Brief Textual History of Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs

Below is a brief (and incomplete) textual history of Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs. I’ve provided links to electronic texts for most versions. Electronic versions are not reliable, but they can contribute to our understanding of the publication history of the work. This post is a draft toward an ongoing project to study the textual history of works of American literature that while prominent in critical literature have suffered from neglect with regard to textual differences in literary criticism.

The manuscript of Pointed Firs is at Harvard. The MS includes drafts of chs. 1-20, printer’s copy for the Atlantic Monthly serial, and autograph MS’s for interpolated chapters (by Willa Cather and others). Marco Portales, in most significant textual study, stated that the location of MS was not known. See JSTOR (with subscription access), or see New England Quarterly 55 (1982): 586-92. I have not checked auction records, etc. to see whether Houghton added MS to collection after Portales wrote, or whether MS was not cataloged at that time.

The Atlantic Monthly published Pointed Firs in four installments. I’ve linked the page numbers to Making of America site.

  • vol. 77 (Jan. 1896, chs. I-VII): 5-18; (Mar. 1896, chs. VIII-XI): 302-13.
  • vol. 78 (Jul. 1896, chs. XII-XV): 75-78; (Sep. 1896, chs. XVI-XX): 352-67.

The first edition was published in 1896. This digital copy (text and page images) is available at the Internet Archive. For the 1896 first edition, Jewett added chapter titles. For the succeeding discussion of revision, it is important to know that the final chapters in the first edition were as follows:

  • XX. Along Shore
  • XXI. The Backward View

Some textual variants between serial and first edition seem important:

  • Chs. 18 and 19 in Atlantic Monthly are combined into one chapter in the Houghton Mifflin edition, so book chapters 1-19 correspond to serial chapters 1-20. That is, the first edition chapters XX, Along Shore and XXI, Backward View are not included as part of Pointed Firs in serial. So the serial ends with Mrs. Bowden’s snappy remark on the poor singing of Mrs. Peter Bowden of Great Bay, who ” ‘if she was as far out o’ town as she was out o’ tune, she would n’t get back in a day.’ ”
  • Mrs. Fosdick’s story of going to sea, which leads to Mrs. Todd’s “absent-minded smile” is not present in the Atlantic serial. Compare serial’s pg. 77 with first edition’s page 95 and 96.

Although Pointed Firs was complete in Atlantic, two stories of Dunnet Landing appeared later on in the same serial, and they would play a role in later history of Pointed Firs.
“Queen’s Twin” was published in February 1899 (pgs. 235-46).
“A Dunnet Shepherdess” appeared in the Atlantic (Dec. 1899, pgs. 754-64).

In Mary R. Jewett’s revised 1910 edition of Pointed Firs, the chapter William’s Wedding, which was published neither in the Atlantic nor the 1896 edition, and the two Dunnet Landing chapters from Atlantic (above) were added to the text of the novel. That edition can be found also at the Internet Archive. The 1910 edition’s concluding five chapters are as follows:

  • XX. Along Shore
  • XXI. A Dunnet Shepherdess
  • XXII. William’s Wedding
  • XXIII. The Queen’s Twin
  • XXIV. The Backward View

Willa Cather, when she edited Pointed Firs in 1925, re-ordered the final chapters. My Cather colleague has shared an unpublished/unpublishable letter from the Harvard MS collection which shows Cather’s supreme confidence that she knew best how to arrange Jewett’s Dunnet Landing stories into a better version of Pointed Firs. It is a remarkable thing to have Cather rank Jewett’s work with The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn as the “three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life” (1965 ed., pg xxviii) and promptly to re-arrange Mary Jewett’s closing chapters as follows:

  • XXI. A Dunnet Shepherdess
  • XXII. The Queen’s Twin
  • XXIII. William’s Wedding
  • XXIV. The Backward View

As you can see, Cather reversed Mary R. Jewett’s chs. 22 and 23. So I leave this brief textual history of Jewett’s Pointed Firs at this state for now. More to come.

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One Response to Brief Textual History of Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs

  1. Pingback: The Digital Archive and Literary Scholarship: Textual Collation for Dummies « Wesley Raabe’s Blog

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