Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

I had never heard of this author until this month when I read the post on her at Old English Rose Reads for A Classics Challenge. It sounded like something I'd enjoy so I downloaded it immediately and what a little gem it has proved to be. 

Set in the late 1800s the narrator is a young author who comes to the small fishing village of Dunnet Landing on the coast of Maine for the summer. She boards with an elderly widow, Almira Todd, who grows herbs in her garden and mixes up healing potions for the villagers and with whom she forms a close friendship. Gradually she becomes accepted into the community, attending funerals and family reunions, visiting the small outer islands and taking afternoon tea with old fishermen until even these normally quiet and taciturn menfolk begin to tell her their stories.

There is no plot - The Country of the Pointed Firs has been described as a series of sketches of a place and its people and it's the perfect description. In simple and beautiful prose the author paints pictures so vivid you can almost hear the sea, smell the fragrant herbs and see the white painted cottages set beneath the tall green firs . Landscapes....
" The gray ledges of the rocky shore were well-covered with sod in most places, and the pasture bayberry and wild roses grew thick among them. I could see the higher inland country and the scattered farms. On the brink of the hill stood a little white schoolhouse, which was a landmark to seagoing folk; from its door there was most beautiful view of the sea and shore."
.....and portraits . The retired octogenarian , Captain Littlepage, spinning tales of his seafaring days and bemoaning the loss of the way things used to be.
"I see a change for the worse even in our own town here; full of loafers now, small and poor as 'tis, who once would have followed the sea, every lazy soul of them.......................a community narrows down and grows dreadful ignorant when it is shut up in its own affairs, and gets no  knowledge of the outside world except from a cheap, unprincipled newspaper."
There is the story of Joanna who, disappointed in love, removes herself to an island and spends the rest of her days as a hermit and the moving account of the old fisherman, Elijah Tilley, who spends his days mourning the loss of 'poor dear', his wife.

It's a book about the bonds of family and friendship in a lonely, isolated place ruled by nature and her elements. Where most of the graves in the churchyard are those of women because the men are lost at sea or in wars. 
 "....we are each the unaccompanied hermit and recluse of an hour or a day.."
When I feel like that, when I need to find the peace of my inner Dunnet Landing this is the book I will take with me. 
Brilliant!! I loved every word.


  1. This sounds charming and a great read.

    1. I thought it was delightful, Kathleen.......won't appeal to those who like a book with a plot though.