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Sarah Orne Jewett and spiritualism

Nancy Rita Kelly, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Sarah Orne Jewett's spiritual beliefs, fostered by Theophilus Parsons and influenced by the culture around her, permeated her early fiction and can be seen as late as "The Foreigner." Her relationship with Professor Theophilus Parsons of Harvard College was rich and proved fundamental to her development of spiritual tenets, especially Swedenborgianism. Parsons was instrumental not only in Jewett's personal development, but also in her growth as a young writer. He helped her to sort out his and Swedenborg's ideas, as well as offered her guidance to the publishing world of Boston in the 1870s.^ Jewett was also a writer very much in tune with her time. Many nineteenth century Americans were electrified by spiritualist phenomena and were in active pursuit of extrasensory communication among themselves and with the departed. This great energy did not bypass Jewett. She actively pursued the occult throughout her lifetime.^ In her private papers, letters and manuscripts, she explores elements of the occult. This pursuit is also manifested in her published work. From her first book, Deephaven, to "The Foreigner," one of her last stories published in the Atlantic, Jewett probes the elements of her spiritualist beliefs in the public eye.^ Another aspect of her spiritualism is the creation of women characters who are herbalists and healers. Almira Todd, Jewett's finest herbalist, is the quintessential woman, mature, wise, and knowledgable in the healing arts. Todd's experience in "The Foreigner" punctuates Jewett's lifelong belief. Todd's vision of the ghost makes her the living link between the two worlds. The gates are "standin' wide open," and Almira Todd is positioned in the doorway. Todd, too, not only knows of the close proximity of the two worlds, but also makes a strong community within this one.^ By examining these elements of Jewett's life and writing, we have a new lens through which to view her work. Understanding Jewett's relationship with Theophilus Parsons and her belief in Parson's faith enrich our knowledge of Jewett and offer another possibility for interpreting her work. ^

Subject Area

Biographies|Religion|American literature

Recommended Citation

Kelly, Nancy Rita, "Sarah Orne Jewett and spiritualism" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9207418.