Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Country of the Pointed Firs (Voices: A Treasury of Regional American Fiction) Audio, Cassette – May, 1993
|New from||Used from|
|Audio, Cassette, May, 1993||
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
From Publishers Weekly
Jewett's 1896 novel and selected stories about the fictional town of Dunnett Landing in rural Maine.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Immense—it is the very life."
—Rudyard Kipling --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
I can't tell you how or why I wound up loving this beautifully written little book, but I've come back to reread it once a year. It's written in first person and tells the tale of a woman returning to the coastal town of Dunnet Landing, a place she fell in love with a few years earlier. It's really just the story of her visit, interacting with the quirky townspeople, and then her departure -- that's it. Yes, there were some themes mixed in -- Naturalism, Realism, and some prose mechanics, but as for the story itself, it's a beautiful piece of work -- a beautifully written masterpiece.
I've since visited the coast of Maine, near Berwick, Sarah Orne Jewett's hometown, which a few miles from the coast. There are several historical buildings in Berwick that you can visit that have something to do with the Jewett family -- The Sarah Orne Jewett House, the Jewett-Eastman House, the Jewett Gardens, the Jewett Store, and Portland Street Cemetery where the family is buried. The town is proud of her and her accomplishments, and rightly so.
All those years ago I became a lover of Dunnet Landing and look forward to my annual reading so I can revisit it's streets, buildings, townspeople, and the beautiful, green, fragrant herb garden behind Mrs. Todd's house.
The book begins with the narrator's arrival in Dunnett Landing, a village that had thrived in the seafaring era that the Industrial Age had all but eclipsed. She had visited it as a child and has returned to it for the solitude it affords a writer. At the center of the book is her landlady, Mrs. Todd, an herbalist who does brisk business as the town's pharmacist of folk remedies. Through her the narrator comes to know aged sailors whose day has passed and the people who live even more remotely than the Dunnett Landing folks, on the outlying islands. She hears of the most extreme case, a woman who had fled to the outermost island to live as a hermit for years after a disappointment in love. At a large family reunion that serves as the book's climax, the narrator sums up what she has learned about the intersection of people, time and place.
A word about this particular edition of The Country of the Pointed Firs: It is something of an enigma. The cover begins interestingly enough, a photograph of a shoal of beached rowboats, a common sight in Maine harbor towns framed by what appears to be a handwritten page from a notebook set with a brown background to the black ink. But then it gets a bit strange, with an oddly worded, unfinished description of the contents set on the first cover, and set off by even odder punctuation. Inside, it is devoid of all publishing identification and there is no dedication, there is a plain title page, followed by a contents page followed by another plain title page in a different font, and then, the first page of the book appears on the back of that, on the left side. The paper looks and feels like copier paper; in fact, it looks like it was produced on a photocopier. There is a catalogue listing for other minor classic texts produced by the same publisher and the descriptions are, again, oddly worded. That said, aside from a couple of offset lines and odd treatment of punctuation here and there, I had the sense that the text was ultimately complete.
The narrator’s presence in the story is subtle and unimposing, but her descriptions, thoughts, and responses to people show that, as a character within the story, she is a sensitive person, sociable, kind, and she appreciates the personalities and the lovableness of the other people she meets.
The story begins with a local funeral and the narrator’s subsequent encounter with Captain Littlepage, an elderly, retired ship’s captain who has made a hobby during lonely months at sea of reading the great poets, particularly Milton and Shakespeare. During one of his most challenging voyages, Littlepage learned about the existence of what he believed to be an actual “ghost town” at the North Pole, full of elusive spirit figures. He entrusts the narrator with the details of that tantalizing experience. Littlepage himself, who appears several times in the book as a solitary figure looking out his cottage window, is also a mentally-elusive personage, somewhat lost-seeming and lonely in his old age. One doesn’t quite know “how to take” his stories.
Next, a “strange sail” brings to shore middle-aged Mrs. Fosdick, an old friend of the narrator’s landlady, Mrs. Todd. Discussion between these longtime friends touches by chance upon the tale of “Poor Joanna,” a woman who was jilted in an intense first-love relationship and was so destroyed emotionally and spiritually that she chose to live isolated for the rest of her life, the only human creature upon a small island. In a recounting by Mrs. Todd of a visit she once made with Joanna at her island hermitage, the reader looks into Joanna’s home, her personality, and her mental state. The narrator herself later makes a solitary visit to Joanna’s grave located at Joanna’s former island home, where other people sometimes also make pilgrimages. She thinks of “poor” Joanna, the “plain anchorite...whom sorrow made too lonely to brave the sight of men, too timid to front the simple world she knew, yet valiant enough to live alone with her poor insistent human nature and the calms and passions of the sea and sky.” Joanna’s had been no easy life, not only emotionally, but also from the standpoint of the struggle for physical survival under harsh conditions. (To learn of the ways that other inhabitants showed her kindness and affection from a distance was touching for me.) This story of an unusual life is unusually poignant.
The summer ends with the gayety of a family reunion in which the narrator, watching the company of families as they move across the landscape toward their feasting table, compares them to “a company of ancient Greeks, who might as well have been carrying green branches and singing, going to celebrate a victory or worship a god of harvests.” (With this comparison, as far as I can guess, Jewett must have been thinking about the long genetic endurance of the race of mankind: “...We were no more a New England family celebrating its own existence and simple progress; we carried the tokens and inheritance of all such households from which this had descended, and were only the latest of our line. We possessed the instincts of a far, forgotten childhood....” The numerous relatives of Mrs. Todd are revealed to be descendents of French Huguenot emigres, which segment of world population may actually have been typical in that area of New England at the time. Genealogists may be interested to explore the ramifications of this bit of information, even though it occurs in fiction.)
The narrator’s last significant friendship occurs when she is given the opportunity of acquaintance with old Elijah Tilley, a widower fisherman who spends his time knitting and remembering former days of love and work along with his dear attentive wife, whom he misses very much---another of several particularly touching encounters.
In most meetings with people, the narrator tells details about their cottage interiors, noticing the little things that distinguish and reveal the qualities of their hearts and minds. For instance, the reader meets Mrs. Todd’s elderly mother, Mrs. Blackett, of 86 years, a tiny, blooming flower-like person who has “the gift so many women lack, of being able to make themselves and their houses belong entirely to a guest’s pleasure...” She lives alone with her son William, 60 years old, a bashful and silent but genuine soul, on one of the islands off the coast. Out of courteous respect, the narrator is shown into the house through the parlor, however when she is later shown the bedroom, she designates that room as this lady’s “real home,” “the heart of her house.” The room exemplifies Mrs. Blackett because it contains a worn red Bible on the lampstand, her thimble on the window-ledge, and a neatly-folded cotton shirt she is making for William. The narrrator exclaims, “Those dear old fingers and their loving stitches, that heart which had made the most of everything that needed love!”
The central figure of interest in the story is the large, active, authoritative, plain-spoken Mrs. Todd. One first sees her described as a woman turning about in her bushy herb garden, her feet and voluminous skirts brushing and bending almost every slender stalk with which they come in contact, the action of which releases into the air the varied stimulating scents thrown off by the variety of herbs which are the ingredients of her medicines for the townsfolk. These odors are said to awaken in the atmosphere a dim sense of something in the ancient, forgotten past of mankind, which formerly was possibly of an occult nature but which pertains now only to useful, “humble compounds” brewed by Todd with molasses, vinegar, or sugar in a “small cauldron” on her kitchen stove. There is no element of malevolence or power-playing witchcraft in this master herbalist. Mrs. Todd and the village doctor are good friends and talk together on a professional basis about various cases of illness and the doctor’s prescribed treatments. When suffering customers come to her door, Todd talks with them in a kind and motherly voice. Her small income derives from the sale of her elixirs and the taking in of boarders. She has great knowledge and love of many herbs and is constantly gathering them abroad in the landscape at special places she knows where fine specimens grow, some of which she transplants to her garden at home. She also knows a lot about a variety of trees, which she compares to different types of human beings! As a story-teller, Todd is an “entertaining companion.” In varied circumstances, she is a person of “great dignity,” and “a stern and unbending lawgiver.”
A watchful reader will notice that the narrator compares Todd several times to ancient figures, connecting her with antiquity. She is an “enchantress,” an “oracle,” “a rustic philosopher”; she is “like an idyl of Theocritus” she is “grand and architectural, like a caryatide.” After Todd confides the story of two lost loves in youth and her subsequent aloneness, the narrator says that Mrs. Todd, standing there in a special hidden field of the finest pennyroyal, a secret place which holds deep, sad memories for her and which she does not make a habit of sharing with anyone, might have been “Antigone, alone on a Theban plain” and veritably possessed of “a great archaic grief.” (Here again, I’m not sure I understand Jewett’s purpose in connecting Todd and her New England family with classical antiquity--- if there was more to the purpose than I guessed at above.)
The novelist Willa Cather is said to have thought this book of Jewett’s as likely to endure as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Henry James considered it a “beautiful...achievement.” Because of such high praise, I was expecting the book to affect me much more strongly than it did. The first time I read it, I had a lot of difficulty concentrating, which also happened to me when I read Jewett’s A Country Doctor. I wondered if my attention wandered because of something about the pace of the writing style, which I at first felt didn't flow but was rough and jerky. I decided to go back and read The Country of the Pointed Firs a second time, and on that reading I didn’t have the same difficulty with the pace and I had a MUCH better reaction to it. I went back over the book a third time, carefully picking up more details. I found details I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, at the beginning of the story the narrator writes about some of the arrangements for her bed and board: “My hostess and I had made our shrewd business agreement on the basis of a simple cold luncheon at noon, and liberal restitution in the matter of hot suppers, to provide for which the lodger might sometimes be seen hurrying down the road, late in the day, with cunner line in hand. It was soon found that this arrangement made large allowance for Mrs. Todd’s slow herb-gathering progresses through woods and pastures....” Previously, I had entirely missed the endearing image of the helpful lodger (the narrator) going fishing in order to contribute to the two ladies’ supply of victuals, thus freeing Todd to gather herbs--- After my third examination of the narration, although I didn’t re-read it in complete detail, I thought the little book was exquisite! Probably, because it’s such a pleasure, I’ll make time in the future sometime to read it once or twice more. It now has a place among my treasured books. (Therefore, I’d advise the prospective reader that although this is a plain, simple narrative, they might plan to read it over again at least once after a first careful reading---just in order to be sure to fully appreciate all items they may have missed. But many readers, with better concentration than mine, may be capable of complete attention and absorption in just one reading.)
I wish I could hear the book read by a good reader able to realistically “speak” the colloquial “talk” which the book is full of.