SARAH ORNE JEWETT by Elizabeth Silverthorne


A Writer's Life
Email this review


 Lackluster biography of the turn-of-the-century New England writer whose independent, unmarried women characters and ecological consciousness have stirred some contemporary interest. Silverthorne has written children's books (I, Heracles, 1978, etc.) and a bio of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1988--not reviewed). Jewett (1849-1909), born and raised in small-town Maine, wrote mostly about ordinary people whose ways were being condescended to by the new influx of urban summer visitors. Success came early: a story accepted by The Atlantic before her 20th birthday. Jewett's first book appeared in 1877 from the publishing house that eventually became Houghton Mifflin and that continued to publish her work, including her best-known novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs. For more than 20 years, she divided her time between Maine and the Boston home of Annie Fields, widow of editor/publisher James Fields. ``Whether or not there was a physical dimension will no doubt continue to be a fascinating question for debate,'' writes Silverthorne, who also offers the upbeat but hardly revealing information that Jewett often shared ``ideas and feelings about every subject under the sun'' and that her head was ``filled with new experiences, unforgettably scenery, and most of all the exciting acquaintances she had made.'' As a critical biography, this effort also falls short: ``As usual, different stories in the collection appealed to different reviewers....'' What a treat to discover a woman writer who was both successful and happy. But since Jewett's life seems not to have been complicated by intrinsically compelling drama, Silverthorne's failure to capture her personality and sensibility is a fatal lack. (Photographs)

Pub Date: April 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-87951-484-1
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993