Image of Sarah Orne Jewett


Lifetime: 1849 - 1909 Passed: ≈ 114 years ago


Novelist Short Story Writer


United States

Sarah Orne Jewett

Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was an American novelist, short story writer and poet, best known for her local color works set along or near the southern seacoast of Maine. Jewett is recognized as an important practitioner of American literary regionalism.

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine on September 3, 1849. Her family had been residents of New England for many generations.

Jewett's father, Theodore Herman Jewett, was a doctor specializing in "obstetrics and diseases of women and children," and Jewett often accompanied him on his rounds, becoming acquainted with the sights and sounds of her native land and its people. Her mother was Caroline Frances (Perry). As treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that developed in her early childhood, Jewett was sent on frequent walks and through them also developed a love of nature. In later life, Jewett often visited Boston, where she was acquainted with many of the most influential literary figures of her day; but she always returned to South Berwick, small seaports near which were the inspiration for the towns of "Deephaven" and "Dunnet Landing" in her stories.

Jewett was educated at Miss Olive Rayne's school and then at Berwick Academy, graduating in 1866. She supplemented her education with reading in her extensive family library. Jewett was "never overtly religious", but after she joined the Episcopal church in 1871, she explored less conventional religious ideas. For example, her friendship with Harvard law professor Theophilus Parsons stimulated an interest in the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and theologian, who believed that the Divine "was present in innumerable, joined forms — a concept underlying Jewett's belief in individual responsibility."

the Atlantic Monthly, and her reputation grew throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Jewett used the pen name “Alice Eliot” or “A. C. Eliot” for her early stories. Her literary importance arises from her careful, if subdued, vignettes of country life that reflect a contemporary interest in local color rather than in plot. Jewett possessed a keen descriptive gift that William Dean Howells called "an uncommon feeling for talk — I hear your people." Jewett made her reputation with the novella The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896). A Country Doctor (1884), a novel reflecting her father and her early ambitions for a medical career, and A White Heron (1886), a collection of short stories are among her finest work. Some of Jewett's poetry was collected in Verses (1916), and she also wrote three children's books. Willa Cather described Jewett as a significant influence on her development as a writer, and "feminist critics have since championed her writing for its rich account of women's lives and voices. Cather dedicated her 1913 novel O Pioneers!, based upon memories of her childhood in Nebraska, to Jewett.  In 1901 Bowdoin College conferred an honorary doctorate of literature on Jewett, the first woman to be granted an honorary degree by Bowdoin.  In Jewett's obituary in 1909, The Boston Globe remarked on the strength that lay in “the detail of her work, in fine touches, in simplicity.”

Jewett's works featuring relationships between women often mirrored her own life and friendships. Jewett's letters and diaries reveal that as a young woman, Jewett had close relationships with several women, including Grace Gordon, Kate Birckhead, Georgie Halliburton, Ella Walworth, and Ellen Mason. For instance, from evidence in her diary, Jewett appears to have had an intense crush on Kate Birckhead. Jewett later established a close friendship with writer Annie Adams Fields (1834–1915) and her husband, publisher James T. Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly. After the sudden death of James Fields in 1881, Jewett and Annie Fields lived together for the rest of Jewett's life in what was then termed a "Boston marriage" in Fields’s homes in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, and at 148 Charles Street in Boston. Some modern scholars believe the two were lovers. Both women "found friendship, humor, and literary encouragement" in one another's company, traveling to Europe together and hosting "American and European literati." In France Jewett met Thérèse Blanc-Bentzon with whom she had long corresponded and who translated some of her stories for publication in France. Jewett's poetry, much of it unpublished, includes approximately thirty love poems or fragments of poems written to women which illustrate the intensity of her feelings toward them. Jewett also wrote about romantic attachments between women in her novel Deephaven (1877) and in her short story “Martha’s Lady” (1897).

On September 3, 1902, Jewett was injured in a carriage accident that all but ended her writing career. She was paralyzed by a stroke in March 1909, and she died in her South Berwick home after suffering another stroke on June 24, 1909.

Books by Sarah Orne Jewett

Country of the Pointed Firs Cover image

Country of the Pointed Firs

Family Nostalgia Memory

The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) is considered Jewett’s finest work, described by Henry James as her “beautiful little quantum of achievement.” Despite James’s diminutives, the novel remains a classic. Because it is loosely structured, many cri...

The Gray Mills of Farley Cover image

The Gray Mills of Farley

Fiction History
Short Stories Culture Heritage

As contemporary today as it was over a century ago, this relatively unsentimental tale of labor relations still packs a punch.

Deephaven  Cover image


Fiction Travel
Marine Power Adventure Village Nautical Humankind General Fiction

"It seemed as if all the clocks in Deephaven, and all the people with them, had stopped years ago, and the people had been doing over and over what they had been busy about during the last week of their unambitious progress. Their clothes has lasted...

A Country Doctor  Cover image

A Country Doctor

Fiction Novel
Family Marriage Society Sex America Relationships Perception United States

A Country Doctor is a fiction novel by American author Sarah Orne Jewett. The book, which was first published in 1884, was based on the relationship between Jewett and her physician father. The main character of A Country Doctor, Nan, is a young woma...

Two Musicians Cover image

Two Musicians

LibriVox volunteers bring you 17 recordings of Two Musicians by Sarah Orne Jewett. This was the Fortnightly Poetry project for January 16, 2011.She published her first important story in the Atlantic Monthly at age 19, and her reputation grew through...

At Home From Church Cover image

At Home From Church

LibriVox volunteers bring you 14 recordings of At Home From Church by Sarah Orne Jewett. This was the Fortnightly Poetry project for June 19, 2011.Jewett possessed a keen descriptive gift that William Dean Howells called "an uncommon feeling for talk...

Widow's House Cover image

Widow's House

LibriVox volunteers bring you 12 recordings of The Widows' House by Sarah Orne Jewett. This was the Fortnightly Poetry project for November 11, 2012.Sarah Orne Jewett was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for her local color wor...