Written by Geneviève Beaudoin


Biography of Sarah Orne Jewett

She is one of the most contemporary famous American writers of her time. She was born in South Berwick, Maine where she lived all her life. She published her first story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers", at eighteen years old. She is well-known for writing about ordinary people in realistic settings. Since it is always better to know a little about an author before reading his or her stories, let me introduce you to this great author, Sarah Orne Jewett.

Constantly ill when she was young, Sarah Orne Jewett did not go to school very often. However, she spent a lot of her time accompanying her doctor father, and she started to observe the customs of the inhabitants of her region. During her free time, she discovered early the world of books, and her favourite writers were Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, Leo Tolstoy, and Henry James. She even took her favourite slogan from Flaubert: "One should write of ordinary life as if one were writing history." It can probably explain why most of her works are about the people she was most familiar with, the inhabitants of Maine, and the everyday world of villages and ordinary people as well.

      "A White Heron" is one of her most famous works. In this story, we discover a young girl who lives deep in the forest with her grandmother.  Sylvia, the young girl, faces a dilemma when she must choose to tell the truth or not to a handsome young hunter about where a rare white heron has its nest. Women writers tend to see a relation between their lives and nature, and this is exactly what Jewett pictured in this story. For the little Sylvia, the relationship with the bird is more important than the one she has with the man. The critics recognized this short story as a “treasure”. Since that time, themes such as good versus evil, nature versus civilization, feminine versus masculine world view, and innocence versus experience have been used to analyse this particular short story. Consequently, it has become the most admired of Jewett’s nearly 150 short stories. However, she did not just write short stories; she also wrote many poems, essays, portraits, letters and novels.

      She had also been inspired by the life of her father, and wrote her first novel about him, A Country Doctor (1884). She said that “her father was the greatest influence of her life. From watching him at work, studying his medical books, and reading the literature he urged upon her, she early decided that only a professional life of some kind would satisfy her emotional and intellectual needs.” Jewett grew up with her own ideals and she came to love the New England world of nature. She saw a perfect mixture of strength, love, knowledge, and wisdom in both her father and nature.

      Jewett had never been married, and one critic had already said that perhaps there was a link between Sylvia's rejection of the hunter in her story "A White Heron", and her own decision not to get married. Sylvia and her both rejected love of men. After she established herself as a short story writer for adults and young people, Jewett had a relationship with another woman named Annie Fields, the widow of the famous publisher James T. Fields. After Mr. Fields died in 1881, Jewett and Annie Fields traveled in Europe and America, and lived together for the rest of Jewett's life.

      In 1901, Jewett was the first woman to receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Bowdoin College. A year after she got her degree, she was injured in a carriage accident. Jewett suffered a concussion and may have cracked a vertebrae, which left her immobile. Although she was paralyzed, she continued to write some letters and in 1904, she published her last story "A Spring Sunday". She died at her home in South Berwick in 1909. Sarah Orne Jewett left behind her many stories collected in volumes such as Deephaven (1877), A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), Tales of New England (1890), Strangers and Wayfarers (1890), and The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

Works Cited