The Country of the Pointer Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett's masterpiece, established her among the consummate stylists of nineteenth-century American fiction. Composed in a series of beautiful web-like sketches, the novel is narrated by a young woman writer who unfolds a New England idyll rooted in friendship, particularly female friendship, weaving stories and conversations, imagery of sea, sky and earth, the tang of salt air and aromatic herbs into an historically significant 'fiction of community' in which themes and form are exquisitely matched. This edition, introduced by Alison Easton, also includes ten of Sarah Orne Jewett's short stories, among them 'The Queen's Twin', 'The Foreigner' and 'William's Wedding'.
A wonderful book! But too little known - always a rare personal discovery, published in 1896 and occasionally re-issued, The Country of the Pointed Firs has always been hard to track down, in England certainly. This timely re-printing gives new readers the luck of discovering what various fellow writers (Kipling, Willa Cather, Henry James among them) have rated a masterpiece. 'One evening in June a single passenger landed upon the steamboat wharf.' The narrator, a writer, has come to Dunnet, a village on the coast of Maine, for working quiet. At once we too are caught by the scene itself - the bright sun, the sparkling air, the sweet smell of herbs and grasses, but also the dark woods (those pointed firs!) the cliffs, the rocky shore, the abiding sound of wind and sea. Something of that contrast is in the people themselves, mostly solitaries - widows of seamen, seamen widowers, who live in the small white scattered cottages. A peaceful unwordly haven? Yes, but it holds strange personal tales, partly caught in haunting or teasing fragments. And the nameless visitor - listener, observer, sometimes companion on some zestful expedition - is the medium through which secrets and memories rise to the narrative surface. Thus, the book's impressive central figure Mrs Almira Todd (with whom the writer lodges), herb-gatherer and herbal healer, spirit of goodness, still feels sharp pangs, not only for her drowned young husband Nathan but for the real love of her life, prevented from marrying by his parents. 'My heart was gone out of my keeping before I ever saw Nathan, though he loved me well and made me real happy'. It was, in the narrator's words, 'an absolute archaic grief. She might have been Antigone alone on the Theban plain.' Perhaps the most memorable story comes from Captain Littlepage, a man of worn and troubled refinement, with a tale of Coleridgean awe. Wrecked in the Arctic he was given rough shelter by an old seaman, Guffett, lone survivor of a polar voyage. 'There is a strange sort of country,' Guffett told him, 'way up north beyond the ice, and strange folk living in it... Shapes of folks, all blowing grey figures.' He described how he and a fellow sailor followed one of the 'fog-shaped men... going along slow among the rocks. But Lord! he fluttered away out o' sight like a leaf the wind takes with it, or a piece of cobweb. They would make as if they talked together, but there was no sound of voices. Say what you like, 'twas a kind of waiting place between this world and the next.' Sorrow and wonder, yes. But the prevailing note of the book is one of exhilaration; each day has its bright unexpected events, and the whole, in which so much is learnt, seems part of a quest. When you end, you re-read. As a bonus, you will also find in this edition a restored lost chapter, several short stories, and the effective black-and-white pictures of an early edition. It's a treasure - not to be missed. (Kirkus UK)