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Reviews of Play Days (1878)

by Sarah Orne Jewett

     "Miss Jewett's Play Days," by Horace Scudder, The Atlantic monthly 42: 254, December 1878

     -- The qualities which made Miss Jewett's Deephaven so agreeable could not fail to appear in any book which she might write for children, and Play Days is characterized by the same temper of gentleness and good-breeding which gave distinction to the earlier book. We are old-fashioned enough to like good breeding, with all that the homely, significant word intends, and we like its mark in Play Days because it is so genuine and native. It is, we hasten to say, not modeled upon the type which we recognize instantly in the literature which young English masters and misses receive with apparent docility. There is not a governess in the book. There is no lad there either, -- that singular being whom Chauncy Wright so well described as "a boy with a man's hand on his head." There is no slang introduced for the purpose of shocking the governess or older sister, and giving the boy who uses it the reputation of an abandoned swearer and awful example; in effect, that conventional good-breeding which is founded on class distinction, and not on Christian democracy, is refreshingly absent from Play Days. The element which we find there is conspicuous also by its contrast with the noisy, ungrammatical, and boisterous type of young America which gets recognition enough in books for young people. The suggestions are of home life and the sweet sanctity of a protected childhood. Even the pathetic and lovely story of Nancy's Doll makes the misery of poverty to be but the dark background on which to sketch one or two golden figures; and The Best China Saucer, which comes as near as any to the conventional type of moral tales, is relieved by a grotesque humor and a charity which never fails. There is a refinement in the book which is very grateful, as we have said, but it does not take the form of a disagreeable fastidiousness. The humor is always spontaneous and simple, and not above a child's enjoyment; The Shipwrecked Buttons shows this in a very charming manner, and is the cleverest story in the book, from the originality of the frame-work, in which a number of little stories are set. There is a facility of writing which possibly misleads the author, for while all the stories are written with apparent ease, the writer does not always distinguish between what is essential to the story and what is mere graceful decoration. If Miss Jewett always had a story to tell, her charm of manner would add to the agreeableness of the story; but her interest in writing sometimes leads her to forget that children want a story, and will be indifferent to many graces which please a writer. A more positive story would add greatly to the pleasure which Miss Jewett's book gives, and we trust that she will cultivate the power of invention. She needs the development of that side of a story-teller's gift to make her work singularly good; it is too good now not to be better.

     Saturday Review. January 25, 1879, p. 126

    Play-Days is a collection of lively stories of and for children.


    Saturday Review. February 22, 1879, p. 254

    Play-Days is a child's story-book likely to suit the readers for whom it is intended.

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College

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