I've started reading my next novella (from the Art of the Novella Series by Melville House), The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett, and it puts me in mind of May Sarton. I love May Sarton, so I see this as a good sign indeed. The Country of the Pointed Firs is just under 160 pages and is made up of twenty-one or so chapters that are loosely connected stories. Sketches really, as the chapters are quite brief. In some cases not much happens at all, but Orne Jewett paints a vivid picture in them.
The novella opens with the arrival of a (as yet unnamed) female narrator who has just returned to the coastal town of Dunnet, Maine. She eventually takes up residence in an empty schoolhouse where she writes. She is a keen and careful observer of the natural (and social) world around her. I don't know yet how old she is, but I think she is unmarried. And I think she must like her solitude to want to live in this schoolhouse with its beautiful view. Remind you of anyone? I recently picked up May Sarton's The House by the Sea: A Journal, which is also about Sarton's moving to coastal Maine. I think I now will need to read the two as companion books. Serendipity! I love it when books cross paths like this.
The chapters are almost quick snapshots of a vanished way of life--bits about the place and the people and her experiences. It is easy to read one or two in a short sitting and I think I will take my time with the book and do just that--one or two sketches each day that will over the course of the coming few weeks create a particular place (and likely time) in my mind. As a matter of fact I keep finding myself making little squiggly lines in the margins where I note places I want to remember, or underlining to draw my attention back to something especially elegant or picturesque. Here are a few teasers to give you a little of the flavor of my reading.
"There was something about the coast town of Dunnet which make 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 the 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."
That's really lovely, dopn't you think, and so very true of places of people. Now close your eyes and try and imagine the place--the woods and rocky shore the sea. Can you hear the waves rushing onto the rocks? Can you smell the salty air. Or depending on which way you face, maybe you can smell the fresh greenery of the spruce trees. I can. It's invigorating (we weird as that may sound). That's how the novella begins. That is the first sight of the narrator who has returned to Dunnet, the quietest of seaside villages, late in June.
By July she hires a little white schoolhouse, which sits on the brink of a hill "much wind-blown and weather-beaten" and which has a most beautiful view of sea and shore from its door".
"Selfish as it may appear, the retired situation seemed to posses great advantages, and I spent many days there quite undisturbed, with the sea-breeze blowing through the small, high windows and swaying the heavy outside shutters to and fro."
If I click my heels together three times do you think I can wish myself there? No, probably not. I will have to content myself with continuing on with my reading and let it all play out in my imagination. This is going to be perfect beginning of the summertime reading, I think. This is going to be a book to read slowly and savor, I think. Now I must compare with May Sarton's journal. I think I may have to share more from the pair of books later. I have (very long) had a copy of this novella in a larger collection of stories by her, and now I realize this is going to be a 'why did I ever wait this long to read' sort of book. See what treasures await you on your (rather await me on my) bookcase shelves?