Sarah Orne Jewett

A picture of the author Sarah Orne Jewett

The American novelist and short story writer Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3, 1849 – June 24, 1909) was born into a old New England family in the coastal town of South Berwick, Maine. Drawing from her native region, she became famous for her local color stories often set on the Maine seacoast.

Young Sarah was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Her father was a prominent doctor and prescribed long walks to ease the condition. She also accompanied him on his rounds. It may have been through those exercises that she developed such a deep love for the South Berwick area in the small seaports of Maine.

Sarah Orne Jewett published young, at the age of 19 when she submitted her short story “Mr. Bruce” to the Atlantic Monthly. As a “local color” writer, she often emphasized people and place over plot. She was highly praised by other writers. In praise of her descriptive gifts William Dean Howells wrote, “"an uncommon feeling for talk — I hear your people." Jewett made her greatest literary mark with The Country of the Pointed Firs which was published in 1896. Speaking in praise of that novel, none other than the esteemed Henry James declared it a, “beautiful little quantum of achievement.” Because it is loosely structured, some critics consider it to be a collection of short stories, like Sherwood Andersen’s remarkable Winesburg, Ohio.

Jewett established a close relationship with the writer Annie Fields and her husband James Thomas Fields, the publisher and editor of Atlantic Monthly. When James died suddenly, Anne and Sarah began to live together in what was called a “Boston Marriage” -- a term to describe two women living together, independent of the financial support of men.

An unfortunate carriage accident ended her career in 1902. A series of strokes, one in March, and one in June took her life in 1909.

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