The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett

The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett

The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett

The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett

Synopsis

In their introduction, editors Jack Morgan and Louis A. Renza point out that in these stories Jewett displayed a remarkable empathy for the Irish. Undoing the "Paddy" stereotype favored in nineteenth-century Yankee discourse, Jewett exhibited an understanding of the immigrant psyche unheard of among her fellow writers - including Emerson and Thoreau, both of whom wrote disdainfully of the Irish. Morgan and Renza further discuss the stories in the context of contemporary multicultural and ethnic concerns, showing that Jewett's Irish stories demonstrate a renewal - a redefining, questioning, and expanding of cultural boundaries within concentrated American communities, her own New England area in particular. As such, the editors contend, the stories constitute important documents in the history of a country still engaged with the multi-ethnic as well as the multi-individual paradox of E pluribus unum.

Excerpt

Charles Fanning, in his Exiles of Erin, notes that our historical knowledge of nineteenth-century Irish immigrant life in America has traditionally derived from three sources: "demographic records, reports by members of the host American culture, and . . . the immigrant press" (1). Sarah Orne Jewett's Irish stories clearly exemplify imaginative "reports" of the second kind and can be, therefore, ethnographically problematical, as the following discussion suggests. Though perhaps not as immediately compelling as some of her more well-known fiction--"A White Heron" or "The Foreigner" or The Country of the Pointed Firs--these stories still represent, at a minimum, the first serious treatment of the Irish in America by an important literary figure and a prescient engagement with what today we would term the issue of multiculturalism. Yet, despite the current interest in Irish and ethnic studies, these stories have been curiously overlooked. Among past, influential American critics, only Van Wyck Brooks took brief notice of them while discussing the Irish in New England: Indian Summer (1940): "Some of Miss Jewett's best stories were tributes to them, and certainly Miss Jewett knew the Irish . . ." (413).

Originally published in Scribner's, The Cosmopolitan, McClure's, and Lippincott's, Jewett's stories about Irish immigrant figures constitute a neglected corner of her oeuvre, though she her-

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