Now I’ll Be Adding Lots of Sarah Orne Jewett to the TBR List

The Country of the Pointed Firs
Sarah Orne Jewett

I gave a little preview of this book last week, and I’ve finally sat down to write a proper review.  The novella is set in the fictional seaside village of Dunnet, Maine. The unnamed narrator is a writer who escapes her big sitting residence for the summer to spend some quiet time working. Over the course of the season she gets to know, and love, both the town and its inhabitants. Reading along, I fell in love with the place right along with her.

If you’re looking for an action packed tale, this is not it. Yes, things happen, but the book is set up like you are living this episode with the narrator. She is staying with a Mrs. Todd, a widow who makes a living renting out a room in her home and selling herbal remedies. She keeps a garden packed full of whatever components she may need.

You could always tell when she was stepping about there, even when you were half awake in the morning, and learned to know, in the course of a few weeks’ experience, in exactly which corner of the garden she might be.

I love the idea of bustling about in a garden, releasing the scents of the plants as you go. Even more than that, I love the idea of still lying in bed while someone else is outside working, and getting to enjoy the fragrances wafting through your window. 
Dunnet was traditionally a village of seafarers. Over the years, the inhabitants have stayed closer to shore, concentrating on lobster and other local fish to provide their living. There are the typical characters lamenting the loss of the “old ways” and fear that the young people are becoming soft. Jewett portrays this timeless complaint with care, and a bit of sly humor. The town retains elements of its oceangoing days, though. Jewett’s narrator observes the town from a fine vantage point:

We were standing where there was a fine view of the harbor and its long stretches of shore all covered by the great army of the pointed firs, darkly cloaked and standing as if they waited to embark. As we looked far seaward among the outer islands, the trees seemed to march seaward still, going steadily over the heights and down to the water’s edge.

I can just imagine those tall, proud trees being used to make great ships and sailing the world, exploring far-flung ports and the open seas.

But it is Mrs. Todd who forms the heart of this book. She always knows what to do or say to make a person feel better. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes of hers:

“There’s some herb that’s good for everybody, except for them that thinks they’re sick when they ain’t.” 

“Yes’m, old friends is always best, ‘less you can catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of.”

I think I’ve found a new old friend in The Country of the Pointed Firs.


4 thoughts on “Now I’ll Be Adding Lots of Sarah Orne Jewett to the TBR List

  1. I recall reading some Jewett short stories in college and loving them (despite really disliking short stories in general at that time). Thanks for reminding me of her work; I'll have to make time to explore her more fully!

  2. @nomadreader This was the first I'd even heard of her, and I'm really glad that I made the discovery. I'm going to have to devote some more time to her once I get through my backlog of library books.

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