Tales of New England
Reviews of Tales of New England 1890
"Recent Fiction," The Critic 13 (May 31, 1890), 269.
TO ENTER the same field traversed in some of Hawthorne's daintiest sketches, in some of Mrs. Stoddard's most vigorous chapters, and demonstrate a right to remain in it is given to but few of the many who make the attempt. Among these few we would put Sarah Orne Jewett, whose 'Tales of New England' are, for closeness of observation at least, not unworthy to be compared with the best that has been done in her way. There is an art, too, of which the reader is unconscious – until all is said – in the way in which she presents the slight happenings of some quiet neighborhood, -- an art which is not mannered, though it is distinctly that of the 'New England school.' 'The Delham [Dulham] Ladies' grow upon us little by little, and we come to know them well while they are blundering in the choice of a false front. Miss Tempy is introduced to us as a corpse, and we carry away a memory of a living woman. Nancy [Ann Floyd] Lane's hard lot in 'Marsh Rosemary' is lightened to us as to herself by the slight humorous touches which bring out, not too prominently, the character of her good-for-nothing husband. Jerry smiles to himself and waves his hat in anticipation of his easy victory the hot day he drops in on Ann Floyd and captures her heart; and, as he dozes in the grass under sentence of banishment, while the measuring worms make havoc in the currant-bushes, he chuckles over the adventures yet in store for him. Nancy, when she discovers his infidelity, leaves him in peace with his new wife and partly consoles herself with thinking over the good stories he used to tell her on winter evenings before the fire. It is only now and then that a situation strikes us as picturesque while we are reading of it, like that in 'A White Heron' when Sylvia sees the world from the top of the great pine-tree, 'like a main-mast to the voyaging earth.' More often we jog along by hedgerow and grey farm to find at the end that some exquisite bit of nature has made a lodgment in our memory. The dark blue cover and neat presswork of the Riverside Aldine Series just suit these tales, being like them serviceable not for a day but for a lifetime. ($1. Houghton, Mifflin & Co.)
From The Epoch 7 (July 4, 1890) p. 350.
by Kate Upson Clark
Tales of New England
A new volume of Miss Jewett’s stories is sure to receive a warm welcome from a large and discriminating circle. The latest, contains eight, namely: “Miss Tempy’s Watchers,” “The Dulham Ladies,” “An Only Son,” “Marsh Rosemary,” “A White Heron,” “Law Lane,” “A Lost Lover,” and “The Courting of Sister Wisby.” Of these, perhaps “A White Heron” is the most delicate and satisfactory, though “An Only Son” is a strong and noble sketch. Something amounting almost to genius is needed, surely, to give such slight plots and commonplace characters and pictures as those which make up these simple tales, so vivid and human a quality as we find in them. Each is a gem, chosen, cut and set in an individual and characteristic style of Miss Jewett’s own which, while it is lacking in something of the depth and fire, and especially in the poetic romanticism of Miss Mary E. Wilkins, – still strongly suggest that writer.
No one who has not tried it can appreciate the amount of skill and refinement required to pencil such delicate pictures as theirs, out of the uncouth New England dialect. Even Mrs. Stowe and Mrs. Rose Terry Cooke, both of whom in their best New England work excel in some respects Miss Jewett and Miss Wilkins, degenerate into coarseness not infrequently in handling New England dialect. These younger writers never do it. Their touch is true, their sympathy unfaltering, and their literary graces manifold.
From The Independent 42 (July 31, 1890) 1061
Houghton, Mifflin & Co. have collected into a neat volume for their "Aldine Series" eight short stories by Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, under the title, Tales of New England. Every well-informed reader knows what to expect when Miss Jewett writes. Her stories are told in exquisite style and with a view to quiet pictures of humble New England life. Most of the pieces in this volume have been in print for some years, but they have worn well; and it will be long before their interest will fail with the lovers of good literature inclosing the dreariness, harshness and immitigable pathos of New England rural experience. Miss Jewett's art is not inspiring, but it is effective and genuine.
From "The Bookshelf," Cottage Hearth 16 (July 1890) 225.
TALES OF NEW ENGLAND. By Sarah Orne Jewett. We have often had occasion to speak of Miss Jewett's pure, breezy sketches of New England life. The present volume is issued in the dainty "Riverside Edition" form, and contains some of the author's best pieces, namely: "Miss Tempy's Watchers," "The Dulham Ladies," "An Only Son," "Law Lane," " A Lost Lover," and "The Courting of Sister Wisby." It will be seen that all of these are old favorites, which Miss Jewett's readers will be glad to have brought together in this form.
The Chautauquan 11 (August 1891) 649.
Miss Jewett's graceful realism has nowhere a greater charm than in the newly gathered "Tales of New England." Each story is an exquisite idyl of country life.
"Books of the Month," Atlantic 66 (November 1890) 719
Tales of New England, by Sarah O. Jewett. (Houghton.) A volume in the tasteful Riverside Aldine Series, and, like others in the set, it is not a new book, but a selection from the several volumes of Miss Jewett's stories. Whatever favorites one may miss from the collection, he will have no fault to find with the choice of such stories as Miss Tempy's Watchers, The Dulham Ladies, A Lost Lover, An Only Son, which form a portion of the contents. The touch of this writer's hand, when she has a first-rate theme, is so firm, yet so light, that the result is literature.
Miss Jewett's "Tales of New England." The Spectator (London) 71 (September 2, 1893) 308.
MISS JEWETT'S tales are rather very lively sketches than tales, and, indeed, furnish us with a very good second to Miss Wilkins's admirable tales like "A Humble Romance," "A Far-away Melody," and "A New England Nun." But they have not nearly as much of the narrative-interest in them as Miss Wilkins's, though in other respects they have much the same graphic texture and simplicity of outline. Miss Jewett not seldom reminds us of Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford. Her picture of "The Dulham Ladies," her second story, is cast in exactly the same mould, and might illustrate the unity of the English race, for these Dulham ladies, becoming gradually aware that their hair was turning grey, and that they needed some artificial help to recover the personal consideration of their neighbors, and then going to buy fronts which end in making even their own servant wonder at their innocence and their little knowledge of the world, is as like Mrs. Gaskell's picture of some of the quaint doings at Cranford as if Cranford had been situated in New England, instead of three thousand miles away. The dialect is different, and the old servant evidently feels herself more nearly on an equality with her mistresses, -- if not, indeed, in some respects their superior, -- than the old servant in Cranford. But in all other respects, and especially in portraying the innocent self-satisfaction felt by the Misses Dobin over the new device to set-off their elderly persons to advantage, the humour of Miss Jewett's sketch is set in precisely the same key as the humour at Cranford. Indeed, Miss Jewett seems to us to describe generally a kind of society which is somewhat more English and less New English, than Miss Wilkins's. She is always reminding us of Miss Mitford or Mrs. Gaskell, while in Miss Wilkins's pages we are more struck with the difference than with the likeness between the old and the new stock. Perhaps the reason is the Miss Wilkins in her pictures of New England concerns herself a great deal more with the tenacity of purpose, and the trials to which that tenacious fibre of character is exposed, than Miss Jewett. Miss Jewett, on the other hand, dwells less on the hardship of the New England life, less on its poverty, less on its Puritan frugality, than Miss Wilkins. She paints the same kind of life, but she studies the general sentiment of the situation more than the resolute volition of her heroines and heroes, -- which last seems to have grown to an almost preternatural rigidity in the New England character; and we find, therefore, more in common between the New England of Miss Jewett and the old England of Miss Mitford or Mrs. Gaskell, than we do between Miss Wilkins's sketches and the truest pictures of village life in our own land. Perhaps, too, Miss Jewett had moved in a New England society which, though hardy and frugal, is a little less close to the edge of absolute want than Miss Wilkins's. For the most part, her sketches are sketches of a middle-class rather than of those who have to work themselves to the bone to earn their living. Miss Jewett's society is less close-run by a few shades of comfort than that in displaying which Miss Wilkins exhibits so much art and skill. Miss Jewett studies New England nature where it is not quite so much on the strain, a little more at its ease, than Miss Wilkins; and the consequence is that her sketches have less explicit development in them, less of beginning, middle, and end, than those of Miss Wilkins, which almost always tell you how some set purpose was worked out, or some perverse habit of mind came to its crisis. Miss Jewett's most characteristically New England tale is "A Native of Winby," narrating how a Winby lad who had gone to the Far West, made his fortune, become a General in the war with the South, and had been elected to the Senate, comes back to his native place, revisits the school in which he had received his first lessons, and finds the greatest difficulty in conveying to the new generation of children the inarticulate romance of his present memories and of his childish aspirations. That is an admirable sketch of a go-ahead man's reserve and awkwardness in imparting his experience to the children who are now learning on the very benches on which he conned his early lessons; and it is told with consummate skill. But "The Dulham Ladies" and "A Lost Lover," either of which, with very slight alterations, might be sketches of English middle-class life, interest us more than those which have all the sternness and curious hardness of outline which seem to characterize the simplicity of the New England character. "An Only Son," again, is pure New England, and much more like one of Miss Wilkins's stories than any other in this volume. There is the same unconquerable reserve in it which Miss Wilkins, too, delights to depict, the same tenacity of resolve, and the same not ungenial ending. It is evident enough that Miss Jewett and Miss Wilkins have both the same general social characteristics before them, and that both sketch them with great truth; but Miss Jewett on the whole commands a landscape of somewhat less severe features than Miss Wilkins. Both of them delight in sketching the reticence of Puritan self-sacrifice, of which the following passage gives a happy specimen. Two good women are watching together in the house of a friend who is just dead, -- one of those people who did not let their left hand know what their right hand did. One of the watchers tells to the other this story of her departed friend: --
"'I can tell you the biggest thing she ever done, and I don't know's there's anybody left but me to tell it. I don't want it forgot,' Sarah Binson went on, looking up at the clock to see how the night was going. 'It was that pretty-looking Trevor girl, who taught the Corners school, and married so well afterwards, out in New York State. You remember her, I dare say? '-- 'Certain,' said Mrs. Crowe, with an air of interest. – 'She was a splendid teacher, folks said, and give the school a great start; but she’d overdone herself getting her education, and working to pay for it, and she all broke down one spring, and Tempy made her come and stop with her a while, — you remember that? Well, she had an uncle, her mother's brother out in Chicago, who was well off and friendly, and used to write to Lizzie Trevor, and I dare say make her some presents; but he was a lively, driving man, and didn’t take time to stop and think about his folks. He hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl. Poor Lizzie was so pale and weakly that she just got through the term o' school. She looked as she was just going straight off in a decline. Tempy, she cosseted her up a while, and then, next thing folks knew, she was tellin' round how Miss Trevor had gone to see her uncle, and meant to visit Niagary Falls on the way, and stop over night. Now I happened to know, in ways I won't dwell on to explain, that the poor girl was in debt for her schoolin' when she come here, and her last quarter's pay had just squared it off at last, and left her without a cent ahead, hardly; but it had fretted her thinking of it, so she paid it all; those might have dunned her that she owed it to. An' I taxed Tempy about the girl's goin' off on such a journey, till she owned up, rather'n have Lizzie blamed, that she'd given her sixty dollars, same's if she was rolling in riches, and sent her off to have a good rest and vacation.' — 'Sixty dollars!' exclaimed Mrs. Crowe. 'Tempy only had ninety dollars a year that came in to her; rest of her livin' she got by helpin' about, with what she raised off this little piece o' ground, sand one side an' clay the other. An’ how often I've heard her tell, years ago, that she'd rather see Niagary than any other sight in the world!' The women looked at each other in silence; the magnitude of the generous sacrifice was almost too great for their comprehension."
Miss Jewett is sometimes a little too discursive. "The Courting of Sister Wisby," though it ends in a very humorous sketch of New England manners and whims, is much too long in getting to the point. Even a sketch which is not exactly a story, should have a perspective of its own. There Miss Wilkins never fails; Miss Jewett sometimes does.
From "Novels," Saturday Review (London) 76 (September 9, 1893), 301-2.
It is difficult to believe that the Tales of New England, by Sarah Jewett, were not written by Miss Mary Wilkins, so striking is the resemblance they bear to A New England Nun, and other Stories &c. by that charming author. But, in spite of the great similarity between the two, there is no question of imitation – the portraits are too vivid, the style too simple and spontaneous for such an accusation. There is a rather wearisome monotony in these little tales – usually narratives put in the mouth of some village dame concerning the life history of another of her kind, in which the return of a lover or husband supposed to be dead is a much-favoured incident. But these pictures of village life are so faultless in their true touches of human nature that they may be described as perfect within their sphere. "The White Heron" and "The Lost Lover" are among the prettiest and most delicately touched.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.
Tales of New England