Présentation de l'éditeur :
The Country of the Pointed Firs is an 1896 short story sequence by Sarah Orne Jewett which is considered by some literary critics to be her finest work. Henry James described it as her "beautiful little quantum of achievement." Ursula K. Le Guin praises its "quietly powerful rhythms." Because it is loosely structured, many critics view the book not as a novel, but a series of sketches; however, its structure is unified through both setting and theme. The novel can be read as a study of the effects of isolation and hardship experienced by the inhabitants of the decaying fishing villages along the Maine coast. Sarah Orne Jewett, who wrote the book when she was 47, was largely responsible for popularizing the regionalism genre with her sketches of the fictional Maine fishing village of Dunnet Landing. Like Jewett, the narrator is a woman, a writer, unattached, genteel in demeanor, intermittently feisty and zealously protective of her time to write. The narrator removes herself from her landlady's company and writes in an empty schoolhouse, but she also continues to spend a great deal of time with Mrs. Todd, befriending her hostess and her hostess's family and friends The Country of the Pointed Firs was serialized in the January, March, July, and September 1896 issues of The Atlantic Monthly. Sarah Orne Jewett subsequently expanded and revised the text and added titles for the chapters. The novel was then published in book form in Boston and New York by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in November 1896. Some maintain that there is no plot and suggest her brilliance illustrated how literature can paint a picture and do only that. While this view is to some extent valid, perhaps more compelling is the view that the novel is heavily plot driven and as closely designed as the Odyssey, to which the work seems to nod. The narrator, a Bostonian, returns after a brief visit a few summers prior, to the small coastal town of Dunnet, Maine, in order to finish writing her book. Upon arriving she settles in with Almira Todd, a widow in her sixties and the local apothecary and herbalist. The narrator occasionally assists Mrs. Todd with her frequent callers, but this distracts her from her writing and she seeks a room of her own. Renting an empty schoolhouse with a broad view of Dunnet Landing, the narrator can apparently concentrate on her writing, although Jewett does not use the schoolhouse to show the narrator at work but rather in meditation and receiving company. The schoolhouse is one of many locations in the novel which Jewett elevates to mythic significance and for the narrator the location is a center of writerly consciousness from which she makes journeys out and to which others make journeys in, aware of the force of the narrator's presence, out of curiosity, and out of respect for Almira Todd. After a funeral, Captain Littlepage, an 80-year-old retired sailor, comes to the schoolhouse to visit the narrator because he knows Mrs. Todd. He tells a story about his time on the sea and she is noticeably bored so he begins to leave. She sees that she has offended him with her display of boredom, so she covers her tracks by asking him to tell her more of his story. The Captain's story cannot compare to the stories that Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Todd's brother and mother, and residents of Dunnet tell of their lives in Dunnet. The narrator's friendship with Mrs. Todd strengthens over the course of the summer, and the narrator's appreciation of the Maine coastal town increases each day.
There was something about the coast town of Dunnet which made it seem more attractive than other maritime villages of eastern Maine. Perhaps it was the simple fact of acquaintance with that neighborhood which made it so attaching, and gave such interest to the rocky shore and dark woods, and the few houses which seemed to be securely wedged and tree-nailed in among the ledges by the Landing. These houses made the most of their seaward view, and there was a gayety and determined floweriness in their bits of garden ground; the small-paned high windows in the peaks of their steep gables were like knowing eyes that watched the harbor and the far sea-line beyond, or looked northward all along the shore and its background of spruces and balsam firs. When one really knows a village like this and its surroundings, it is like becoming acquainted with a single person. The process of falling in love at first sight is as final as it is swift in such a case, but the growth of true friendship may be a lifelong affair.
After a first brief visit made two or three summers before in the course of a yachting cruise, a lover of Dunnet Landing returned to find the unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities; all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the centre of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told. One evening in June, a single passenger landed upon the steamboat wharf. The tide was high, there was a fine crowd of spectators, and the younger portion of the company followed her with subdued excitement up the narrow street of the salt-aired, white-clapboarded little town.
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