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Sarah Orne Jewett's Feminine Pastoral Vision

"The Country of the Pointed Firs". Studies in American Literature v.57

By (author) Jeff Morgan
Format: Hardback
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd, New York, United States
Imprint: Edwin Mellen Press Ltd
Published: 31st Jan 2003
Dimensions: w 165mm h 235mm d 13mm
Weight: 431g
ISBN-10: 0773469907
ISBN-13: 9780773469907
Barcode No: 9780773469907
Few debates have raged so stormily in the last three decades of literary studies as those involving the nature of gender. Dr. Morgan a refreshing view of (and, at times, a break from) that storm in its assertion of a "pastoral matriarchy as enduring mode" in Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs. As will soon be evident, no student, scholar, or lay reader of Jewett could find a clearer textual history than the one Dr. Morgan Provides us with. Events have conspired to remind us of the important and still growing place in American Literature of Sarah Orne Jewett. To her long-known role in the local color movement, we can now bring to bear more precise and focused analysis of the actual economic decline of rural New England and the westward migration of its younger sons and daughters. At the same time, its older people, particularly women, can be seen in sharper dimension against a burgeoning urban capitalism. The development of Women's Studies, in turn, has given us new and better ways of celebrating the moral and emotional qualities of those left behind. Finally, increased awareness and more sophisticated definition of the long established literary convention called pastoralism reminds us that an idealized rural life has always had important symbolic possibilities as an alternative to some commonplace, usually urban reality. According to the 4th Edition of The New Columbia Encyclopedia, "in this convention the purity and simplicity of shepherd life is contrasted with the corruption and artificiality of the court or the city." Definitions, however, can scarcely suggest the complexity of actual literary narrative. Writers from Theocritus to Virgil to Spenser to Shakespeare to Robert Frost and beyond have used some version of the pastoral formula by way of offering their protagonists at least temporary retreat from a normative world that (as Wordsworth put it) "is too much with us." A feminist version of this formula potentially fitted the situation of a woman city dweller who moves to Maine and back during one summer, and Jewett over a period of time learned to exploit it with great authority and power. In these contexts and their development through tight formal relationships, The Country of the Pointed Firs emerges as an important American novel. The publishing history of Country, however, which Jeff Morgan describes in great detail, involves a record of good intentions that have nevertheless led to mistakes. Morgan offers us an exhaustive analysis of this publishing history and a careful critical review of its important elements. The result of his research is to make far more clear the book's novelistic dimensions and, in so doing, enhance further its general significance. The "tampering" that he records and documents at great length, on the other hand, does Country a great disservice. Jewett's additional stories related to Dunnet Landing are delightful and significant in themselves, but bound haphazardly into Country they weaken the power and dilute the meaning of an important book. Hers is a limited and restrictive world, perhaps, but it takes on a much wider resonance when its full implications are imaginatively explored. Roger B. Salomon Oviatt Professor of English, Emeritus Case Western Reserve University May 2002

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