Discovering the Archive

The archival piece that I worked with is a letter from Sarah Orne Jewett to an autograph collector. In this letter, Jewett quite candidly expresses her annoyance with¬†autograph collectors. She begins the letter, “Dear sir, I suppose that you mean by ‘an autograph fiend’ a person who troubles a busy person unnecessarily for his own profit.” The transcribers note that the letter is written with more haste and emotion than most of Jewett’s letters. The transcriber also notes some biographical contextual information about Jewett that would indicate that she was indeed quite busy at the time of writing.

The letter could indicate many historical insights —¬†a lot of which the transcriber already commented on. It gives us a sense of, for example, Jewett’s busyness at the time of writing, her popularity as indicated by her dealings with ‘autograph fiends’, or her attitude towards such collectors. A critical context in which this artifact might prove useful could be to ask, “what was Sarah Orne Jewett’s life like in the December of 1895?” Evaluating this letter, we might make any number of the aforementioned conclusions, which would subsequently impact how we evaluate Jewett’s works of that time.

Extending this discussion further, I would argue that Jewett’s express annoyance with the autograph collector to whom she is writing shows that she had many dealings with selfish and perhaps invasive collectors. These collectors demanded Jewett’s attention in that she was ‘simply urged by curiosity’. Thus, in the December of 1895, Jewett’s popularity resulted in the unnecessary inconvenience of autograph seekers at a time of an already-heightened workload.


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