Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 133: Sarah Orne Jewett, Aunt Cynthy Dallett (#53)

Sarah Orne Jewett, "Aunt Cynthy Dallett" (1896) from Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels and Stories:

A long, slow, sentimental story--and I mean that in a good way. Like a lot of Jewett, this story focuses on women's roles and relationships. So the main story is about how older women relate, both widows (Mrs. Hand) and spinsters (Miss Pendexter). This issue comes out both in questions of who runs the house and how hosts and guests are supposed to act; and even rolls down to how the holidays are kept.

But with all this stuff going on about women's roles and houses--Aunt Cynthy is too old to live by herself anymore, but too stubborn to want to leave her mountain-top house; Miss Pendexter is on a slow slide to poverty without any property being left to her by any other relatives (or spouses)--the story also overlays this brute economics with a lot of warmth. So Aunt Cynthy doesn't want to leave her house and Miss Pendexter is too poor to keep a house, which gives a clear economic solution. But Miss Pendexter's move to Aunt Cynthy's house isn't just economics (as presented). It's also warmth and sentimentality and heart. That the richer relative gets her way is, as Jewett presents it, mere happenstance.

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