«Item type text; Dissertation-Reproduction (electronic) Authors Anderson, Donald Robert, 1944Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © ...»
FAILURE AND REGENERATION IN THE NEW ENGLAND
OF SARAH ORNE JEWETT AND MARY E. WILKINS
Item type text; Dissertation-Reproduction (electronic)
Authors Anderson, Donald Robert, 1944Publisher The University of Arizona.
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material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
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THIS DISSERTATION HAS BEEN MICROFILMED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED.
FAILURE AND REGENERATION IN THE NEW ENGLAND OF
SARAH ORNE JEWETT AND MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN
After inspection of the final copy of the dissertation, the following members of the Final Examination Committee concur in its approval and recommend its acceptance:''
"This approval and acceptance is contingent on the candidate's adequate performance and defense of this dissertation at the final oral examination. The inclusion of this sheet bound into the library copy of the dissertation is evidence of satisfactory performance at the final examination.
STATEMENT BY AUTHORThis dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced degree at The University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.
Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgment of source is made. Requests for permission for extended quotation from or reproduc tion of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the head of the major department or the Dean of the Graduate College when in his judgment the proposed use of the material is in the interests of scholar ship. In all other instances, however, permission must be obtained from the author.
This dissertation, originally envisioned as a close study of the works of three or four New England writers, quickly evolved into some thing which was forced to confront greater artistic depth and intensity than a local-color survey would have seemed to promise. I had long been puzzled by the difficulties which the United States in general, and New England in particular, had in handling defeats and failures. I was aware of a predisposition in the New England personality to withdraw into inflexible protective shells after personal set-backs, or after difficul ties on a social scale. During my original sweep across New England regionalism — which included the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Alice Brown — it soon became apparent that two writers in particular, Jewett and Freeman, had more directly confronted their region's defeatist tendencies than the others. In part through my own experiences as a teacher, I was sensitized to the process of discovery about heritage — in particular of the history of the individual's having been taught to mistrust himself — which Jewett and Freeman underwent in order to achieve a context for what
Marist College, who were for me catalytic through their willingness to share doubts and discoveries, I express my deepest thanks.
My appreciation is also extended to Professor Arthur Kay of The University of Arizona, whose seminar in American regionalism first opened
me to the subtle beauties of The Country of the Pointed Firs, and, as a consequence, to the overall talents of Jewett and Freeman. In much the same way, Professor Cecil Robinson's enthusiasm for the artistry of Jewett, and his compassion as a teacher of literature, guided me more easily into a full encounter with the spirit of Jewett. To Professors Albert Gegenheimer, John McElroy, and Alan Burke I am indebted for frank, constructive guidance in the mechanics, structure, logic, and documenta tion techniques which became central to the successful completion of this study. And to Professor Paul Rosenblatt I express sincerest gratitude, for his patience, his firmness, his honesty, and his judgment, as he supervised the halting growth of the dissertation. My research was made easier by the suggestions and cooperation of the library staff of The University of Arizona, Vassar College, The State University of New York at New Paltz, Yale University, and Marist College. In addition, my work was aided through many moments of indecision by the encouragement and advice of Jeptha Lanning and George Sommer of the Marist College English
The New England writings of Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman have long been judged to be the end-products of strong nostalgic yearnings. The general contention about each writer has held that when Jewett and Freeman were critical of their own age they were primarily critical of the way in which late nineteenth-century developments had led to the overthrow of cherished elements of the pre-industrial New England culture. Critics of Jewett and Freeman have, it would seem, been led to such appraisals by two factors. First of all, each writer has, with some justification, been included in the national local-color movement of the post-Civil War period, a literary school which, while stressing the contemporary peculiarities of the various regions of the United States, recalled a simpler, more attractive past. Secondly, characters in the writings of Jewett and Freeman repeatedly resist the present: through nostalgia, through routines born in the past, through unvarying beliefs, through loyalty to time-honored institutions, and, sometimes, through insanity, drunkenness, or suicide. With such a pervasive rejection of the progress of time within their characters, and with the national fer ment of retrospective literature of which the two authors seemed a part, the general attitude about Jewett and Freeman is not all that surprising.
The premise of this dissertation, however, is that Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman were not advocating a return to the past. Quite the contrary: each judged that much of an unsavory present
world could be traced directly to elements of the New England past. As they grew to understand both the workings of nature and of the New England heritage, Jewett and Freeman saw how the culture's Puritan origins had caused individuals to overlook the concept of regeneration, and how such a long-enduring pattern of oversight helped to intensify the so-called "New England decline" of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the rest of the nation, rural and small-town New England had scarcely begun by the century's end to recover from the economic and social dislocations caused
to the failures of the region as a whole, in a manner which both writers came to see as historically endemic to the region.
Thus, in the writings of Jewett and Freeman, the nostalgic atti tudes of numerous characters — that is, their holding out against the present by clinging to the past — was not a fixation to be admired, but, rather, a kind of fatality to be overcome. Improvement and change, each writer realized, came not through intractability, but through adapt ability; not through retreat, but through clear-sighted attempts at taking a natural control of one's own destiny and moving forward.
The fiction of Jewett and Freeman, the finest to come out of New England after that of Hawthorne, moved in two ways to overcome failure and implement regeneration. First, with their considerable realist skills, both writers illustrated how grim those lives were which negated the possibility of change and renewal. They showed persons spiritually, mentally, and emotionally more dead than alive, who did not trust them selves, and were, as a consequence, unable to interact with time, with ideas, with the world around them, or with each other. Moreover, Jewett and Freeman challenged those customs, institutions, and beliefs which helped the individual and the region to adhere mindlessly to the past, and, as a result, to perpetuate failure.
Far from criticizing the way in which the present had supplanted the past, therefore, Jewett and Freeman raised serious doubts in their works about a heritage which had helped create and deepen New England's
During the closing years of the nineteenth century, the writers of New England were confronted by a problem which was unique to their region. As had the country as a whole, New England had undergone severe social and economic upheaval as a result of the Civil War;* but unlike the rest of the country, New England had shown little ability to recover
trade and manufacturing centers by 1900. The South, during the same period, talked about rising again, and was beginning to do so. The West and Midwest were filling rapidly, and relatively infant cities like Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco were developing frenetically as the national thrust to the Pacific was completed. Chicago survived its great fire, and shortly after the beginning of the new century, San Francisco would recover from its severe earthquake. Such powers of growth
1. Useful discussions of the causes and scope of the New England decline can be found in Lewis Mumford, The Golden Day: A Study in Ameri can Experience and Culture (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1926); in
Vernon L. Parrington, Beginnings of Critical Realism in America (New York:
Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1930); in James Truslow Adams, "The Historical Background," and H. C. Woodworth, "The Yankee Community in Rural New
England," in New England's Prospect: 1933, ed. John K. Wright (New York:
American Geographical Society, 1933); in Van Wyck Brooks, New England Indian Summer (New York: E. P. Dutton Co., 1940); in Perry Westbrook, Acres of Flint: Writers of Rural New England, 1870-1900 (Washington,
D. C.: The Scarecrow Press, 1951); and in Jay Martin, Harvests of Change:
American Literature, 1865-1914 (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967).
and renewal were considerably less evident in New England, where the countryside, and to a lesser extent the cities, remained severely dis Rollin Lynde Hartt, in an 1899 article for The Atlantic Monthly, abled.
wrote with rancor, horror, and indignation of a Vermont hill town he bitterly called "Sweet Auburn." Hartt spoke of increasing drunkenness, insanity resulting from inbreeding, niggardliness, and inflexibility. He
was scornful of a life-style with so few rewards:
Life ought to be cumulative; normally ten times ten are a hundred;
old age ought to mean, if it means anything, the best wine at the feast's end; but here it is not so. I pity our hoary patriarchs.
I look with tender solicitude upon our sweet-faced aged women.
They have fallen on evil times. The hill town is already an anachronism. It confronts an Everlasting No. It cannot maintain itself in opposition to relentless forces of social reconstruction;
and consequently, those who hold all neighborly, ancestral, homely things most dear must witness not merely the aesthetic, but also the industrial, moral and social decadence of their beloved Sweet Auburn.2 Hartt added as an afterthought, "They say that living in Sweet Auburn is like hanging — you don't mind it once you get used to it."