A White Heron and Other Stories

A White Heron and Other Stories Study Guide

A White Heron and Other Stories was published in 1886. Jewett had begun her writing career in 1868 when her story, “Mr. Bruce,” was published in Atlantic Monthly. Jewett had a supportive relationship with Thomas Fields, the editor of the magazine, and his wife Annie; who became Jewett’s lifetime companion after her husband’s death.

The story “A White Heron” was not considered suitable for the Atlantic Monthly, as Jewett herself attested in a letter to Annie Fields: “What shall I do with my ‘White Heron’ now she is written? She isn’t a very good magazine story, but I love her, and I mean to keep her for the beginning of my next book.”

Jewett had a love of writing and enthused about the process and creation of characters and events: many of which were infused with her own experiences and observations. Just as Sylvia adores the great pine tree that she climbs to locate the white heron, so Jewett had a tree she loved too. She records in a letter of 1884: “Alas, when I went so see my beloved big pitch-pine tree that I loved best of all the wild trees that lived in Berwick, I found only the broad stump of it beside the spring…It was a real affliction and I…sat down and counted the rings, and read as much of its long biography as [I] could.”

Jewett was an accomplished writer, having magazine stories, novels, and story collections published within her lifetime. The critical merit of her work, like that of many other female writers, has risen and fallen according to political and social positions on gender issues. What has remained constant is the careful depiction of a time and place, which is recorded with love and respect. Her father gave Jewett many valuable pieces of advice, but his guidance on writing was a gift that helped Jewett to give us the unique and gentle characters in “A White Heron”: “Don’t try to write about people and things; tell them just as they are.”