Sunday, January 12, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 209: Sarah Orne Jewett, A Winter Courtship (#209)

Sarah Orne Jewett, "A Winter Courtship" (1889) from Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels & Stories:

At some point, you just have to shrug your shoulders and admit that you don't know why you like something. Or go further: admit that you're stuck in a cycle of liking something for the simple fact that you've always liked something.

That might be me with Sarah Orne Jewett--though I'm not fully prepared to just shrug. I mean, I know some of why I like her work: her regional dialogue is a fascinating museum of odd expressions and folksy grammar--without ever feeling like she's making fun of these people or indicating that they're regional accents betrays a shallow interior life. Sure, these people may use odd words like "pudjicky" and don't pronounce the "n't" of "don't"--but they're still people with the complete worries and thoughts of people.

And, on the other hand, she doesn't give in to any b.s. notion of rural authenticity, which is so often the regionalist fault: "oh, these people who don't have Starbucks--they know what's really important in life." Here, the mail and passenger wagon-operator Jefferson Briley reads dime novels about the exciting west and goes so far to pretend that he carries a pistol with him, though he lives in Maine where no stage-coach robber lives. Jewett gently pokes fun at him for that, for being so taken with mass market fantasies that he sees his own life through that. But that's just one part of his life.

Similarly, Jewett gives a full view of Mrs. Tobin (widowed) and Mr. Briley (bachelor) coming to terms to get married late at life: there's feelings involved, but there's also practical issues--neither is so young as to be completely carried away by passion or fantasy in this. And though, like a romantic comedy, there's never any real doubt as to the outcome, the trip is warm and amusing enough to go pretty quickly.

Now, if you didn't care for this style and still had a paper to write, possible topics include: exchange and robbery (Wild West robbers, mail transportation, married goods, the buffalo rugs they have to keep warm); fun and work (circus-life, dressmaking, marriage and re-marriage, cooking skills); and how the omniscient view of their thoughts affects our reception of the story.

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