A trip to New England sparked my interest in the writings of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909).
An early feminist, ecologist and architectural preservationist, Jewett wrote about the Maine country people she knew so well. Her best known story—really a novella—“The Country of the Pointed Firs”—is a series of portraits of the lives of ordinary people.
A woman named Joanna, heartbroken by a sweetheart, actually moves away from her little town to a small island off the coast to live in total seclusion for the rest of her life. The townspeople, while respecting her privacy, watch over her from a distance, and continue to care for her over the years by dropping off packages on her beach.
I felt sad for her pain, and touched by others’ unwavering concern for her. Jewett poses a “moral” for us from the story: “In the lives of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or day; we understand our fellows of the cell from whatever age of history they may belong.”