Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sarah Orne Jewett's Berwick House

My mother and I spent part of Friday afternoon visiting the home of Sarah Orne Jewett (one of the predominant female writers of the 19th century) located in South Berwick, about 16 miles from where my parents live. This town is on the border between New Hampshire and Maine, built along the Piscatoqua River, and was one of the biggest inland ports in its prime.

The house was built in 1774, and was redesigned and rede- corated during the years Sarah's grandparents and parents lived there. Later, when they were gone, Sarah and her sister Mary moved back (from the house next door that her father had built), and lived there until they died.

I wish I could show you what the house looked like inside, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures. The wallpaper and carpets are all original and in fragile condition. The furniture is original, not reproduction or "similar to" what they might have had. Sarah's room is virtually the way it was the day Sarah died in 1909 (her window is the third from the left on the second floor). All this combines to make for a fascinating tour, but one that's difficult to share via personal photos.

My mother and I were the only two on the tour, the last of the day, so the guide was especially talkative and went out of her way to share as much as she could with us. We learned quite a bit about the architecture and decorative aspects of the house as well as the social norms of the day. The inhabitants of the house were wealthy, so the house reflects that, down to the wallpaper in the best bedroom that is flocked with flecks of mica that would sparkle with reflected candlelight at night (it was fascinating...but ugly...).

Jewett is not always an easy read, but I've enjoyed teaching her, and have had some success in getting students to appreciate her work all the same. Country of the Pointed Firs is possibly her best-known book and "A White Heron" is her oft-anthologized short story. All her works give testament to what she knew: small-town life in Maine and the value of friendship.

“It does seem so pleasant to talk with an old acquaintance who knows what you know. I see so many new folks nowadays who seem to have neither past nor future. Conversation has got to have some root in the past, or else you have got to explain every remark you make, and it wears a person out.”


Anonymous said...

What a lovely surprise when I opened your blog! I was linked here by Patty from Morning Ramble.
Sarah Orne Jewett is one of my very favorite authors, I think I have all of her works. My favorite 'sketch' of hers is of the two sweet, elderly, impoverished ladies who have been moved out of their family home, and how they are helped to get back into it.

I was lucky to take the tour several years ago and it's one of my favorite memories.

I look forward to enjoying more of your blog.

Sheila, Illinois

Rondi said...

Hi Sheila...welcome! I've been to the Jewett house twice, now and had a great time each time. If I drive to my parents the "back" way, I go right by it, so it's been tempting me for awhile. It was fun to share the tour with my mom.