Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

By Denise D. Knight | Go to book overview

SARAH ORNE JEWETT (1849-1909)

Perry D. Westbrook


BIOGRAPHY

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849, the second of three daughters of Theodore Herman Jewett, a country doctor, and Caroline Frances (Perry) Jewett of Exeter, New Hampshire. Descended on both sides from families prominent in their towns and states from colonial times to the present, Jewett was by birth a member of the so-called Brahmin class of New England, and she was fully aware and appreciative of her status as such.

Though she lived for extended periods in Boston, Jewett retained a deep and unchanging devotion to her native town. South Berwick was her home first and always. "I am proud to have been made of Berwick dust," she wrote ( "Old Town"609). As a child and throughout her life, Jewett suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, which intermittently interrupted her schooling and some of her activities as an adult. She received her elementary education at a local private school, after which she attended, with many periods of absence, Berwick Academy, from which she graduated in 1865. At home she read widely in contemporary and classic English and American literature. But more important in her education than the schools was her father, who was deeply attached to her and as a doctor understood her illness and her consequent emotional and intellectual needs. He was a strong influence on her throughout his life and hers. Often as a girl she would accompany him on his rounds among his patients in the nearby countryside, and in this way, she accumulated impressions of a large variety of people, some poor but others not, which served her later in her writing.

When Jewett was eighteen, her first published story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers," appeared under a pseudonym in 1868 in Flag of Our Nation. It was of

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