Friday, January 20, 2012

Tom’s Husband

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)
From Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels & Stories

By the early 1880s, Sarah Orne Jewett “was just coming into her own as a writer, publishing widely and in a variety of outlets, [and] bringing out several books,” writes Jewett scholar Terry Heller. “During this period, she published several stories on feminist issues and dealing with masquerades.” In 1884, she published her masterpiece, A Country Doctor, about a woman who must choose between marriage and a medical career, exclaiming, “God would not give us the same talents if what were right for men were wrong for women.”

And that brings us to the intriguingly titled “Tom’s Husband,” which appeared in 1882. In a 1990 essay on this “little-known” work, Thomas A. Maik argues that it is a transitional story between two different types of character in Jewett’s fiction: “one, the independent, usually single, and self-reliant female of the earlier works and the other, the supportive and regenerative matriarchal community of her later works.” In the story, Jewett combines both amusing and serious elements to examine the challenges to a marriage in which both spouses are not quite satisfied with (or suitable for) the roles assigned to them by society.

Note: Darby and Joan (p. 617) was a common designation describing a loving, old-fashioned, virtuous, inseparable couple. It originated in the ballad “Darby and Joan” (originally published in 1735 by Henry Woodfall as “The Joys of Love Never Forgot”.

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I shall not dwell long upon the circumstances that led to the marriage of my hero and heroine; though their courtship was, to them, the only one that has ever noticeably approached the ideal, it had many aspects in which it was entirely commonplace in other people’s eyes. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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