South Berwick, Maine
Sarah Orne Jewett house
5 Portland Street
Fiction writer Sarah Orne Jewett was born in 1849 in the smaller dwelling next door (“Haggens House”), but she lived much of her life in this comfortable frame house owned by her grandparents. Eventually, she inherited the house from her grandfather, who was a wealthy trader and sea captain. Jewett’s friend Willa Cather once wrote that she was “born within the scent of the sea but not within sight of it, in a beautiful old house full of strange and lovely things brought home from all over the globe by seafaring ancestors.” Today, the house – a national historic landmark that is open to the public – still contains the Jewett family furnishings, including many items Captain Theodore Jewett brought back from his extensive sea travels.
In the downstairs library hangs a portrait of Annie Fields, Jewett’s intimate companion of more than 25 years, with whom she lived half the year in Boston. (The two held a lively weekly salon at Fields’ home on Charles Street.) The months Jewett spent alone in South Berwick constituted her time for writing and contemplation. “Here I am at my desk again,” read one forlorn letter to Fields, “remembering that this is the first morning in more than seven months that I haven’t waked up to hear your dear voice and see your dear face.”
Upstairs in the writer’s combination bedroom and study is another picture of Fields, as well as a portrait of writer George Sand, given to Jewett by Cather. Next to her bed Jewett kept a container of pencils and pens so that she would have them at the ready in case she woke up with the desire to write. In this house, Jewett penned such novels as A Country Doctor (1884) and The Country of Pointed Firs (1896), which abound in local color. Inspired by the Maine landscape, her fiction focused on “the people who grew out of the soil and the life of the country near her heart,” as Cather phrased it.