Friday, January 29, 2010

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

I'm a little surprised that I never read anything by Gene Stratton-Porter since her writing seems like just the type of historical fiction I would have enjoyed as a teenager. But better late than never, I suppose, and I'm glad to find it now.

My book club is reading a series of Indiana authors, and Freckles is our current selection. It is not so well know as Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost, which is actually the sequel to Freckles, and next on my library stack. In a few words, Freckles is quaint, endearing, beautiful, and simple - quite different from The Woman in White, but charming nonetheless.

The title character of this first novel is an orphan who has come of age and is trying to find his place in a world that despises him because he lacks one hand. He hides his maimed arm with bitterness, imagining that his parents abused him and left him to die at an orphanage where he endured a loveless childhood filled with rejection. When he happens into a lumbering camp, he convinces the Boss that he will be a strong and reliable guard for the timber of the Limberlost, an untouched tract of swampy land that has plenty of dangers of both the natural and criminal variety. In spite of his loneliness and fears of the wildness of the swamp, Freckles is a man of his word and valiantly conquers his fears, resolutely stands up to the thieves who would steal the valuable trees, and quickly wins the hearts of all those with whom he associates.

Freckles' noble character earns him the respect not only of the Boss, who loves him like a son, but also of a wealthy girl from a nearby town, whom Freckles dubs his Swamp Angel. He is quite aware of the social differences between them, but his adoration soon becomes a mutual friendship as they work with the Bird Woman to photograph and document the rare and multitudinous birds and butterflies of the Limberlost. A sudden accident leads to many revelations, not only of love, but of Freckles' early history and identity.

One's first impression might be that this is an environmentalist statement from the turn of the 20th century, for the descriptions of the untouched beauty of the flowers, birds, and creatures of the Limberlost stand in stark contrast to the blunt reality of a timber camp. But even as the author exults in the beauty of the Limberlost, she does not idolize it. The author and characters assume that taking the timber is an inevitable part of man mastering the land. While some creatures are loved and admired, snakes are a danger that must be killed, and Freckles does not hesitate to kill an otter for a pelt to make a fine muff for his Angel. Thus, while Stratton-Porter was a naturalist, she was not an environmentalist in the modern sense of the word. In fact, I would say from the ideas expressed in this novel (albeit a limited scope of her work) that she had a fairly biblical view of subduing the earth, namely that man is both master and steward of the earth which God has given for his sustenance and benefit.

This will be an excellent book to read aloud to my children when they are older - maybe in the 8 - 15 range - and one that I hope they will enjoy reading on their own, too. It has enough adventure to interest a boy and enough beauty and friendship to captivate a girl. Since we only live a few hours from the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historical Site, where her home along the Limberlost has been restored, her books could provide the basis for a nice unity study on Indiana history along with a fun field-trip and nature study.

I'm looking forward to reading A Girl of the Limberlost as well as other titles from the Library of Indiana Classics series. Does your state or country have any distinctive literature that relates its history or uniqueness?

Favorite passage from Freckles: "Of course, you're not lazy! No one would ever think that from your appearance. It's this I mean: there is something fine, strong, and full of power in your face. There is something you are to do in this world, and no matter how you work at all these other things, or how successfully you do them, it is all wasted until you find the one thing that you can do best." (120)


Anonymous said...

I'm here from Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. The title of Freckles caught my eye because I read it and A Girl of the Limberlost some time when I was growing up and have wanted to read them again. This review is intensifying that desire!

I would not have picked up on what you said about a more Biblical view of environmentalism because I didn't become a Christian until I was 17, and didn't understand some of these issues for many years afterward. But I like that the book has that balance between using what God has supplied yet taking care of it.

OK, these books are officially going on my "To Be Read" list, which i getting ever longer!

Thanks for the review!

Amy said...

I read A Girl of the Limberlost last year and loved it. I'm pretty sure I read Freckles as a teen, but I need to re-read it. Thanks for the reminder!

If you're interested, here's a link to my thoughts on Limberlost--->

hopeinbrazil said...

If you liked this you'd enjoy her other books. I haven't looked lately, but they used to be hard to find in used book stores. I've read Laddie and Keeper of the Bees. Both good.

Carrie said...

I haven't read this one either! OR Girl of the Limberlost.

oh bother.

Beth said...

I listened to Freckles about a year and half ago and really, really enjoyed it. I need to add A Girl of the Limberlost to my TBR list.

Earth Girl said...

Oh, I hope you do visit us at Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site. There are two sites--one in Geneva and one on Sylvan Lake in Rome City. The Limberlost Swamp was near the Geneva site; after being drained during Gene's time, it is in the process of being restored. The Cabin in Wildflower Woods on Sylvan Lake was the home Gene built after the Limberlost Swamp was drained so she could continue her nature studies.

Anonymous said...

I loved Gene Stratton-Porter's books as I grew up. Very sentimental by today's standards. I've created a tribute page about the author at: