Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender

Synopsis

In her book Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender, Margaret Roman argues that one theme colors almost every short story and novel by the turn-of-the-century American author: each person, regardless of sex, must break free of the restrictive, polar-opposite norms of behavior traditionally assigned to men and women by a patriarchal society. That society, as seen from Jewett's perspective during the late Victorian era, was one in which a competitive, active man dominates a passive, emotional woman. Frequently referring to Jewett's own New England upbringing at the hands of an unusually progressive father, Roman demonstrates how the writer, through her personal quest for freedom and through the various characters she created, strove to eliminate the necessity for rigid and narrowly defined male-female roles and relationships. With the details of Jewett's free-spirited life, Roman's book represents a solid work of literary scholarship, which traces a gender-dissolving theme throughout Jewett's writing. Whereas previous critics have focused primarily on her best-known works, including "A White Heron," Deephaven, A Country Doctor, and The Country of the Pointed Firs, Roman encompasses within her own discussion virtually all of the stories found in the nineteen volumes Jewett published during her lifetime. And although much recent criticism has centered around Jewett's strong female characters, Roman is the first to explore in depth Jewett's male characters and married couples. The book progresses through distinct phases that roughly correspond to Jewett's psychological development as a writer. In general, the characters in her early works exhibit one of two modes of behavior. Youngsters, free as Jewett was to explore the natural world of woods and field, glimpse the possibility of escape from the confining standards that society has set, though some experience turbulent and confusing adolescences where those