A White Heron by Sarah Orne Jewett, 1886
The magic trick:
Eloquently showing a young girl’s first glimpse of romantic love and the way that immediately scatters priorities and views
On the surface, especially in 2014, the idea of an older ornithologist charming a young girl romantically in order to gain access to a local bird sounds pretty creepy. But Jewett has a way of portraying that very scenario in this story with a gentle, natural touch. The ornithologist is selfish, yes, but not really creepy, per se. Jewett is very careful to keep his point of view out of the line of sight. His selfish agenda is only implied. What the reader gets instead is Sylvia’s young, restless, and bored, worldview. She is young and innocent and learning anything and everything. Her interest in the man is only the interest of a young girl desperate for recognition, and her journey toward making a mature decision about the fate of the heron proves heart-warming and inspiring. And that’s quite a trick on Jewett’s part.
But as the day waned, Sylvia watched the young man with loving admiration. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; the woman’s heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love. Some premonition of that great power stirred and swayed these young foresters who traversed the solemn woodlands with soft-footed silent care. They stopped to listen to a bird’s song; they pressed forward again eagerly, parting the branches, – speaking to each other rarely and in whispers; the young man going first and Sylvia following, fascinated, a few steps behind, with her gray eyes dark with excitement.