Back Sarah Orne Jewett, "The Circus at Denby "

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)
From Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels & Stories

“My sakes alive, ain’t he big!” Drawing by American artist Marcia Oakes Woodbury (1865–1913), who with her husband, the painter Charles Herbert Woodbury, illustrated the 1893 Riverside Press edition of Deephaven.

Sarah Orne Jewett was born 171 years ago today, on September 3, 1849.

“Although I had not read Deephaven for a good while, I felt as if I had come to be the writer’s grandmother. I liked it better than I expected,” Jewett wrote to a friend nearly two decades after her debut was published. “My little story is written (in the main) by a girl not much past twenty, who nevertheless could see that city people who were beginning to pour themselves into the country for the summer, had very little understanding of country people.” Not quite a novel, not quite a story collection, the book of sketches about two young women taking a summer vacation in a Maine coastal town became a surprise hit and went through several printings; when she sent the letter quoted above, Jewett was preparing a special illustrated gift edition for publication.

The reviews were mostly positive. Such luminaries as William Dean Howells (who helped Jewett publish the book) and John Greenleaf Whittier (who read it three times) were huge fans. The major exception proved to be the “city people” at the New York Times, which looked askance at the village “gossip” and “the habits of small seaside boys, angular country folk, and decrepit fishermen” and which concluded “it is by some mistake, doubtless, that it got into print at all.”

Yet the book has endured. One of its best-known selections is “The Circus at Denby." You can read it at our Story of the Week site and decide for yourself whether it was a mistake it got into print at all.

Read “The Circus at Denby” by Sarah Orne Jewett

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