September 3, 2010

Jewett: I am always nine years old

Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born on September 3, 1849 in a family home in what is now South Berwick, Maine (the home is open to the public). A quiet, slow-paced community at the time of her birth, Berwick developed rapidly during the lifetime of Sarah Orne Jewett (her first name is not often used), particularly when a rail service connected the town to both Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. By 1877, she wrote, "Berwick... is growing and flourishing in a way that breaks my heart."

Jewett published some 20 books, including Deephaven (1877) and A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), and lived to be just under 60 years old. Despite her age, however, she claimed to have never grown up. "I'm not a bit grown up," she once wrote to Horace Scudder, "and I like my children's books just as well as I ever did." At age 48, she wrote to Annie Adams Fields (widow of publisher James T. Fields), "This is my birthday and I am always nine years old."

Annie Fields lived with Jewett after her husband's death in 1881. The two women shared their homes in what was regularly termed a "Boston marriage" until Jewett's death in 1909. As their friendship blossomed, Jewett's writing began to focus more on matriarchal or female-centric communities. Scholars continue to speculate on their relationship but, according to Jewett biographer Paula Blanchad, "Sarah Orne Jewett fell in love many times, both before and after she met her dearest friend, Annie Fields." Though some contend their friendship was purely platonic, by the 1890s they were treated as a couple by correspondents (one used the term "woman-couple") and split time between the Jewett home in Maine and the Fields home in Boston.

Jewett's writing career ended on her 53rd birthday in 1902. That day, she fell from a carriage and suffered permanent injuries to her head and spine. After her death in 1909, Fields edited a collection of her letters for publication. She introduced the book with a few verses from Edmund Spenser:

For Lovers' eyes more sharply-sighted be
Than other men's, and in dear Love's delight
See more than any other eyes can see.

*Some information from this post comes from Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World And Her Work by Paula Blanchard. Also recommended is Annie Adams Fields: Woman of Letters by Rita K. Gollin.

1 comment:

  1. The Library of America Blog also focused on Jewett today - definitely worth reading. Link is here.