The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories

The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories Study Guide

By the time Sarah Orne Jewett published The Country of the Pointed Firs in two parts in The Atlantic in 1896, she was already a respected and well-known author. She had been receiving reviews from major figures such as William Dean Howells for nearly 20 years, and had befriended several other established literary personalities, including Willa Cather, a fellow novelist who would edit Jewett's work after she died in 1909.

In his assessment of "Pointed Firs," Paul P. Reuben explains that critics praised the novella when it was first published. Cather would eventually comment that, along with The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pointed Firs and its related stories were among the American texts most likely to stand the test of time. Pointed Firs did little to assuage criticism over Jewett's non-linear plots, though the criticism was far more muted for this story than it was for earlier efforts like the novel Deephaven.

Jewett's life may have inspired parts of The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. For instance, Jewett's close friendship with Annie Adams Fields might have served as template for the relationship between the narrator and Mrs. Todd. After Fields's husband and Jewett's father died, the two women lived together most of the year, and each became the most important person in the other's life. As Dottie Webb writes in an article about Jewett and Adams, their living arrangement has attracted attention from modern scholars interested in lesbianism. However, no one knows for sure the exact nature of their relationship.

As far as plot goes, one might understand the related stories as 'outtakes' that happen during the same period as the events of the main text (or, in the case of "William's Wedding," shortly after the events of the main text). Editors have taken different approaches to the related stories over the years. Some editions of Pointed Firs include only the main novella, while others include only some of the related stories. Even the versions that include all of the related stories differ on the order in which they are presented. However, most editions today follow the order that Cather used for the stories when she edited the 1923 edition of the text. Interestingly, Cather separated the final chapter of Pointed Firs – "The Backward View" – from the novella, and instead placed it after "William's Wedding." This demonstrates the ambiguous relationship between the stories and the novella; based on her editing decisions, Cather seems to have considered it possible to fully integrate the stories into the main work and at least imply a cohesion.