Biography of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)
Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine on September 3, 1849, to Dr. Theodore Harmon Jewett, a country doctor, and Caroline Frances Jewett (née Perry).
Jewett was born into a family well established in New England society. She enjoyed a relaxed childhood, challenged by her arthritis but lifted by both her frequent journeys into the countryside and her visits around the district with her father. Her experiences at this time would later inspire her 1884 novel, A Country Doctor. Jewett developed a keen sense of observation that would later help establish her reputation as what was known as a 'local-color' writer. She became a published author in 1868, when The Atlantic Monthly accepted her story “Mr. Bruce.” She was only 19 at the time.
Jewett's literary career was given a boost through the encouragement of famed American literary editor W.D. Howells, the first to encourage her to collect her short pieces into loose frameworks. It was in this form that she began to find fame in novels or collections like Deephaven (1877), A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), and A Country Doctor. In 1896, she published the work considered to be her masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs. Much of her work focused on the environment of southern Maine, and its dying communities to which she was extremely attached.
Jewett was heavily influenced by another American female writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Indeed, legend has it that Jewett was inspired to write the novella after being disappointed by Stowe's portrayal of Maine in The Pearl of Orr's Island. In turn, Jewett proved a mentor and muse for Willa Cather, whose 1913 novel, O Pioneers!, was dedicated to Jewett.
Jewett never married, and instead supported herself financially by writing. This option for women had become more possible in the social climate of nineteenth-century America. She had a close relationship with the writer Annie Fields, widow of James Thomas Fields, the editor of The Atlantic. As kindred spirits, and perhaps soul mates, Jewett and Fields traveled extensively in literary circles. It is possible that their friendship would be categorized as a lesbian relationship in today’s terms, and has been cited as an example of a 'Boston marriage,' a relationship in which women were able to live and support each other without male influence. However their union is described, it was certainly a situation in which Jewett’s creativity could flourish.
Sarah Orne Jewett died on June 24, 1909, after suffering a stroke. She had been paralyzed in an accident seven years earlier, and had nearly given up writing due to enduring physical pain.