"Dolly Franklin's Decision": Sarah Orne Jewett's Definition of "A Good Girl"
Johanningsmeier, Charles, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Ever since the project of "recovering" the works of Sarah Orne Jewett began in earnest approximately twenty-five years ago, literary scholars have focused their attention almost exclusively on three of her works: Deephaven (1877), "A White Heron" (1886), and The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896). Not coincidentally, these works and others that are frequently written about were almost all first published in the most prestigious magazines of the late nineteenth century, including the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Monthly, Century, Independent, and Scribner's. The predominance of these works in Jewett scholarship is due not only to practical considerations (copies of these magazines can be found in most research libraries) but also to cultural bias: it is assumed that stories printed in these venues are the ones most worthy of recovery and study. Undoubtedly, Deep haven, "A White Heron," The Country of the Pointed Firs, and many of the stories that appeared in the aforementioned magazines do represent some of Jewe tt's best work. However, they do not necessarily convey an accurate picture of the range of Jewett's abilities and interests, and of the complexity of her artistry and personal views. In order to form a more complete understanding of Jewett, it is imperative that scholars begin to study in much greater detail those of her works which she chose to publish in less prominent periodicals, such as Far and Near, Youth's Companion, Wide Awake, and Sunday Afternoon, to name just a few.
One of the greatest blind spots in Jewett scholarship involves the short fictions that she sold to newspaper syndicates and which were published in numerous daily metropolitan newspapers of the late nineteenth century, such as the Boston Globe, Kansas City Star, Minneapolis Tribune, New York World, Boston Evening Transcript, Portland Oregonian, Chicago Inter-Ocean, and countless others. Given the difficulty of locating these stories, it is not surprising that so few scholars have tried to find such fictions and that so very little has been written about them. Even when one knows the most likely places to find such works, obtaining the appropriate microfilm reels and searching through them is a difficult and often frustrating task. The inchoate status of research into Jewett's syndicated newspaper publications is best indicated by Paula Blanchard's recent comment in Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work (1994): "Just how many of Jewett's sketches were published with the McClure Syndicate, as well as the ri val syndicate of Bacheller, Johnson, and Bacheller, remains to be discovered" (190n).
In two recent studies, Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace: The Role of Newspaper Syndicates, 1860--1900 and "Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman): Two Shrewd Businesswomen in Search of New Markets," I have briefly discussed ten of the sketches and stories I have located that Jewett syndicated to newspapers via McClure and Bacheller. Included in this group is one story, "A Good Girl" (entitled "Dolly Franklin's Decision" in one newspaper), which until now was not known to exist. None of the numerous Jewett biographies mentions it, and a complete search of available Jewett bibliographic materials has turned up no known printings. 
I first became aware of this story's existence while leafing through a crumbling scrapbook of the Associated Literary Press newspaper syndicate in the S. S. McClure Papers at Indiana University's Lilly Library. A small piece of newsprint that read "A Good Girl, by Sarah O. Jewett" was stuck on a page along with the headings of other materials slated for publication on 24 November 1889; the clipping gave no indication of whether this was a work of fiction or nonfiction. I then began my search for newspaper printings of this story; finding them would, as I knew from previous experience, be no easy task. After all, McClure's syndicate at this time typically sold galley proofs of individual stories to over fifty newspapers for simultaneous publication, but the firm did not record the names of the subscribing newspapers. Thus far, a search of over a dozen newspapers for this date has turned up four printings. One, in the Boston Globe for 24 November 1889, is entitled "Dolly Franklin's Decision, I Or How a Boston G irl Brought Sunshine Into a Home Life." This same text is duplicated in two printings entitled "A Good Girl," published in the Chicago Sunday Inter-Ocean and the Portland Sunday Oregonian on 24 November. One other appearance can be found in the New York World on 24 November under the title "A Good Girl"; this version, however, is greatly edited, with almost the entire first third of the story excised. The Globe and Inter-Ocean printings are accompanied by two small column-wide illustrations, while the World version includes only one illustration; the Oregonian version is not illustrated. Furthermore, the caption for the World illustration differs from the one for the same illustration in the Globe. Under the operating rules of McClure's newspaper syndicate, such emendation of the text and illustrations was an editor's prerogative and not unusual; the editor chose whether or not to use the illustrations that the syndicate provided and was free to edit the galley slips before having them typeset and printed. Lo cating more printings of this story would undoubtedly help determine the authoritative text and captions, but I am confident that because the Globe, Inter-Ocean, and Oregonian versions are so similar, these reflect the original text that the syndicate distributed to newspapers. Since Jewett may or may not have had control over the final editing and proofreading of the syndicated text, however, whether it represents Jewett's final intentions is unknown.
Jewett probably wrote "A Good Girl" in response to a request by Samuel Sidney McClure, owner and operator of the Associated Literary Press, the largest newspaper syndicate of the 1880s and 1890s. McClure commonly solicited contributions from authors in advance, and he had known Jewett ever since he visited her in 1884; she published "Stolen Pleasures" through the syndicate in 1885. Composition of "A Good Girl" most likely took place in South Berwick, Maine, during June or July 1889, as indicated by a letter Jewett wrote to McClure from South Berwick that is dated 3 June but includes no year. Jewett told McClure,
I will send you one or two short sketches for your Youth's department between now and August. My serial in St. Nicholas [almost certainly "A Bit of Color," April-June 1889] has given me a new interest in such work but I do not wish to undertake another long piece of writing. How your work has grown! I like to think that I had to do with its beginning. 
Jewett here undoubtedly is referring to the story known both as "Dolly Franklin's Decision" and as "A Good Girl," since in each appearance located the story does indeed appear on the McClure-syndicated "Youth's Department" page.
A common misperception of Jewett is that after writing children's fiction at the beginning of her career she concentrated primarily on adult fiction afterward. Yet Jewett's willingness to do this type of work for McClure and to write "A Bit of Color" for St. Nicholas indicates that her interest in children's fiction was renewed around this time. (I should note that in all probability she wrote only one sketch that year for McClure, since I have not found any other Jewett piece published through the syndicate in late 1889.) Jewett's desire to use literature as a tool for young girls' moral instruction thus never completely waned.
McClure's syndicate was a perfect outlet for Jewett's juvenile fiction such as "A Good Girl," for in 1889 McClure had inaugurated a "Youth's Department" page edited by Frances Hodgson Burnett that included numerous short stories and informational pieces directed toward younger readers, and which was intended for inclusion in ever-expanding Sunday editions of daily metropolitan newspapers. Jewett recognized the potential this publication method had for reaching an audience beyond the confines of those who read her pieces in the Atlantic Monthly or her books published by Houghton Mifflin. She wrote to McClure in 1888,
I have grown more and more interested from the first in your syndicate plans and wish that I could oftener see my way to reaching exactly the wide range of readers with which these plans are concerned. I have often had to put other engagements first, but I hope by and by to find time and thought for both.
Certainly, "A Good Girl," even if it were published only in the four newspapers located thus far, would have reached a much broader readership than the one to which Jewett was accustomed. In October 1889, at a time when the Atlantic's subscribers numbered only slightly more than 10,000, the combined circulation of the Boston Globe, Chicago Sunday Inter-Ocean, Portland Sunday Oregonian, and New York World far exceeded 300,000.  Contemporaries commonly estimated, too, that each newspaper was read by at least two persons, thus doubling the potential readership for each story. Furthermore, these newspapers were circulated in many areas (especially rural ones, and west of the Mississippi), where the Atlantic Monthly had few subscribers before 1900.
"A Good Girl," a story of approximately four thousand words, begins with a narrator introducing the question of how to define the "ideal girl." The narrator then asks, "Which of us has not known a girl to praise and love and set as copy for other girls--a young, thoughtful Mary or busy Martha, who filled her place in life well and charmingly?" and answers her own question by stating, "I can think of one just now whom I should like to have a great many other girls see as she goes to and fro about her work in her father and mother's house." 
The reader soon learns that Dolly, a girl of sixteen, has been away at "seminary" school and is home for the summer to visit her parents and younger brother Bob. They live in Boston, but to help improve the sickly mother's health, they decide to rent a house on
one of the new streets which have been made through an old estate in Roxbury, where only two or three years ago there were fields and even pasture ground, and wild thickets, and flowers that one would never think of looking for so near a great town.
In this suburb there are "10 wooden houses on one side of the street and 10 on the other, built by the same plan." Such is obviously an atypical setting for a Jewett story; the suburbs of Boston are a long way from rural Maine.
In this space located between country and city, Dolly explores a new identity for herself that summer. She begins to see that her "place" is at home, taking care of her mother and father, instead of at school. The Franklins have little money to pay for a truly qualified housekeeper, and thus the ones they do employ are shiftless and incompetent. Dolly, recognizing the financial straits of the family and how troublesome the lack of good domestic help is to her parents, steps in and becomes their housekeeper. Toward the end of the summer she surprises both parents with her plan to stay home instead of returning to school. Her father is extremely pleased, while her mother objects that Dolly must finish her schooling; the latter, though, is eventually convinced by Dolly's argument that "it isn't as if I were going to be a teacher. I'm going to be a home girt always, and I mean to be learning home things."
This story is of interest to Jewett scholars for a number of reasons. First, its unusual setting possibly mirrors Jewett's own search at this point in her life for a midway psychic space between her beloved, more rural South Berwick and her equally beloved Boston, home to Annie Fields and a number of her sophisticated, urbane friends. Dolly is initially worried that living in Roxbury with her parents will sever her ties to school friends in the city; yet she finds out that "She had plenty of time to go into town whenever it was necessary, and she saw as much of her friends as she ever had" because they were able to travel the short distance to see her, too. By the end, Dolly has given up the idea of graduating from school with her classmates-- her community of city friends--and instead is optimistic about her new life, enthusiastically telling her mother, "There are ever so many nice people in this street!" The Franklins' neighborhood might in fact be a reference to the North Shore resort community of Manche sterby-the-Sea, Massachusetts, where Jewett often spent the summers at Annie Fields's summer house. Learning that one could be a member of a community in this "middle ground" and not be divorced from nature might indicate that Jewett believed she could successfully build a "community" that existed only in relation to herself, one that combined her family and the Berwick and Boston friends, who, in actuality, rarely intermingled.
The setting of "A Good Girl," as in many other Jewett stories, also contrasts the unhealthy atmosphere of the city with the rejuvenative powers of nature. Life in the cities in Jewett's works is often equated with the withering health of both humans and plants; one is reminded of how in "A White Heron" Sylvia's failure to thrive in the city is associated with the "wretched dry geranium that belonged to a town neighbor" (228). The Franklins are more than happy to leave their city house, for "the street was dark already... a high block of buildings had lately been put up on the other side." In contrast, the area around the new house is "sunshiny," and Mr. Franklin chooses it in large part for the large, leafy linden tree in the yard which gives the house a serene feeling. Domesticated nature is in further evidence, for "There was a bit of ground behind each house where one might have a very small garden, and there was a narrow strip for flowers at the side next the driveway to the shed." Contact with the sunsh ine and the garden (tended by Dolly's younger brother Bob) helps Mrs. Franklin's health improve dramatically. In addition, when Dolly brings a tray of broth and biscuit to a sick neighbor, Mademoiselle Trevy, she "picked a bright pink geranium flower and two of its fresh green leaves" from Bob's garden "to make the tray look pretty." Needless to say, this bit of kindness and touch of the natural world helps Mlle. Trevy recuperate.
Possibly what makes this story most interesting is Jewett's portrayal of Dolly as her conception of an "ideal girl," since it thus provides a number of insights into Jewett's thinking at this time about the proper role for young women. For example, Dolly's rejection of the opportunity to pursue her schooling might surprise those who see Jewett as a champion of women's self-improvement. Dolly has the opportunity to learn subjects previously reserved only for boys; however, Jewett writes, "Dolly had never cared much for many of her school lessons, but learned them because she must." Furthermore, when Dolly ponders her decision not to return to school in the fall, she thinks to herself, "As for the geometry and the next year's chemistry course, she was glad to escape these." Instead, she contemplates using her education in the future to help her brother Bob with his schoolwork.
By rejecting formal, school-based education, however, Dolly is actually a rather conventional Jewett figure. Dolly determines that "she needed to know things now that she could not learn in school," and one is thus reminded of some of Jewett's strongest female characters such as Mrs. Todd of The Country of the Pointed Firs, who certainly needed no formal schooling to learn how to minister to people. Instead of promoting schools as the sole sites of knowledge, Jewett indicates that a girl should see experience as her best teacher. Dolly finds that around the house she "was always learning new things," and that "every day had some new interesting thing about it." Furthermore, Jewett twice indicates that Dolly is "ambitious" to learn more about maintaining a household and thus direct her energy toward the management of her clean, neat kitchen rather than toward-learning science and math.
One of the "lessons" Dolly learns through experience--and which Jewett most certainly means to emphasize--is that her domestic labor has economic value. The Franklin family is not financially well-off, and thus Mr. Franklin is highly pleased when Dolly reveals her plan to stay at home and manage the household. Some of his enthusiasm might spring from affection, but clearly there are economic considerations as well. Mr. Franklin agrees to pay Dolly exactly what he was paying the former housekeeper Lizzie Gregg, but he recognizes that the family will still save money because unlike Lizzie, Dolly "was very careful not to waste anything, for she knew how hard her father worked for what they had." Mrs. Franklin consequently recounts to Dolly that Mr. Franklin "was so pleased this morning, telling me that you had saved so much from what it used to cost him for housekeeping, that he hasn't minded the high rent a bit."
The most important "lesson" Dolly learns, however, is that to create a happy "home," a term resonant with multiple connotations in nineteenth-century American culture, a girl should unselfishly serve others and not stray far from the domestic household. Dolly's guilt for continuing at school is evident early in the story when it is noted that "She had never seen so plainly how much her own home needed her, or what unselfishness her father and mother showed in their frequent discomfort without her." To make a real home, Dolly decides to emulate her parents' unselfishness and not return for the next term. Dolly contributes both physical and emotional comfort to the home; as the narrator comments,
It was not that Bob always had his favorite buns and molasses cookies and that Dolly knew exactly how to bake the Sunday beans dry and sweet and brown as her father liked them, but there was a delightful sense of comfort and friendliness all about the house.
The overall effect on the family's mood is dramatic: once Dolly takes over, "there was a pleasantness in the household that warmed everybody's heart." In Dolly's mind, as probably in Jewett's, service to the family is not at all an act of self-abnegation; instead, Jewett is encouraging young women to recognize the positive aspects of domestic work, especially its effect of helping one's family. By the end Dolly has learned her lessons well: she "was sure that none of the girls she knew had such a happy home, but after all Dolly herself did as much as any one to make it so; it was Dolly herself who deserved praise that day? The narrator concludes, "She was lucky to have learned so soon that having plenty of good work and living it is the best thing in the world."
Dolly's assumption of her role as a good daughter in service of her father and sickly mother in many ways must have resonated for Jewett personally. Unlike Dolly, Sarah was able to continue at school (Berwick Academy) between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, graduating with her class while helping maintain the family household. Yet there are a number of similarities between Dolly and Sarah. For all her dedication to herself, her writing, and her large circle of friends, for example, Jewett remained highly loyal to her family. Just as Dolly wishes to please Mr. Franklin, Jewett revered her father, Theodore, who died in 1878, and she often helped care for her sickly mother, Caroline. In fact, when Jewett wrote "A Good Girl," she was spending the summer at South Berwick caring for her mother. To do so she had forfeited her usual summer at Annie Fields's house in Manchester in order that her sister Mary--the mother's more full--time caregiver--could take a vacation to Europe. While Mary in fact more closely r esembled this story's main character, Sarah's devotion to her family and willingness to sacrifice her own pleasure is also reflected in Dolly Franklin.
"A Good Girl" is certainly not one of Jewett's masterpieces. Its didacticism, common to much children's fiction of the age, detracts from the ambiguity usually deemed necessary for powerful works of art. Nonetheless, it serves as an important reminder not only of Jewett's ambivalence toward country and city but also of her ambivalence about the proper role of women. On the one hand she often wrote about strong, independent women who forged individual identities and created supportive communities of friends. On the other hand, though, she also wrote about "ideal" girls who assumed traditional roles by devoting themselves to their families, the primary affectional community. To understand Jewett as the complex person she was, it is necessary to acknowledge these ambivalences, prevalent throughout her artistic oeuvre and life, and to investigate the ways in which she negotiated a balancing of her values.
(1.) See the Webers' bibliography (1949) and bibliographical articles by Frost (1964) and Gary (1968).
(2.) Jewett, letter to McClure, 3 June , Clifton Waller Barrett Collection, The Alderman Library, The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
(3.) Jewett to McClure, cited in Publicity poster, [November 1888], S. S. McClure Papers, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana; circulation figures are reported in Boston Globe 24 November 1889: 12, and in N. W. Ayer and Son's American Newspaper Annual (Philadelphia: N. W. Ayer and Son, 1891): 124 and 603.
(4.) All quotations are taken from the Boston Globe version of this story, which is reprinted at the end of this article.
Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett; Her World and Her Work. Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1994.
Bound Scrapbook, S.S. McClure Papers, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
Cary, Richard. "Some Bibliographic Ghosts of Sarah Orne Jewett." Colby Library Quarterly 8 (1968): 139-45.
Frost, John Eldridge. "Sarah Orne Jewett Bibliography: 1949-1963." Colby Library Quarterly 6 (1964): 405-17.
Jewett, Sarah Orne. "A Bit of Color." St. Nicholas 16 (1889): 456-63, 514-23, 572-80.
-----. "Dolly Franklin's Decision." Boston Globe 24 Nov. 1889: 17; "A Good Girl." Chicago Sunday Inter-Ocean 24 Nov. 1889: 20; "A Good Girl." Portland Sunday Oregonian 24 Nov. 1889: 10-11; "A Good Girl." New York World 24 Nov. 1889: 28.
-----. "A White Heron." The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. Ed. Mary Ellen Chase. New York: Norton, 1968. 227-39.
Johanningsmeier, Charles. Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace: The Role of Newspaper Syndicates, 1860-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.
-----. "Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman): Two Shrewd Businesswomen in Search of New Markets." New England Quarterly 70 (1997): 57-82.
Weber, Clara Carter, and Carl J. Weber, comp. A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett. Waterville: Colby College, 1949.…
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Publication information: Article title: "Dolly Franklin's Decision": Sarah Orne Jewett's Definition of "A Good Girl". Contributors: Johanningsmeier, Charles - Author. Journal title: Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. Volume: 17. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2000. Page number: 95. © 2008 University of Nebraska Press. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.