We were standing where there was a fine view of the harbor and its long stretches of shore all covered by the great army of the pointed firs, darkly cloaked and standing as if they waited to embark. As we looked far seaward among the outer islands, the trees seemed to march seaward still, going steadily over the heights and down to the water’s edge. -From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 29-
Sarah Orne Jewett published her best known novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, in 1896 – first in a serialized version for the Atlantic Monthly, and later in book form by Houghton Mifflin. It was an instant success. After reading this wonderful novella, I can plainly see why.
The narrator of the story remains unnamed, but through her we are introduced to an endearing cast of characters who reside in the fictional seaside town of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Arriving in early summer, the narrator lodges with the central character – Mrs. Almira Todd – and spends the long, warm days writing and getting to know Dunnet’s people and environs. She visits the surrounding islands, attends a joyous family reunion, and has tea with a local fisherman. The story ends with the narrator bidding farewell before boarding a boat bound for her home in London.
Having spent many years on the coast of Maine, I found myself smiling, nodding, and laughing at the accuracy of Jewett’s dialog and characterizations.
When the narrator writes:I had suddenly left the forbidding coast and come into a smooth little harbor of friendship (page 102), the reader finds herself nodding in agreement. From Captain Littlepage with his outrageous stories of Arctic travels, to Elijah Tilley pining eight years for his dead wife, to elderly Mrs. Blackett and her daughter, the effervescent herbalist in the guise of Almira Todd – Jewett’s characters come to feel like old and dear friends.
Rich with setting, the novel places the reader on the rocky Maine coast with the sting of salt in the air and the dark green firs thrusting into an azure sky. It is a book meant to be read slowly while sipping tea and gently rocking on an old farmhouse porch. When the narrator writes: At last I had to say good-by to all my Dunnet Landing Friends, and my homelike place in the little house… (page 111), the reader will wish the summer were longer.
This is a book that will stay on my bookshelf forever and grow dogeared and ragged from re-reading.
Note: I read this book for the Something About Me Challenge as recommended by Megan. Megan wrote in her nomination: “I was trying to find some good New England writing. Something that had really spoken to me. The writing in this book is absolutely overwhelming.” I agree Megan! Thanks for the recommendation!