Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Country of the Pointed Firs

'... an' I couldn't help thinkin' if she was as far out o' town as she was out o' tune, she wouldn't get back in a day.'
At just 88 pages this book can be read over a weekend or even in one sitting. It's not really a plot-driven novel, more a series of portraits of New Englanders living on the Maine coast. Our unnamed narrator visits her friend, Mrs Todd, the local herbalist, and stays for the summer meeting neighbours, acquaintances and relatives.

My favourite chapter is Poor Joanna. Joanna, a resident of the town of Dunnet, is jilted one month before her wedding. Unable to bear the humiliation she asks her brother to row her and her belongings over to the deserted Shell-heap Island, eight miles from the coast, where she makes her home never setting foot on the mainland again. During cold winters, the kind-hearted New Englanders row over with parcels of food and clothing.

This is a beautifully written portrait of a lost way of life which curiously, at times, reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford.


Nan said...

This is one of my favorite, favorite books. I have borrowed it from the library, and listened to it on audio, and finally I bought it in one of those nice Barnes & Noble classic editions. There is so much I love about it. Mrs Todd's garden and the island where her mother lives are especially wonderful. I think I may read it again this year, and we hope to go visit her house in Maine. I found you from Life Must Be Filled Up's sidebar.

Nicola said...

Hi Nan, you are the only person I've 'met' who has read it! I loved Mrs Todd's mother's house on Green Island and her mother was a great character, too. I'd like to know more about the narrator. Was it Jewett herself? I'd love to visit Maine and see her house.

Nan said...

Nicola, I got out the book and read the excellent introduction, and this is what Ted Olson writes:
"the unnamed narrator of Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, a woman from the city who is nonetheless an astute observer of small-town culture"

And later in the introduction:
"The plight of the unnamed narrator in The Country of the Pointed Firs echoed Jewett's own insider/outsider status in South Berwick. That narrator, a writer like Jewett, was visiting the fictional village of Dunnet Landing in the hope of finding the peace of mind to write and to be spiritually transformed in a cultural environment unencumbered by divisive, class-based snobbery, Both Jewett and her alter ego sought escape from the strictures of Victorian society by consciously seeking acceptance within a traditional rural culture. These two women- the creator and her fictional personae- from bonds of friendship with other females in order to better express their natural selves within a natural rather than a manmade environment; this was an act of rebellion that permitted the women to escape from the social straitjacket constructed for them by the Victorian male hierachy."

This is the book I have:

It says it is out of stock right now. And at amazon:

I've gotten books through the used sellers and had excellent luck.

So, there you go! Do I get the prize for longest comment EVER? :<)

Vintage Reading said...

Aha! I thought the narrator was some kind of alter-ego of Jewett. I didn't realise Dunnet Landing was fictional either, because I tried to google it! I haven't got a detailed intro to my edition. Did you like the Bowden Reunion chapter? I loved the gathering of the clans.

By the way, I love long comments. The only reason I start this blog was to talk to other readers with similar tastes. To me the internet is all about communication!

Nan said...

I loved the reunion! It's been less than a year since I re-read the book, and already I want to be within its pages again.

I have an embarrassing fiction/fact story. When I finished The Bridges of Madison County, I rushed to the library and looked through a bunch of old National Geographic magazines looking for the photographer in the book's photos. I finally talked to my librarian because I couldn't find them, and she very kindly and gently told me the book was fiction. I still blush when I think of it. :<)

I want to add your blog to my list and because my bloglists are divided by area, could you just tell me if you are 'across the us' or 'across the atlantic' or 'across the pacific' - thanks. I love old books and will enjoy visits here.

Vintage Reading said...

Aw thanks for thinking of adding me - I'm in the UK. I'm going to check out your blog, too. Great to find another Jewett fan!

hopeinbrazil said...

Hooray for your author of the month. I was amazed at the beauty of this book when I read it a couple of years ago. I'm glad to know a few others have discovered it.

Pip's Squeak said...

This is a peculiar co-incidence. Having read Gaskell's Cranford at the end of February , I followed it up with the Jewett. Both books are in
an almost Disney/Tieck-like pastel.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi, thanks for dropping by. I certainly found similarities between the two books even though there are several decases between them. Probably, Cranford had more wry humour than I expected, and I found the Orne Jewett had a similar warmth. I do like pastel covers! Nicola