the gleaner as the hum and the murmur of the host of harvesters has passed by; such the duty of the popularizer of the great historians after the mighty volumes have been written and are at rest.
One of the most graceful of these gleaners -- she does not pretend to be more -- is Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, to whom has been entrusted the task of popularizing the works of Freeman and others, in 'The Story of the Normans'. Miss Jewett's style has a delightful effect as a whole. While one can rarely put one's finger on a particular expression or passage and admire its felicity, yet there is something in her work better than even that: a quietness and evenness, a grace and simplicity all her own, not based for its charm on epigram or curiosa felicitas. This peculiarity is more than ever evident in her new book, which fills a charming corner in the historical library to which it is a contribution. In eighteen chapters she takes up, as it were, the Bayeux Tapestry and unwinds its marvels before our eyes -- that striking story of Viking and Norman, of Saxon and Dane, wrought in imperishable embroidery by the fingers of unknown women celebrating a great deed. And not only this: she traces the ins and outs of the marvelous threads, the beginnings and ends of Norman life in Scandinavia and France -- how they radiated this way and that, across channel and sea, from Norway to Normandy, from Rouen to Canterbury. In her story of the Seven Dukes, from Rolf to William, she unravels for us many an intricacy, grouping her facts about this or that heroic figure, giving us not only the hundred yards of storied tapestry over again, but a series of plaques and plastic reliefs filled with historic tableaux. The Conquest of England by the Normans is traced to its true sources back among the Norwegian spruces and fjords -- not simply to the poppies and bluettes of Normandy. It is shown to be not a mere episode but a great movement of races superabounding with energy, eager to find resting places, intolerant of opposition, beating at the feet of the crags of England for many hundred years and at last finding entrance through the gates of Senlac. Her account of all these things has a woman's daintiness and a refinement and love of the picturesque. With a combination of crewel and canvas she produces her 'document in worsted,' too, making us thankful that such a thing as style still survives, and along with it a stray person or two to exercise it. We are much mistaken if "The Story of the Normans" does not turn out to be one of the favorite volumes of the series.
The "Story of the Persians", by S. G. W. Benjamin, late United States Minister to Persia, in the same series, has been entrusted to the very competent hands of the Hon. S.G. W. Benjamin, late United States Minister to Persia, an artist and author of exceptional gifts and opportunities. Unhappily for his 'story,' Mr. Benjamin had just published a delightful volume -- "Persia and the Persians" -- treating very fully of the present condition and prospects of the empire of Sohrab and Rustum; so that, in his 'Story of the Persians," to avoid repeating itself, he was thrown back upon the comparatively uninteresting legendary and mediæval annals of the country which had already been more or less covered by 'Greece,' 'Assyria,' 'Alexander's Empire' and 'Chaldæa' of the same series. For the legends he is indebted to the great poem of Firdausi (lately reviewed in these columns), which had already been beautifully and abundantly given by Atkinson in his verse-and-prose translation (Chandos Classics). For much of the early historical part Herodotus and the Behistun Inscription are his authorities. The style of the book is more like that of Vámbéry's 'Hungary,' and is therefore less adapted to popular reading than the 'Normans.' The 'winged word' is apparently the birthright of few among 'articulate-speaking men,' and those few keep it unfortunately only too much to themselves. A fascinating chapter might have been written on the poets of Persia, but we find it not. Mr. Marion Crawford, with his knowledge of Oriental life and language, would have reveled in such a subject, as we gather from the gorgeous chapters of 'Zoroäster.' Again, we nowhere find a connected or coherent account of Persian geography -- a subject interesting in the extreme and absolutely necessary to the understanding of the tenacity with which Persian types and customs have survived from the times of Cyrus the Elder down to Nasr-ed-Deen. In fact it is evident that we must look for the 'story' of Persia elsewhere than in this book, which follows the old chronological system only too pertinaciously, and leaves us to gather from the author's other writings what we had a right to expect from this one.
Irvine Democrat-Herald. (HL)
To G. P. Putnam's Sons' handsome and valuable series, The Story of the Nations -- now too well known to need further definition of its scope and purpose -- Miss Sarah Orne Jewett contributes a picturesque study of that bold and aggressive race of medieval Europe, whose personality, temper and traditions, engrafting themselves so firmly in early centuries upon the soil of Franks and Saxons, survive under much altered conditions, modernized and adapted to the exigencies of universal civilization, in the characters and governments of the France, England and America of to-day. Of some thirty-two volumes designed for the series, and whose subjects are already decided upon, fourteen have now appeared and have been for the most devoted to nations of remote, or comparative antiquity, the authors having been individually qualified by special study or research for their respective tasks. Miss Jewett presents a romantic descriptive narrative of successive historic phases in the life, as a people, of the hardy Northmen and of their continuous career of conquest and territorial acquisition, specially considering their progression and development in relation to their final subjection of England in the eleventh century. The volume, like all of the series, has numerous illustrations and maps.
St. John's Globe. (HL)
Sarah Orne Jewett furnishes to "The Story of the Nations" series The Story of the Normans, which she tells chiefly in relation to their conquest of England. But not wholly so, for she gives us a readable and indeed fascinating account of the old Norsemen, those dashing sailors and fighters, the [sagas ?] of dragon ships, the vikings and seakings of Scandinavia, who swooped down upon Britain and Gaul, who even explored the shores of the Mediterranean, and who settled down for a time at least in many parts of Europe; and who made a permanent home in what we know now as Normandy. And from Normandy, as all schoolboys know, started out William the Conqueror to capture Britain and to lay the foundation of a great nation which has ever since been ploughing the waves with her ships, and which, for many years, has been planting colonies under every sky. The great Normans, the leading incidents in their lives, the civilization they rejected, the civilization they accepted, and their history generally, is depicted with a graphic [pen ?] -- indeed, there is not a dull or an insipid page in Miss Jewett's book, and the closing passages of it are really eloquent:
"At the beginning of the Norman absorption into English I shall end my story of the founding and growth of the Norman people. The mingling of their brighter, firmer, more enthusiastic and visionary nature with the stolid, dogged, prudent and resolute Anglo-Saxons belongs more properly to the history of England. Indeed, the difficulty would be in not knowing where to stop, for one may tell the two races apart even now, after centuries of association and affiliation. There are Saxon landholders and farmers, and statesmen in England yet -- unconquered, unpersuaded and un-Normanised. But the effect on civilization of the welding of the two great natures cannot be told fairly in this or any other book -- we are too close to it and we ourselves make too intimate a part of it to judge impartially. If we are of English descent we are pretty sure to be members of one party or the other. Saxon yet or Norman yet, and even the confusion of the two forces renders us not more able to judge of the either, but less so. We must sometimes look at England as a later Normandy; and yet, none the less, as the great leader and personified power that she is and has been these many hundred years, drawing in strength from the best of the Northern races, and presenting the world with great men and women as typical of these races and as grandly endowed to stand for the representative of their time in days to come, as the men and women of Greece were typical, and live yet in our literature and song. In the courts and stately halls of England, in the market-places, and among followers of the sea or of the drum, we have seen the best triumphs and glories of modern humanity, no less than the degradations, the treacheries, and the mistakes. In the great pageant of history we can see a nation rise, and greaten, and dwindle, and disappear like the varying lifetime of a single man, but the force of our mother England, is not yet spent, though great changes threaten her, and the process of growth needs winter as well as summer. Her life is not the life of a harborless country, her fortunes are the fortunes of her generosity. But whether the Norman spirit leads her back into slowness and dullness, and lack of proper perception in emergencies or necessary change, still she follows the right direction and heads the way. It is the Norman graft upon the sturdy old Saxon tree that has borne the best fruit among the nations -- that has made the England of history, the England of great scholars and soldiers and sailors, the England of great men and women, of books and ships and gardens and pictures and songs! There is many a gray, old English house standing among the trees and fields, that has sheltered and nurtured many a generation of loyal and tender and brave and gentle souls. We shall find these men and women who, in their cleverness and courtliness, their grace and true pride and beauty, makes us understand the old Norman beauty and grace and seem to make the days of chivalry alive again. But we may go back farther still, and discover it the lonely mountain valleys and fjord-sides of Norway, even a simpler, courtlier, and nobler dignity. In the country of the Sagamen and the rough seakings, beside the steep-shored harbors of the Viking dragon ships, linger the constantly repeated types of an earlier ancestry, and the flower of the sagas blooms as fair as ever. Among the red roof and gray wall of the Norman towns, or the faint, bright colors of its country landscapes, among the green hedgerows and golden wheat fields of England, the same flowers grow in more luxuriant fashion, but old Norway and Denmark sent out the seed that has flourished in richer soil. Today the Northmen, the Normans, and the Englishmen, and a young nation on this western shore of the Atlantic, are all kindred, who, possessing a rich inheritance, should own the closest of kindred ties."
Messrs. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, are the publishers of this excellent series of works. For sale at Messrs. J. & A. McMillan's, St. John.
THE STORY OF THE NATIONS -- THE STORY OF THE NORMANS.-- By Sarah Orne Jewett. (New York: Putnams' Sons.) The heroic life of the Norman furnishes a fine field, and well has Miss Jewett occupied it. The story as told relates chiefly in relation to the Norman conquest of England. The heading of the chapters are: "The Men of the Dragon Ships;" "Rolf, the Gouger;" "William Longsword;" "Richard, the Fearless;" "Duke Richard, the Good;" "Robert, the Magnificent;" "The Normans in Italy;" "The Youth of William the Conqueror;" "Across the Channel;" "The Battle of Voles-Dunes;" "The Abbey of Bee;" "Matilda of Flanders;" "Harold, the Englishman;" "The Battle of Hastings;" "William the Conqueror," and "Kingdom and Dukedom." The volume is well illustrated, and contains a map of Europe at the close of the century.
"The Story of the Normans," by Sarah Orne Jewett, is the latest addition to the series, "The Story of the Nations." It is a grand and worthy portrayal of that hardy race who first appear before us a vigorous, sea-faring people inhabiting the coasts of the Baltic, and of the two peninsulas which form the Norway and Sweden and Denmark of to-day. They were the Norsemen, the old Vikings who harassed England, ravaged the coasts of Germany and France, settled Iceland, colonized Greenland, discovered and settled America. After detailing the interesting history of the settlement of the Normans in France and Italy, through seven of its eighteen chapters, the volume begins, what it is its main purpose to tell -- the story of the Normans in relation to their conquest of England, and begins that story with the youth and life of William the Conqueror, and the condition of England under the Danes. Then come the Norman invasion, the battle of Hastings, the conquest of the country, and the conclusion of a story full of stirring events and which will be considered by many as, thus far, the best of the series. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York; A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.
Portland Oregonian. (HL)
STORY OF THE NATIONS. The Normans. By Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: G. P. Putnam's Son's. Sold by J. K. Gill & Co. Portland.
One of Hamlet's shrewdest observations was made as he stood in the churchyard, watching the gravedigger working and singing at his work, -- "The hand of little occupation hath e'en the daintier sense." And if one did not know Miss Jewett's other work there would be a temptation to suppose that the daintiness of the sense displayed in the last volume in "The Story of the Nations" came from little occupation with historical writing. And perhaps even Miss Jewett could not preserve to her style so much freshness if she wrote a series of historical narratives. But in the present instance, "The Story of the Normans," it is enough to say that the tale of that bold race is told with the same vivacious tranquility -- as it were -- the same charm of diction, the same easy and simple continuity, which her admirers have long been accustomed to prize in "Deephaven" and in succeeding sketches of country life in New England. No better occasion could be taken for pointing out the advantage of a right literary manner, to whatever kind of composition it may be applied. Here is a short and necessarily crowded epitome of many years, of different countries and a long-lived race, which yet contains many passages even more admirable and pleasing than this:
They brought him down to the great hall of the palace, and there he found all the barons who had come to his father's burial, and the boy was told to pull off his cap to them and bow low in answer to their salutations. Then he slowly crossed the hall, and all the barons walked after him in a long procession, according to rank -- first, the Duke of Brittany, and last the poorest of knights, all going to the church of Notre Dame, the great cathedral of Rouen, where the solemn funeral chants had been sung so short a time before.If more history could be written in this fashion, we cannot help thinking that more people would read it, and there is no doubt that they would get greater good from it. Besides the writing, Miss Jewett has so managed her Normans in their rude beginnings, in France, in Italy and in England, that the different threads of the story make a web which has variety without confusing the eye. In short, the book is done with nice art. It is as far from a harum scarum sketch as from an ordinary digest, and the reader who comes to it for instruction will find pleasure in its pages.
Concord People Patriot. (HL)
The Story of the Normans, told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England, by Sarah Orne Jewett. 12 mo., 373 pages. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London. For sale in Concord at Guernsey's Book Store. Price, $1.50.
The title of this work and the name of the author are, together, ample guaranty of the fact that it is one of the most valuable of the series of Historical Studies for the young which the Messrs. Putnam have been issuing at frequent intervals for a year or two past.
No epoch of the world's history holds more of interest for the student, and especially the American student, young or old, than that covering the period of the Norman conquest of our parent isle, and the characteristics of no people of ancient or modern times are studied with greater zest than those of the Normans; and when the story is told in the simple, yet fascinating language of Miss Jewett, it becomes no longer history, but is clothed with all the charms of romance.
Wheeling, W. Va Register. (HL)
STORY OF THE NORMANS, by SARAH ORNE JEWETT. 375 pages; illustrated. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons'
This volume is one of the series of the "Story of the Nations" issued by G. P. Putnam's Sons. The book contains a concise and entertaining history of the Normans from the earliest times. The first chapter tells of the Norman seamen and their exploits. In succeeding chapters Rolf the Ganger [Granger], Charles the Simple, and William Longsword, are told of. The founding of Normandy, Charlemagne, Richard the Fearless, Duke Richard the Good, Robert the Magnificent, the Normans in Italy, the Youth of William the Conqueror, the Normans in England, the Battle of Val-es-Dunes, the Abbey Bec, Natal Day of Flanders, Harold the Englishman, the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror and Kingdom and Dukedom, each form interesting chapters in the work. The volume is a handsome one and is one of the best of the series.
____ Register (HL).
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS. Told chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England. By Sarah Orne Jewett. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. -- There seems to be something infectious in the vigor and romance of the Northmen, which is caught by those who write about them. Something of the freedom and freshness which marked Boyesen's "Story of Norway" appears in this sketch of the fortunes of some of the sons of Norway who made their mark on three empires and affected the fortunes of all modern Europe. For the young, who commonly get only vague ideas of the Normans before the battle of Hastings, this story will be of exceeding value. It reveals some of the roots of modern history in an attractive manner, and shows what manner of men their Norman ancestors and predecessors were. Commonly, we watch the Normans going to England; and the point of view makes a difference. We see the inevitable destiny of England, as it is preparing on both sides of the Channel, and are glad when the strong Norman hand is laid upon the weak but turbulent hordes of half-civilized England. The story is told with sufficient fullness to give a clear idea of the events which led up to William the Conqueror, and made him necessary. For graver problems and more elaborate researches, the reader may seek the greater works of Freeman, who has been liberally drawn upon, as he should be, in the preparation of such a book. "The Story of the Normans" is thoroughly good and readable.
Denver Republican. (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS, by Sarah Orne Jewett. New York, Putnam's Sons; Denver, Chain, Hardy & Co. Price $1.50.
This is an addition to the Stories of the Nations series. It is uniform in type and size with its predecessors, and is delightfully written. The style is more that of romance than of history.
The School Journal (New York). (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS. Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England. By Sarah Orne Jewett, New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. The Knickerbocker Press, 373 pp, $1.50.
This volume of "The Story of the Nations" is of immediate interest to us, especially the first chapter, which gives a full and clear description of the Northmen. These "Men of Dragon Ships" have a great charm for Americans, as a portion of our early history is, in a rather mysterious manner, associated with them. As it is the plan of the writers of the different volumes of this series to enter into the real life of the people of the country, and to bring them before the reader, as they actually lived, labored, fought and struggled, studied, wrote, and amused themselves, this volume is perhaps one of the most charming; for the Normans have produced some of the grandest men and characters known to history. Besides being a description and life-history of this wonderful people, the way in which the narration is given is an additional charm. Sarah Orne Jewett is a pleasant writer, and a book from her pen, once commenced, is not set aside to rest until it is finished. This volume is well illustrated with pictures that assist the reader in appreciating the country and its people with ease. There are also several maps, and a genealogical diagram, giving the Dukes of the Normans.
____ Secretary (Hartford, CT). (HL)
THE STORY OF THE NORMANS. Told Chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England. By Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. (Hartford, Brown & Gross. $1.50).
This volume is one in the admirable series now being issued under the general title of "The Story of the Nations." They are by different authors of established reputation, are of uniform size and style, and are all finely illustrated. Quite a historical library will be formed by the set when complete for the young for whom they are specially designed. They are a series of graphic historical studies, stories of the different nations that have attained prominence in history. The present is of special interest to us as appertaining to the romantic adventures of our own ancestors. Human history is a sad tale of wrong and outrage, and to read this ancient story of bloody wars and fierce oppressions, and "the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter;" makes one feel how greatly the world has improved. This is emphatically true of the so-called Christian nations. In deploring present evils we are too apt to forget how great are the advances which have really been made.
Troy Times (Now Times-Record, New York). (HL)
Sarah Orne Jewett has written a creditable work, "The Story of the Normans," in "The Story of the Nations" series. This volume relates to the Normans more particularly in their raids which led up to the conquest of England, but the picture is complete enough for the ordinary historical purposes. Of all the races which ravaged any portion of Europe during its earlier history, the Normans were the most daring and possessed the most admirable traits. The story of their adventures reads like a romance. The series of which this work is a member comes from G. P. Putnam's sons, New York City. Troy: Nims & Knight.
Unitarian Review. (HL)
The Story of the Normans, by Sarah Orne Jewett, "is told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England." Its style is more familiar than that of most of its predecessors in the series to which it belongs, and one misses those marks of eminent scholarship which Mr. Freeman would have left on every page. But Miss Jewett cannot write a dull book; and her compilation is not only pleasing in its manner, it also shows thorough preparation. It would be well in all the volumes of this series to give a list of the principal authorities, as Miss Jewett has failed to do. On the other hand, it is an improvement to insert the maps in the body of the work instead of placing them inside the covers. (G. P. Putnam's Sons.)
STORY OF THE NORMANS. Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England. The Story of the Nations Series. By Sarah Orne Jewett. G. P. Putnam's Sons, publishers, New York and London.
As a story-teller Sarah Orne Jewett is pre-eminent; and in that field of fiction she has achieved marked success. In the volume in hand she has bent her acknowledged ability as a story writer to the task of telling the history of the Normans from their earliest movements as conquerors. The book opens with a genealogical tree with the branches from which came the Norman dukes, and a map of Europe at the close of the eleventh century. The story of the Normans is told with the breezy air of a writer of fiction, but withal it bears the marks of close study and determination to cover the subject in all its points. The Norman tree is followed with fidelity from the root, and the foliage of fact is given a tint of romance. The editor of "The Story of the Nations" series chose well when he allotted "The Story of the Normans" to Sarah Orne Jewett.
____ at Work? (HL)
The Story of the Normans, as told by Sarah Orne Jewett, forms an interesting addition to the valuable series of the "Story of the Nations" in course of publication by G. P. Putnam's Sons. The story is told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England, and the old sea-kings and Vikings fairly live once more in these pages. Rolf the Ganger [Gauger], William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Duke Richard the Good, Robert the Magnificent, Matilda of Flanders, are characters unsurpassed by any in the most fascinating pages of romance. The important battles of Val-es-Dunes and Hastings are described in a most graphic manner. Though the author has confined herself to the period of the first seven dukes and Edward the Confessor, who were men typical of their time and representative of the various types of national character, her book is a very fair description of the character of this remarkable people, their daring and intrepid spirit, and their rapid progress and development. The book will not only charm all readers, but will be found as instructive as it is fascinating. Like the previous volumes in the series it is plentifully and handsomely illustrated.
Undated Reviews probably of the London 1891 Edition
London Morning Post. (HL)
There are various ways of writing history. One of these is to present the sum of known facts, coordinating and subordinating and generally arranging with as much skill and regard to truth and consistency as may be. Another and more excellent way is to be guided by the various trustworthy authorities, to follow them loyally as they explode the several popular misconceptions about each period, not to be afraid to leave debateable matter unsettled, but rather to be content with indicating and arguing in support of probable theories and reasonable conjectures in regard to the [unreadable word]. This sort of inquiry is, after all, true history; masses of facts and statements presented in order of time can claim no other title than compilation. On the whole Mrs. Jewett appears to have tried to follow the better way. She is fortunate in her period, and evidently appreciates it fully. For the Norseman holds our English interest by a weird claim that is all his own. This it is combined with the force of nerve of Charles Kingsley that makes his "Hereward the Wake" so good a book. Mrs. Jewett's first chapter is a series of vivid pictures of old Norse life -- the household, the large hospitality, the pastimes, and the sagas. These compilations in verse or prose were the fruit of a wild northern genius. "They were evolved without models, and disappeared at best without imitation; and it is most remarkable that in [is] the island of Iceland, of which the name alone is a sufficient hint of its frightful climates, and where the very name of poet has almost become a wonder" in this very island the Skalda produced innumerable sagas during a space of time which covers the twelfth, thirteen, and fourteenth centuries. The men of Normandy were originally Norsemen, who came down south to find a local habitation and bestow a name. In the admirable chapter with which the book opens all this is traced, and the reader familiarised with the Norse atmosphere, and so enabled to read further both intelligently and appreciatively. "The old chronicles of Scandinavia and Denmark and Iceland cannot be relied on like the histories of Greece or Rome. The student who tries to discover when this man was born or that man died from a saga is apt to be disappointed. The more he studies those histories of the sea kings and their countries the more distinct picture he gets of a great crowd of men taking their little ships every year and leaving the rocky barren coasts of their own country to go southwards…. Now and then we hear the name of some great man…." The reflection will occur that this uncertainty is common to most ancient records… And Mrs. Jewett's remark is further unfortunate, for the early history of Rome and Greece is certainly unreliable. The book is easy and entertaining reading, and will be an excellent auxiliary in preparing for examinations. When the striking figure of William the Bastard rises on the horizon he practically draws the history into his own monograph. It is a full and fair picture. The third chapter, again, gives a good starting point in the shape of some clear ideas about Charlemagne. It might well have been more full. The proportion of readers to whom Charlemagne is anything more than a name would be instructive, if ascertained. No one without some considerable knowledge to bring to the task could read with profit such books as "Hallam's Middle Ages." The presenting of a few clear ideas and salient facts is one mission of such books as the "Story of the Normans." The rise of the feudal system and the development of Gaul into the French union is well given, and the quotation of authorities in [reference ?] is one of the excellent features of the book. Here and there are slips of the pen, as this "masterful, to use a good old Saxon word." Good and old certainly, but not Saxon. And "hardshipped" for visited with hardship is novel. On page 316 the phrase "powder of succession," quoted from an old writer, if not a misprint, is puzzling enough to require some explanation, which is not given. The whole subject has a poetical haze, through which, nevertheless, for the writer has not tried to ruthlessly dispel it, the needful background of dry fact may be traced without much difficulty. Perhaps the work might have been better done, even if still confined to a single volume, for the historian is abroad to-day, yet for all that the story of the Normans is well told in this volume.
Jewett several times in The Story of the Normans assumes knowledge her readers are unlikely to possess. The example of the "powder of succession" is one of these. In this case, she draws upon Sir Francis Palgrave, who explains the suspicion that William the Conqueror eliminated a rival, Walter Count of Vexin and his wife, by means of poison. See The History of Normandy and of England, v. 3, p. 270. Jewett's Sources.
Unidentified fragment. (HL).
…few slips of detail here and there, as where the First Crusade is ante-dated by some sixty years in a description of Duke Robert the Devil's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, do not materially affect the value of this work. A more serious fault is the tone of exaggerated enthusiasm, reminding one of the later rhapsodies of Carlyle, in which the authoress describes the anarchic violence of a set of adventurers who, with all their shining qualities, were almost the greatest brutes in history.
Ferman Bishop, "Sarah Orne Jewett's Ideas of Race," New England Quarterly 36:2 (June 1957): 244-6
The arduous course of reading that Miss Jewett undertook in preparation for her history, The Story of the Normans (1887), provided her with materials for developing her own theory of race. One of the most important authorities she consulted was Augustin Thierry, whom Jacques Barzun has called "perhaps the greatest French racial historian." His Histoire de la Conquete de l'Angleterre par les Normands (1825) attempted, among other things, to prove that the aristocratic nature of English institutions stemmed from the Norman Conquest. Believing that the true date of the founding of the English nation was 1066, he also adopted the thesis which Sir Walter Scott advanced in Ivanhoe of the long-continued separate identity of Saxon and Norman elements in English national life. This "racial" separation, Thierry felt, provided the keynote to English history down to 1500. And, even in the England of the early nineteenth century Thierry believed that one would find a higher proportion of French names among the gentry than among the lower classes. The idea of the continuity of separate national stocks appealed so much to Miss Jewett that she wrote enthusiastically to her friend Mrs. Annie Fields:
... When I read the "Saturday Review" and "Spectator" I find myself calling one politician a Saxon and the next a Norman! Indeed I can pick them out here in Berwick!
In reading further about the Conquest, Miss Jewett gave especial attention to the work of Edward A. Freeman, whose interpretation of history differed markedly from that of Thierry. Freeman set aside the Frenchman's idea that the Conquest was a cataclysm whose results could still be seen in the persistence of Norman and Saxon racial types. Instead, he emphasized the continuity of English history. Minimizing the social effects of the French invasion, Freeman felt that Saxon dominance was left undisturbed by the conflict. Yet he, too, emphasized the problem of race; for, despite his thesis, he was a violent Teutonist. His racial consciousness led him, in defiance of his avowed loyalty to the Saxon cause, to suggest of the Norman:
... He has sunk beneath the silent and passive influence of a race less brilliant but more enduring than his own. The Norman has vanished from the world, but he has indeed left a name behind him.. .
Choosing elements of the racial theories of both Thierry and Freeman, Miss Jewett incorporated them into the interpretation of history by which she wrote The Story of the Normans. At every successive stage in her account, she emphasized the idea of race. In her introductory picture of the Northmen at home in Scandinavia, she suggested:
... these Northmen really surpassed their enemies in literature, as much as in military achievements. Their laws and government, their history and poetry and social customs, were better than those of the Anglo-Saxons and the Franks.
And later, in describing the effect of the Viking invasion and settlement in France, Miss Jewett wrote:
They [the Normans] inspired every new growth of the religion, language, or manners, with their own splendid vitality. They were like plants that have grown in dry, thin soil, transplanted to a richer spot of ground, and sending fresh shoots in the doubled moisture and sunshine. And presently we shall find the Northman becoming the Norman of history. As the Northman, almost the first thing we admire about him is his character, his glorious energy; as the Norman, we see that energy turned into better channels, and bringing a new element into the progress of civilization. And when she attempted to evaluate the results of the Norman Conquest of England itself, she said,
... let us never forget that much that has been best in English national life has come from the Norman elements of it rather than the Saxon. England the colonizer, England the country of intellectual and social progress, England the fosterer of ideas and chivalrous humanity, is Norman England, and the Saxon influence has oftener held her back in dogged satisfaction and stubbornness than urged her forward to higher levels.
The main outlines of Miss Jewett's interpretation of race in English history, then, followed the pattern she had learned from Thierry. But she differed from him in one important respect, for which she had perhaps derived justification from Freeman: whereas Thierry had made his history take the side of the Saxon lower classes, Miss Jewett's favored the Norman aristocracy. They were for her not villains who ruled by force, but an elite whose beneficent influence was still visible in England.
Editor's NotesThierry: See Jewett's Sources for information on and links to her known sources.
Jacques Barzun, Race: A Study in Superstition. Revised with a new preface. (New York: Harper & Row, 1965, copyright 1937). Bishop used the 1937 edition. See pp. 25-6 for Barzun's discussion of Thierry.
"racial" separation: Bishop places "racial" within quotation marks presumably because he is aware that neither Thierry nor Jewett uses the term "race" in the same way that 20th-century readers did. Both were aware that what we would call the genetic ancestry of Norse and Saxons was virtually identical. They knew that both were Teutonic peoples, in the terms of their day. Thierry and Jewett believed there were significant and visible cultural differences between Normans and Saxons at the time of the Norman Conquest and that representatives of these cultural differences persisted into the 19th Century. Jewett says that by 1066, "The Normans had so distinctly made a great gain in ideas and civilization, that they were as much foreigners as any Europeans could have been to the Anglo-Saxons of that eleventh century, and their coming had a permanent effect, besides a most compelling power" (355).
Edward A. Freeman: Freeman, who was a Teutonist and supported a form of American nativism, also recognized the common physical heritage of Normans and Saxons. For a summary of Freeman's ideas, see Edward Saveth, American Historians and European Immigrants, 1875-1925 (New York: Russell and Russell, 1965), 17-9. For an example of Freeman's "violent" Teutonism see, Some Impressions of the United States (London: Longmans, Green, 1883), 137-8.
Norman aristocracy: It is disputable that Jewett favored the Normans because they were aristocratic and that she failed to see them as villains who ruled by force. Repeatedly, Jewett points to two sides of William and the Normans as conquerors: "As we linger over the accounts of his reign, harsh and cruel and unlovable as he appears, it is rather the cruelty of the surgeon than of a torturer or of a cut-throat. The presence of the Normans among the nations of the earth must have seemed particularly irritating and inflammatory, but we can understand, now that so many centuries have smoothed away the scars they left, that the stimulus of their energy and their hot ambition helped the rest of the world to take many steps forward" (319). In Jewett's view, the Normans were cruel and tyrannical, on one hand, and were a "beneficent influence" in the long run, on the other. See Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans.
Richard Cary, Sarah Orne Jewett (New York: Twayne, 1962), 156-7.
Between appearances of such sturdy short stories as "A White Heron" and "Miss Tempy's Watchers" Miss Jewett brought out The Story of the Normans (1887) in Putnam's series of national histories. She was sincere in wanting an authentic formulation and did what she considered adequate research. The result is a fragment of hack work which begins with Rolf, the first duke of the Normans, and peters out after William the Conqueror. Sarah Jewett had neither the training, the perspective, the profundity, nor the style necessary for such a book. It contains a pleasantly uncomplicated survey of early English life and times, in which she relieves herself of several amateur theories about race motivation and the bases of character.
Her expression lacks the strength and stamina for extended documentary presentation. Although her evidence is orderly and interesting, her language and tone have a dimity touch. She tries to domesticate and colloquialize history, and she is lured without effort from the strict path of history into colorful byways of legend and anecdote. She addresses the reader with chatty familiarity, re-creates purported conversations between historic personages, and interjects excited exclamations. Not infrequently she enters the thoughts of her protagonists to relay what is going on there. And she tends toward prettification, treating William the Conqueror's bastardy as a picturesque idyll.
She declares that history is more than "the story of this monarch or that," and she does deal in elements of home life, social customs, law, morality, and religion. But most of her attempts at analysis of ethos yield sooner or later to storytelling. It is instructive, however, to note the relation to her fiction and sketches of three guiding motifs in The Story. First, her conviction that climate profoundly affects the enterprise and intelligence of individuals and the mores of race. Second, her faith in heredity as a determining factor in character. She presumes for the Normans a superiority of mind and heart which stems from the Vikings and passes through the English to the Americans. So strong is this influence that she claims ability to separate Saxon from Norman in Berwick. Third, her feminist bias, which emerges in compassionate apostrophe -- "poor women!" -- and in disputable statement: "Both Saxons and Normans paid great deference to the instinctive opinions of women."
hack work: This term seems unduly harsh for describing a book that was received positively by the majority of reviewers and that sold in good numbers throughout the remainder of Jewett's life (See Publication and Sales Information). Further, Cary's enumeration of the book's weaknesses tends to focus on evidence that she was following the guidelines for the series' marketing description (See The Story of the Nations). While, in retrospect, this is not among the works of Jewett most valued by posterity, measured on the scale of 19th-century publishing in popular history, contemporaries rated it rather high.
dimity touch: Here Cary seems to side with the reviewer in The Speaker (23 January 1892) in the opinion that a "lady novelist" has no business attempting history writing.
disputable statement: While it may well be disputable that Saxons and Normans paid great deference to women's opinions, Jewett had some authority to back her opinion. Keyser, in The Private Life of the old Northmen (1868) noted that women had a highly respectable position in Norse society (p 17). Kingsley, in Hereward (1865), a historical novel about a Saxon hero, shows Hereward's wife and mother, among others, to be powerful in influencing male leaders, notably in decisions about engaging in war. Mary Bateson, who may be the only female academic historian to contribute to The Story of the Nations, wrote Medieval England (1903), which took up British history with the rule of the Norman dukes. She says, "The queens of the Norman period were women of character, and the chroniclers have thought their works and ways worthy of some note" (20, see also 41-2).
Josephine Donovan, Sarah Orne Jewett: Revised Edition (Christchurch, NZ: Cybereditions, 2001, original edition c. 1980), 60.
Jewett also wrote three works for juveniles during this period. The first of these was The Story of the Normans: Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England (1887), an inferior work that mixed history and myth indiscriminately and allowed its author to indulge in one of her few pet prejudices, the notion that the Normans (from whom she believed herself descended) were a favored race whose contribution to English culture redeemed it from semibarbarism.
works for juveniles: Whether Jewett was required to address juvenile readers in this book and whether she actually did is not established. It appears that as she was completing her work during 1886, Putnam's was shifting its original intention away from marketing the series as for young readers. See "Marketing and Reviewing the Series" in The Story of the Nations.
mixed history and myth indiscriminantly: This assertion seems to revisit Cary's second paragraph above, though this is not exactly his complaint. While Donovan seems to say that Jewett lacked the ability to distinguish myth from history, Cary sees Jewett as lacking compositional discipline, letting herself be "lured without effort from the strict path of history into colorful byways of legend and anecdote." Whether Jewett failed to make clear distinctions and whether her narrative is excessively digressive may be debated, but it would seem clear she was following marketing guidelines by including both kinds of material. The prospectus published in her volume reads, in part:
It is the plan of the writers of the different volumes to enter into the real life of the peoples, and to bring them before the reader as they actually lived, labored, and struggled -- as they studied and wrote, and as they amused themselves. In carrying out this plan, the myths, with which the history of all lands begins, will not be overlooked, though these will be carefully distinguished from the actual history, so far as the labors of the accepted historical authorities have resulted in definite conclusions.from whom she believed herself descended: Jewett had good reason to believe herself descended from Normans. See Frederick C. Jewett, History and Genealogy of the Jewetts of America (New York: Grafton, 1908), xv.
Margaret Roman, Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), 102-3.
While The Story of the Normans is more of a history than a romance, it shares a common basis with both The Tory Lover and "A War Debt." All three stories exhibit one of Jewett's few prejudices, her racial bias for the Norman race, the superior race from which she felt she herself descended. In The Story of the Normans, Jewett occasionally utters statements favoring women for their intelligence. She tells of Matilda, who ruled "wisely and ably" (321) during her husband's absence; she recounts how the men "paid great deference to the instinctive opinions of women" (326). Nevertheless, in this male script, which subscribes to the conquest of people and their land, Jewett cannot be herself. Instead, it is far more likely to see a "fair damsel" (160), a wife whose real name is forgotten in favor of her nickname, which means "puppet" or "little doll" (60), women skilled in needlework (116), women who cry as their men go off to adventure (136), and, of course, an "uncomplaining and patient" (145) wife. With the given script, the women characters have no life. Sarah Orne Jewett's writing fails when she reflects society's norms that enslave women. Yet these are the only three pieces in all nineteen of her published volumes that show her attempt at historical fiction. It is also clear that Jewett tries to write them to express her pride in her Norman ancestry.
"A War Debt": I have contested the reading of "A War Debt" that attributes to Jewett the racial ideas expressed by the main character, Tom Burton, in Terry Heller, "To Each Body a Spirit: Jewett and African Americans." New England Quarterly 84:1 (2011) 123-58.
the superior race from which she felt she herself descended: See notes for Bishop on Jewett's use of the term "race." And see notes for Donovan above on the foundation for Jewett's belief in her own Norman ancestry.
subscribes to the conquest of people and their land: It is debateable whether Jewett supports conquest and colonialism in this book. While she ultimately argues that the Norman Conquest illustrates God's providential purpose of forwarding human progress, she repeatedly deplores the horrors of the process. In her thesis statement, she says:
... there is one thing I ask you to remember first in all this long story of the Normans: that however much it seems to you a long chapter of bloody wars and miseries and treacheries that get to be almost tiresome in their folly and brutality; however little profit it may seem sometimes to read about the Norman wars, yet everywhere you will catch a gleam of the glorious courage and steadfastness that have won not only the petty principalities and dukedoms of those early days, but the great English and American discoveries and inventions and noble advancement of all the centuries since (29).Though some have been tempted to read the statement about "English and American discoveries and inventions ... and advancements" as support for colonialist ambition, what Jewett literally says is that she believes certain attitudes that Normans have passed on to later generations have led to the most admirable modern advancements in culture and technology. See Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans.
Elizabeth Silverthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer's Life (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1993), pp. 133-5.
One day in 1886 Sarah wrote to Annie that she could hardly find room to write her letters as her table was so overspread with papers for her current project. She was hard at work on a history of the Normans for G. P. Putnam's series "The Story of the Nations" for young readers. She enjoyed the research -- reading history and myths and literature connected with the Vikings and the Normans. She relied heavily on Edward Augustus Freeman's gigantic five-volume History of the Norman Conquest and corresponded with Professor Freeman (at Oxford) about problems she encountered. The writing, so different from anything she had done, was not easy, but by November 1886 it was finished and she was dividing her time between indexing the book and dressmaking. The Story of the Normans: Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England, published in 1887, is dedicated to Sarah's maternal grandfather, Dr. William Perry, of Exeter, then in his ninety-ninth year.
The Story of the Normans, which was popular in the United States and in England, ran to several editions in both countries and garnered some favorable reviews. The New Orleans Daily Picayune praised its "depth, comprehension and eloquence" in describing the "romantic and thrilling career of the Normans." And Dial called it a "narrative of blended symmetry and strength." The reviewer referred to the "quiet, earnest spirit, the scrupulous veracity, the careful construction, the finished style," concluding that it was "history with the charm of romance."
Modern reviews have not been as kind in their appraisals, criticizing particularly the author's blending of fact and legend and her insistence that the Normans possessed a superiority of character over the Saxons, whom they conquered. The original Northmen (Scandinavians) had better laws and government, she said, and better history, poetry, and social customs than did the Anglo-Saxons and Franks. And she declared that after the Vikings settled in the north of France and turned their energy to "better channels," they inspired "every new growth of the religion, language or manners, with their own splendid vitality."
Following the conquest of England, Sarah concluded, "much that has been best in English national life" has come from the Norman elements in it rather than the Saxon. However (and this is sometimes overlooked by critics) she pointed out the advantage of the mixture:
It is the Norman graft upon the sturdy old Saxon tree that has borne best fruit among the nations -- that has made the England of history, the England of great scholars and soldiers and sailors, the England of great men and women, of books and ships and gardens and pictures and songs!
She wrote that the "brighter, fiercer, more enthusiastic, and visionary nature" of the Normans mingled with the "stolid, dogged, prudent and resolute" nature of the Anglo-Saxons to create the English character. And it was this heritage, she said, that the English colonizers brought to America. In individual instances where the two did not mix, she claimed, it was easy to distinguish Norman from Saxon heritage.
In several of her subsequent stories she emphasized this theory. For example, in "The King of Folly Island" the main character is the son and heir of "the Old Vikings who had sailed that stormy coast and discovered its harborage and its vines five hundred years before Columbus was born in Italy." And in "A War Debt" the Bellamys' granddaughter appears to the protagonist, Tom, as "the newer and finer Norman among Saxons. She alone seemed to have that inheritance of swiftness of mind, of sureness of training." Tom himself is described as "straight and trim, like a Frenchman."
The Story of the Normans concludes: "Today the Northman, the Norman, and the Englishman, and a young nation on this western shore of the Atlantic are all kindred who, possessing a rich inheritance, should own the closest of kindred ties." But Sarah was well aware that all Americans did not share her Anglophilism. In Country By-Ways she had remarked that if an elderly New England lady were "suddenly dropped into the midst of provincial English society, she would be quite at home." But Sarah added that "west of the Hudson River that same lady would be lucky if she did not find herself behind the times, and almost a stranger and a foreigner."
In her masterpiece The Country of the Pointed Firs, however, Sarah shows that she remained a Francophile at heart. Of the most admirable character in the novel she says, "Mrs. Blackett was plainly of French descent, in both her appearance and her charming gifts, but this is not surprising when one has learned how large a proportion of the early settlers on this northern coast of New England were of Huguenot blood, and that it is the Norman Englishman, not the Saxon, who goes adventuring to a new world." And Mrs. Blackett's daughter, Mrs. Todd, tells the narrator, "They used to say in old times that our family came of very high folks in France."
One day in 1886: Silverthorne refers to Letter 15 in Annie Fields' Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett, which is dated "Thursday Evening 1886." However, this dating is problematic, for at the end of the letter, she says she has completed reading Weir Mitchell's Hugh Wynne (1896). It is likely that Fields spliced together two or more letters in preparing this one for publication. Thus, it is unclear whether Jewett reports working on the 1887 original publication or on the 1891 revision.
Paula Blanchard, Sarah Orne Jewett: her World and her Work (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994), 162-3.
The Story of the Normans is an anomaly in her career, undertaken at the request of G. P. Putnam's Sons as one of a series of histories for young people. It took her several years: she was researching it at the Boston Public Library as early as 1881, but apparently put it aside. In 1885 she was at work on it again, and she finished it in 1886, pushing herself into illness as she had with Deephaven. By the time she finished it, it had become a kind of albatross. As she herself often said, she was no scholar, and she may have agreed to the project during the euphoric period just after Deephaven was published, before she understood her own limits. Unable to evaluate her sources and lacking scholarly discipline, she labored conscientiously to marshall such facts as she had and finally produced a lively but historically dubious account, in which she took the opportunity to air her Darwinist views on war ("Wars may appear to delay, but in due time they surely raise whole nations of men to higher levels.") and her belief that the Norman (or gallicized Scandinavian) was racially superior to the Anglo-Saxon and Celt. Both opinions ran counter to her usually liberal slant, and both were based on a mishmash of then-current theory and misinformation. The belief in the superiority of the Germanic peoples was widely in vogue and was promulgated by some of Jewett's favorite authors, among them Matthew Arnold, Charles Kingsley, and Theophilus Parsons. The belief in the cleansing and renewing power of war was based not only on popular Darwinism and the contemporary wave of jingoism in England and America, but on Jewett's personal associations with three "just" and necessary wars fought by her own ancestors and neighbors in the past century. Such conversations as she had with actual war veterans -- John Tucker, for example -- served rather to glorify the cause than force her to confront the actual horrors of the battlefield. In short, then, The Story of the Normans occupies the most obscure corner of the Jewett bookshelf, and the best that can be said for it is that it was not the kind of book that would forever quash its young readers' interest in history.
a series of histories for young people: See above, notes on Donovan, for the problem of whether this title was addressed to young readers.
Boston Public Library as early as 1881: Jewett reports working at the Boston Public Library in the undated letter 42 of Annie Fields' Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett. Blanchard's guess at the date is complicated by content and position. Fields places the letter with those of the 1890s, which is unlikely to be accurate given that Jewett reports researching The Story of the Normans. If one makes the somewhat risky assumption that all the paragraphs in the Fields selection are from the same letter, then Jewett's report in the same letter that she has been reading George Sand's letters means that it must have been written after the 1882 French publication of Sand's Correspondance 1812-1876. However, if she read the Sand letters in English translation, then this letter would almost certainly come from 1886: Letters of George Sand, translated by Raphael Ledos de Beaufort, Raphael, (London: Ward and Downey, 1886).
during the euphoric period just after Deephaven: When Jewett was invited to write this book and under what circumstances is an interesting mystery, and further information is welcome. Blanchard speculates that Jewett may have begun work on the project even in the late 1870s, but this seems unlikely. The first titles in the series appeared in 1885, and Jewett completed her work at the end of 1886. Reasonably verifiable events in Jewett's letters shows her researching in the autumn of 1885. I would speculate that the series must have been conceived in 1883 or no later than 1884, allowing at least a year for the first two volumes to be completed and published. Since Jewett had to "start from scratch," having no previous research from which to begin, she was likely recruited along with the rest of the early writers of the volumes that appeared from 1885 through 1887, but took longer than the others to complete the work. See The Story of the Nations and Jewett's Comments.
historically dubious account: The grounds for this characterization are mysterious. As the more informed reviews make clear and Silverthorne notes in her account, Jewett based her narrative upon the leading historians of her day. Unless there is evidence that she deviated seriously from her sources, one wonders how to justify this statement. The annotations provided for Jewett's text indicate that all of her information and interpretations derive from her sources, notably Edward A. Freeman, the leading contemporary authority on the period of the Norman Conquest. University College, London, classical scholar Alfred John Church (1829-1912) authored the 1889 title, The Story of Early Britain, drawing upon several of Jewett's sources, especially Freeman.
to air her Darwinist views on war: Blanchard repeatedly asserts that Jewett was a Darwinist. Though Jewett read Charles Darwin and probably was aware of Darwinist ideas, that she would adopt any version of materialist determinism seems alien to her habitual modes of thought. In Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans, I suggest that her theory of history is liberal Christian. Though one might observe superficial similarities with Darwinism, Jewett's modes of thought typically are more traditional.
the Norman ... was racially superior to the Anglo-Saxon and Celt: See notes above on Bishop for Jewett's use of the term "race" and a discussion of her beliefs about comparing Normans and Saxons. The assertion that Jewett believed Normans racially superior to Celts is disputed by Jack Morgan and Louis A. Renza in their introduction to The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996).
belief in the superiority of the Germanic peoples: That Teutonism was a popular idea of the late 1880s is well-established. Thomas Gossett, in Chapter 5 of Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963), explains Teutonism's claim that key modern democratic institutions had their origins in the Teutonic "races," particularly Germans and Anglo-Saxons. See also John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1955), 32-3. However, Teutonism as a topic of academic study is not identical with racism. If the belief that an identifiable people was responsible for introducing certain ideas during human history is racist, then presumably it would be racist to claim that Americans invented a viable airplane or that Italians introduced pizza into the world diet. A clearly racist move occurs when someone claims that one people is innately and permanently superior to another. Another racist move occurs when such claims justify limiting or excluding some groups from power. Teutonism shifted from being an academic study to being racism when people such as Edward A. Freeman (see notes on Bishop above), argued that the Teutonic invention of certain key democratic institutions, such as legislative bodies and the rule of law, meant that Teutons had a unique talent for democracy that certain other "races" lacked. Freeman specified that Celts and Africans lacked the ability to sustain democracy and that their presence in large numbers in the United States would doom democracy. Whether Jewett shared such beliefs is debateable, and it certainly is not clear in The Story of the Normans, where a main opposition she examines is between Saxons and Normans, both of whom were Teutonic peoples. Kingsley may well have been a racist Teutonist; I am not familiar enough with his work to know. I have read enough of Parsons to believe that he would have little sympathy for invidious racial distinctions, even though he shares with Jewett the idea of contrasting character in Normans and Saxons. See Memoir of Theophilus Parsons: Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1861), 44-5. That Arnold was a racist Teutonist also seems unlikely; see Frederic Faverty, Matthew Arnold the Ethnologist (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1951).
to glorify the cause than force her to confront the actual horrors of the battlefield: See the quotation from Jewett's thesis in the Roman notes above. Jewett can hardly be said to glorify war in The Story of the Normans, even in the notorious passage where she affirms her belief that God's providence acts even through wars to bring good out of evil (255). Her depictions of warfare in her other works are few, but one may question whether any of them glorify war. See for example, the John Paul Jones's raid on Whitehaven in The Tory Lover, and Wallingford's experience as a prisoner of war, a fate members of Jewett's family had endured. See also Jewett's uncollected story, "Peachtree Joe," in which a fictionalized John Tucker appears.
Sandra Zagarell, "Country's Portrayal of Community and the Exclusion of Difference," in New Essays on The Country of the Pointed Firs, edited by June Howard, (New York: Cambridge UP, 1994), 42.
By the mid-1880s, hierarchical racialized thinking was also central to Jewett's mentality. She was partly of French descent, and like that of a number of Brahmins -- including Lodge and Henry Adams -- her version of Nordicism cherished the "Northmen" who had become the Normans of France. She felt that the best of America was Anglo-Norman. Her book for children, The Story of the Normans (Putnam's Story of the Nations series, 1886), takes for granted a hierarchy of races based on traits presumed innate. Attributing courage, energy, taste, and gentility to the Normans, she assumes that they remained a discrete race from the time of their Norse origins through their settlement in medieval Normandy, the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and English settlement of the United States, retaining their purity even in late-nineteenth-century America. Contemplating England's greatness, for instance, she links the traits she celebrates in the Normans with England's expansionist world leadership: whether "the Norman spirit leads [England] to be self-confident or headstrong and willful, or the Saxon spirit holds her back into slowness and dullness, and lack of proper perception in emergencies or epochs of necessary change, still she follows the right direction and leads the way" (note 8). Jewett concludes her history by envisioning a family-like alliance of modern nations united by Norman blood: "To-day the Northman, the Norman, and the Englishman, and a young nation on this western shore of the Atlantic are all kindred who, possessing a rich inheritance, should own the closest of kindred ties" (Story of the Normans, p. 66).
From Note 8: Of the Normans' adventuring spirit, Jewett also maintained that being a "crusader" was innate to the "Normans of the twelfth century" and asserted that "you find Englishmen of the same stamp" throughout post-Conquest English history, citing Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson, Stanley and Dr. Livingstone, and General Gordon (57-8).
Editor's NotesLodge and Henry Adams: Henry Cabot Lodge, historian and Massachusetts senator, and a student of Henry Adams, became an advocate for immigration restriction upon the basis of race, cooperating with the Immigration Restriction League in promoting legislation that would forward this goal. According to Gossett in Race, Lodge believed that Normans were culturally superior to Anglo-Saxons, but he did not translate this belief into political action as he did his belief in the general superiority of Germanic peoples (115-7).
her version of nordicism: I argue in Jewett and Nordicism that applying both the term and the concept of Nordicism to Jewett is anachronistic and seriously misleading. The idea that Nordic peoples are superior and that the survival of American institutions depends upon excluding non-Nordics from power depends upon the scientific assertion of the existence of a Nordic race, which occurs in 1899, with the publication of William Z. Ripley's The Races of Europe. The move to an explicitly racist use of this concept appears in 1916 (seven years after Jewett's death) in Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race. Grant also first uses the term "Nordic" to name the great race.
Her book for children: See above, notes for Donovan, on the question of Jewett's target audience.
takes for granted a hierarchy of races based on traits presumed innate: I question this idea in Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans. As David Theo Goldberg demonstrates thoroughly in Racist Culture (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993), belief in the existence of races does not necessarily entail belief in a hierarchy of races or in the rightness of exclusivist practice based upon race. In Goldberg's analysis, virtually all inhabitants of the western world have believed in the existence of races since the 16th century, but many have resisted and/or opposed racism, that is, exclusivist practices and their rationalizations. Jewett distinguishes between Normans and Saxons in her work, but whether she makes statements that reveal belief in the racial superiority of Normans over Saxons is debateable.
she assumes that they remained a discrete race: Keeping in mind the looseness of the term "race" among Jewett and her contemporaries, one can see that Jewett does seem to believe that a Norman race has somehow literally survived into the 19th Century. This is problematic because her main sources are very clear in their statements that the Normans were a highly mixed group of peoples at the time of their settlement in Normandy. See, for example, Sir Francis Palgrave, The History of Normandy and of England (London: J. V. Parker and Son, 1851-1864), volume 1 (1851), 704-5, and Thierry, History of the Conquest of England by the Normans, translated by William Hazlitt (London: Bell and Daldy, 1871, from the seventh French edition of 1846), 391-2. That the Normans were a complex mixture of tribes and nations by the time of the Norman Conquest is affirmed by more recent historians as well. See Marjorie Chibnail, The Normans (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 3-4, 112-3, and R. H. C. Davis, The Normans and their Myth (London: Thames and Hudson, 1976), 27, 44, 49.
And, says Freeman, "the indomitable vigour of the Scandinavian, joined to the buoyant vivacity of the Gaul, produced the conquering and ruling race of Europe. And yet that race, as a race, has vanished. It has everywhere been absorbed by the races which it has conquered." See The History of the Norman Conquest of England, American Revised Edition, (New York: Clarendon Press/MacMillan, 1876), vol. 4, 152.
Jewett seems to have understood these facts, and she often speaks of the survival of Norman ideas and of a Norman spirit, but at the same time, she also speaks on more than one occasion as if physical descendants of the Normans continue in large numbers to lead civilization foward in her century. Why she is caught up in this confusion should be investigated more thoroughly.
links the traits she celebrates: This statement is problematic on its face, for the quotation Zagarell presents from Jewett indicates that a Norman spirit can be "self-confident or headstrong and willful." That is, it is not clear that leadership by a Norman spirit is always to be celebrated or that the traits Jewett associates with Normans always lead to positive outcomes in action. Jewett's presentation of the Saxons, though not positive in this quotation, is more complex in the book as a whole.
England's expansionist world leadership: While it is the case that England was vigorously expanding its colonialist enterprises in the 19th Century, it is not clear that Jewett means to endorse this aspect of English culture when she asserts that many of the best qualities of contemporary England and America result from the cultural gifts the Normans have bequeathed. Zagarell wants to argue that Jewett approved of the Norman crusading spirit and, therefore, of British and American colonial ambitions, but this is not clear in The Story of the Normans. More careful study is necessary.
envisioning a family-like alliance of modern nations united by Norman blood: This is another case of Zagarell choosing a quotation from Jewett that does not seem to support her assertion. The quotation does, indeed, call for a family-like alliance of modern nations. However, what already unites them is not "Norman blood," but "a rich inheritance." If Jewett were, indeed, calling upon genetically Norman descendents to unite in order to dominate their nations and exclude from power those who were not Normans, she would be, in effect, defining her reading audience as Normans and excluding all readers who could not claim physical Norman ancestry. This would insult her audience in a way that few would tolerate then or now, and it is unlikely that Putnam's editors would have allowed the passage into print. It seems, therefore, unlikely that she meant to insist that one had to be Norman in order to be a legitimate reader of her book or a true American. It is more likely that Jewett means what she actually says in the quotation, that the peoples of western Europe and North America all share a precious inheritance of cultural attitudes that originated, she believes, with the Normans. She invites all of her readers to acknowledge and to embrace this heritage and, by doing so, to draw together into a friendly association.
Jewett's first trip to Europe, a six-month tour in 1882 with her companion Annie Fields, profoundly shaped much of the fiction she produced in the years leading up to US imperial expansion overseas. After this trip, she increasingly associated natural superiority with the Nordic races, racial inferiority and submission with the Anglo-Saxons, and servile dependence with people of African descent. This tendency began with her epic children's history, The Story of the Normans: Told Chiefly in Relation to Their Conquest of England, published in 1887 as part of Putnam's The Story of Nations series for young readers. The Story of the Normans represents Jewett's most clearly defined Francophilic arguments regarding western civilization and the eclipse of the British Empire by an American superiority founded in the old Norman blood of New England. Here, Jewett celebrates the putatively Nordic qualities of adventure, intelligence, vitality, conquest, and ambition, claiming that the infusion of these characteristics into the racially inferior Saxons made possible the formation of massive empires on both sides of the Atlantic:
It is the Norman graft upon the sturdy old Saxon tree that has borne best fruit among the nations -- that has made the England of history, the England of great scholars and soldiers and sailors, the England of great men and women, of books and ships and gardens and pictures and songs!
. . . Among the red roofs and gray walls of the Norman towns, or the faint, bright colors of its country landscapes, among the green hedgerows and golden wheat-fields of England, the same flowers grow in more luxuriant fashion, but old Norway and Denmark sent out the seed that has flourished in richer soil. To-day the Northman, the Norman, and the Englishman, and a young nation on this western shore of the Atlantic are all kindred who, possessing a rich inheritance, should own the closest of kindred ties. ("XVII. Conclusion," pars. 11-12)
In this passage, Jewett connects the arboreal and botanical metaphors of grafting, seed cultivation, and agricultural maintenance with the agents of empire -- the "scholars and soldiers and sailors" who have not only maintained but also greatly expanded the "rich inheritance" of conquest and empire. In "graft[ing]" a "brighter, . . . more enthusiastic, and visionary" Norman superiority that had outgrown its Nordic borders to the inferior but "stolid, dogged, prudent, and resolute" Anglo-Saxon trunk, Jewett symbolically links culture to agriculture, the botanical shaping of superior plant stock with racial superiority (par. 11). Following the late-nineteenth-century emphasis on blood in theories of racial superiority and degeneracy, Jewett attempts to connect the "young nation on this western shore of the Atlantic" with a racial heritage firmly rooted in the fusion of Norman and Anglo-Saxon blood. The association of natural beauty and harmony with desired racial characteristics marks what would become a continuing trend in her writing to associate racial typology with spatial topography, developed to its fullest extent in The Country of the Pointed Firs and its ancillary stories.
Most Jewett biographers tend to position the author as a New England regionalist who remained silent on matters of war and imperialism. Yet The Story of the Normans presents a thesis on the growth and spread of Norman / Anglo-Saxon dominance in terms of militaristically driven social evolution: "Wars may appear to delay, but in due time they surely raise whole nations of men to higher levels" ("XIII. Harold the Englishman" par. 1). War, for Jewett, refines the stock and strengthens the most advantageous of racial characteristics. As both Mitzi Schrag and Sandra A. Zagarell have argued, in her published short stories following The Story of the Normans, Jewett attempted to use her theory of Norman superiority to reconcile the national rupture of the Civil War and the era of Reconstruction. In two stories, "The Mistress of Sydenham Plantation," and "A War Debt," Jewett draws on both her European trips and her increasingly frequent convalescent stays at resorts in the American South to advance a thesis that an infusion of New England Norman blood into the crumbling southern aristocracy would result in a resurgence of national unity and international prominence as well as provide an antidote for Reconstruction-era racial violence. In these stories, Jewett laments the loss of the order and discipline she saw slavery imposing upon African Americans, whom she represents as "lawless, and unequal to holding their liberty with steady hands . . . poor and less respectable than in the old plantation days -- it was as if the long discipline of their former state had counted for nothing" ("A War Debt" 230). Zagarell suggests that "A War Debt" further develops the "racialized historical narrative" of The Story of the Normans "to promote post-Civil War national reunion. The reinstitutionalization of racial feudalism in the American South and the reconstituting of a racially superior, English-descended, East-Coast elite are the necessary elements for reunion" ("Crosscurrents" 359).
Editor's Notessuperiority with the Nordic races, racial inferiority and submission with the Anglo-Saxons, and servile dependence with people of African descent: I contest the claims about Nordic superiority and Anglo-Saxon inferiority in Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans and in Jewett and Nordicism. While Jewett believed that the Normans introduced certain ideas and attitudes into European culture and that Saxon culture was improved as it adopted these ideas and attitudes, she did not make assertions about racial hierarchy in the sense that 21st century readers would typically mean.
I question the claim about Jewett's views of African Americans in Terry Heller, "To Each Body a Spirit: Jewett and African Americans." New England Quarterly 84:1 (2011) 123-58. While Jewett's representations of African Americans in her fiction may not be utterly free of condescension, they are anti-racist. This essay also calls into question Gleason's assertions near the end of this selection that Jewett's stories, "A War Debt" and "The Mistress of Sydenham Plantation" support the ideas that Norman blood would improve the Southern aristocracy, that Jewett shared with Tom Burton the belief that African Americans were happier and better off under slavery, and that Jewett favored the establishment of Jim Crow segregation as a step toward reunion of the United States after the Civil War. See also Josephine Donovan, "Jewett on Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Imperialism: A Reply to her Critics," Colby Quarterly 38:4 (December 2002): 403-16, particularly her discussion of Jewett's memoir, "My School Days" (1887).
epic children's history: See above, notes for Donovan, on the question of Jewett's target audience.
the eclipse of the British Empire by an American superiority founded in the old Norman blood of New England: See notes for Zagarell above on the problem of whether Jewett considers "Norman blood" a foundation for America or New England. Zagarell contradicts the notion that Jewett envisioned the eclipse of the British empire in The Story of the Normans, and one wonders where Gleason finds this opinion in Jewett.
expanded the "rich inheritance" of conquest and empire: See notes for Zagarell above on how to define "rich inheritance." Gleason's quotation does indicate that Jewett thought of colonialist England as a great nation, including soldiers and sailors among the notable people England has produced, thereby connecting the military and seafaring success of the Normans with subsequent successes by the English. However, Jewett does not discuss British military history, making it questionable whether she approved of all British military and navel actions, whether she would allow moral equivalence to the defeat of Napoleon, the War of 1812, and suppression of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Jewett's anecdote about the Indian Rebellion in "Cartridges" (1874), though from the beginning of her professional writing career, is interestingly complex.
War, for Jewett, refines the stock and strengthens the most advantageous of racial characteristics: This is far from what Jewett says in her notorious passage on war in the opening of Chapter 13. I discuss this passage in detail in Jewett's Argument in The Story of the Normans. Here is the main part of the passage to give a sense of her meaning:
War is the conflict between ideas that are going to live and ideas that have passed their maturity and are going to die. Men possess themselves of a new truth, a clearer perception of the affairs of humanity; progress itself is made possible with its larger share of freedom for the individual or for nations only by a relentless overthrowing of outgrown opinions. It is only by new combinations of races, new assertions of the old unconquerable forces, that the spiritual kingdom gains or rather shows its power. When men claim that humanity can only move round in a circle, that the world has lost many things, that the experience of humanity is like the succession of the seasons, and that there is reproduction but not progression, it is well to take a closer look, to see how by combination, by stimulus of example, and power of spiritual forces and God's great purposes, this whole world is nearer every year to the highest level any fortunate part of it has ever gained. Wars may appear to delay, but in due time they surely raise whole nations of men to higher levels, whether by preparing for new growths or by mixing the new and old. Generals of battalions and unreckoned camp-followers alike are effects of some great change, not causes of it. And no war was ever fought that was not an evidence that one element in it had outgrown the other and was bound to get itself manifested and better understood. The first effect of war is incidental and temporary; the secondary effect makes a link in the grand chain of the spiritual education and development of the world.Briefly, three elements should stand out in opposition to Gleason's reading. Jewett speaks of war as "conflict between ideas," not between races. Second, she is talking about Providence, "God's great purpose," how God uses even war to forward the spiritual good of humanity. Finally, human progress is measured by the growth, among other goods, of a "larger share of freedom for the individual or for nations." See also, in the notes on Blanchard above, Jewett's relationship with Darwinism.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Original material copyright 1998-2017 by Terry Heller
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