A rich collection of classic American literature potraying the beauty of a 19th-century New England town.
A female writer comes one summer to Dunnet Landing, a Maine seacoast town, where she follows the lonely inhabitants of once-prosperous coastal communities. Here, lives are molded by the long Maine winters, rock-filled fields and strong resourceful women.
Throughout Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel and stories, these quiet tales of a simpler American life capture the inspirational in the everyday: the importance of honest friendships, the value of family, and the gift of community.
“Their counterparts are in every village in the world, thank heaven, and the gift to one’s life is only in its discernment.”
About the Author
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909) was the daughter of a physician in Berwick, Maine. Her books include Deephaven, The Country of the Pointed Firs, and nine volumes of short stories.
Read an Excerpt
There was something about the coast town of Dunnet which made it seem more attractive than other maritime villages of eastern Maine. Perhaps it was the simple fact of acquaintance with that neighborhood which made it so attaching, and gave such interest to the rocky shore and dark woods, and the few houses which seemed to be securely wedged and tree-nailed in among the ledges by the Landing. These houses made the most of their seaward view, and there was a gayety and determined floweriness in their bits of garden ground; the small-paned high windows in the peaks of their steep gables were like knowing eyes that watched the harbor and the far sea-line beyond, or looked northward all along the shore and its background of spruces and balsam firs. When one really knows a village like this and its surroundings, it is like becoming acquainted with a single person. The process of falling in love at first sight is as final as it is swift in such a case, but the growth of true friendship may be a lifelong affair.
After a first brief visit made two or three summers before in the course of a yachting cruise, a lover of Dunnet Landing returned to find the unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities; all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the centre of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told. One evening in June, a single passenger landed upon the steamboat wharf. The tide was high, there was a fine crowd of spectators, and the younger portion of the company followed her with subdued excitement up the narrow street of the salt-aired, white-clapboarded little town.
Table of ContentsPreface by Willa Cather
The Country of the Pointed Firs
The White Heron
The Flight of Betsey Lane
The Dulham Ladies
Going to Shrewsbury
The Only Rose
Miss Tempy’s Watchers
The Guests of Mrs. Timms
The Town Poor
The Hiltons’ Holiday
Aunt Cynthy Dallett
Reading Group Guide
1. The Country of the Pointed Firs is not so much a novel as small episodes strung together. What do you think Jewett was trying to accomplish using this loose structure? What is she saying about New England country life?
2. Consider the narrator's view of the "quaint" village people in the beginning of the novel compared to her view as she leaves Dunnet Landing. How and when did her worldly view change of the small village and villagers?
3. Some critics argue Jewett was simply romanticizing the idealization of the simple life. However, take into account Mrs. Todd's herb gathering, Captain Littlepage's "quirks," and the narrator's friendship with the inhabitants of Dunnet Landing. Do you feel the core of this novel is romantic, or humanistic and even religious?
4. The work heavily relies on four symbolic contrasts-the funeral, the sea, the outer islands, and the song sparrows. How do these four symbols work and contrast with each other? Are they relaying the theme of the novel, and if so, what exactly is that theme?
5. Consider Captain Littlepage's "spells," William's inability to function in society, and Joanna's self-exile to Shell-heap Island. Is Jewett commenting on what small town life can do to a person's mind, or is she simply romanticizing life on the sea?
6. Consider the narrator's reaction to Mrs. Todd's tale of Joanna. Do you feel the narrator relates to Joanna, or is she just simply sympathetic to the shunted woman?
7. In Jewett's time, alternative medicine was vehemently looked down upon while many women such as midwives were persecuted for their practices. Yet, Mrs. Todd works alongside the village doctor, and even prescribes pennyroyal (a known abortive). Is Jewett trying to give respectability to a dying practice, or is she satirizing a "country practice"?
8. The Country of the Pointed Firs is often branded as local-color literature. Do you feel Jewett was nostalgically writing about her beloved Maine, or was she trying to contrast New England with the rest of America and connect the "good old days" with the more fast-paced, industrial America growing around her?
9. In what ways does Jewett defy the prevailing nineteenth-century gender relations, namely the separation of women's and men's lives and women's sphere in the home and public? In what ways does she embrace those views?