Jewett’s Country of Pointed Firs, William’s sprig of linnaea

In The Country of the Pointed Firs, the brother of Almira Todd, who lives with his mother on Green Island, takes a walk with the narrator up to island’s highest point, where from above a circle of pointed firs they could see the entire island and out to the far horizon. During their walk, he “picked a few sprigs of late-blooming linnaea” (ae is a digraph, damn blog font). He then hands them to the narrator, who realizes that “he could not say half he wished about linnaea.” (Sarah Orne Jewett [New York: Library of America, 1994], pg. 413)

According to Wikipedia, the name linnaea has an interesting origin, which is associated with Linnaeus, who is considered the father of taxonomic identification.

It is one of few species to be named after Carolus Linnaeus, the naming having been formally made by Linnaeus’ teacher, Jan Frederik Gronovius. It is said to have been Linnaeus’ favourite plant; he took the flower as his own personal symbol when he was raised to the Swedish nobility in 1757. Of it, Linnaeus said “Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovius and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant, disregarded, flowering but for a brief time – from Linnaeus, who resembles it.” [accessed 12 October 2008]

Though I have done no research to confirm it, I’m nearly certain that Jewett knew her flowers, and that insignificant William is to be granted one brief flowering. Such is the manuscript chapter “William’s Wedding,” when he marries Esther, the Dunnet shepherdess.

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