The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett was published in 1896. It is often regarded as one of her finest works.

The story is told in first person by an unnamed narrator. The narrator is a writer who is visiting a fishing village called Dunnet along the coast of Maine. Through her narrative we meet Dunnet’s various colourful inhabitants and view the natural beauty of the village and the surrounding islands.

The story is loosely constructed. It is like a series of scenes that we are seeing through the writer’s eyes. All of these fragments are joined together by their common setting, the village of Dunnet.

Jewett’s descriptions of the nature and the scenery, the gardens and the trees, the birds and the insects, the changes in the landscape throughout the summer, are all amazingly beautiful. The way she describes Mrs. Todd’s herb garden or bees flying in to the school house are so charming. Rarely have I come across such wonderful descriptions of the ever-changing beauty of nature.

The narrator’s visits to Green Island and Shell-heap Island are pleasant to read.

The character of Mrs. Almira Todd, the narrator’s landlady and the village’s ‘unofficial’ doctor, is a strong one. It often overshadows the narrator’s. I liked the character of Mrs. Blackett, Mrs. Todd’s elderly mother.

Not all of the narrative’s fragments are equally good. I found Captain Littlepage’s narrative to be very interesting. Elijah Tilley’s narrative was touching. The visit to Mrs. Blackett’s home was nice. Mrs. Fosdick’s part and the part about cousin Joanna was okay. The Bowden family reunion I didn’t care much for.

I liked reading Jewett’s writing. She had a gentle, joyful way of writing. Even while speaking of sorrow she managed to avoid being too morbid about it.

The narrator becomes friends with Mrs. Todd and her family and actually with most of the village inhabitants. Everyone embraces her and she fits right in with the fishing community, even though she is a city dweller. That’s all very nice but at the same time; I felt it was all a bit too sweet. All of the characters are so charming and so flawlessly good. It felt unreal.

Maybe I’m being cynical but at times the story felt a bit too idealized. It feels like one is watching the world through a rose-tinted glass which makes everything seem perfect. It does not ring true.

Although the characterizations are a tad unreal, Jewett’s delightfully vivid imagery of  nature’s subtle wonders makes The Country of the Pointed Firs a book worth reading.

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