Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter

Laddie: A True Blue Story (Library of Indiana Classics)I finished this well over a month ago, but finally decided to play catch up on blogging instead of giving up just yet... It seems like this might be the year of Gene Stratton-Porter for me, since this is the third novel by her that I have read in 2010. While her works might not be as well-known or as memorable as L. M. Montgomery (there will never be another Anne!), I find them very refreshing, for they take me to a simpler time and place, a time when many of the foundational beliefs and values I hold dear were understood and simply assumed by the general population. It reminds me that it is not so much that I am out of touch with reality, as that the reality of life in the twenty-first century has lost sight of what is of true value. And I need that reminder, since it is all to easy to be caught up in all the stuff - from billboards to google ads to simply walking through the abundance of a grocery store - that we are bombarded with every day. So while some might find Laddie: A True Blue Story overly idealistic, I would maintain that it is an ideal worth imitating or at least moving closer to.

Laddie is considered the most autobiographical of Gene Stratton-Porter's novels, though she is certainly reflected as the "Bird Woman" in Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. She was the youngest of twelve children, just like Little Sister, who here narrates her own story and that of her family, especially her older brother Laddie. Faith and family values are at the heart of this story, and I love the fact that it is not particularly a "Christian" book, but biblical truths are woven all through it.

“All these outward things are not essential; they are pleasing, I grant, but they have nothing to do with the one big, elemental fact that a Godless life is not even half a life...I know God is big enough and merciful enough to accept even death-bed repentance, but what is that to compare with laying out your course and running it a lifetime without swerving?” (115)

“I knew it was a good time, and I could ask anything I chose, so I sat on his knee and said: 'Father, when you pray for anything that it's all perfectly right for you to have, does God come down from heaven and do it Himself, or does He send a man like Laddie to do it for him?'
Father hugged me tight, smiling the happiest.
'Why, you have the whole thing right there in a nutshell, Little Sister,' he said. 'You see it's like this: the Book tells us most distinctly that “God is love.” Now it was love that sent Laddie to bind himself for a long, tedious job, to give Leon his horse, wasn't it?'
'Of course! I said. 'He wouldn't have been likely to do it if he hated him. It was love, of course!'
'Then it was God,' said father, 'because “God is love.” They are one and the same thing.'” (345-346)

“I guess the biggest thing the matter with Pryors was that they didn't know how to go about loving each other right; maybe it was because they didn't love God, so they couldn't know exactly what proper love was; because God is love, like father said.” (394)

Little Sister is a part of a close-knit family even though many of her siblings are already grown and married. I especially appreciated the value of motherhood that was clearly presented in passages such as these:

“'Yet they tell me that you are the mother of twelve children,' he said, as if he marvelled at something.
'Yes!' cried mother, and the word broke right through a bubbling laugh. 'Am I not fortunate above most women? We had the grief to lose two little daughters at the ages of eight and nine, all the others I have, and I rejoice in them.'” (282)

“'Had I life to live over, I see now where I could do more; but neighbor, believe me, my highest aspiration is to be a clean, thrifty housekeeper, a bountiful cook, a faithful wife, a sympathetic mother. That is life work for any woman, and to be a good woman is the greatest thing on earth.'” (289)

The author's love of nature is evident the Limberlost books, but the roots of it are especially clear in passages such as these:

“It would take a whole book to describe the butterflies[Gene Stratton-Porter did write a book on moths: Moths of the Limberlost]; once in a while you scared up a big, wonderful moth, large as a sparrow; and the orchard was alive with doves, thrushes, catbirds, bluebirds, vireos, and orioles. When you climbed the fence, or a tree, and kept quiet, and heard the music and studied the pictures, it made you feel as if you had to put it into words.” (61)

“I was just wishing it was summer so I could steal out to the cemetery, and have a good visit with the butterflies and always swarmed around Georgiana Jane Witcomb's grave at the corner of the church. I never knew Georgiana Jane, but her people must have been very fond of her, for her grave was scarlet with geraniums, and pink with roses from earliest spring until frost, and the bright colours attracted swarms of butterflies. I had learned that if I stuck a few blossoms in my hair, rubbed some sweet smelling ones over my hands, and knelt and kept so quiet that I fitted into the landscape, the butterflies would think me a flower too, and alight on my hair, dress, and my hands, even. God never made anything more beautiful than those butterflies, with their wings of brightly painted velvet down, their bright eyes, their curious antennae, and their queer tickly feet.” (229)

This love of nature contributes to her reluctance to go to school, so the young philosopher offers some suggestions for improvement:
“Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes, and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickorynuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure. You could spell everything in sight and this would teach you the words that are really used in the world.” (267)

I see shades of Charlotte Mason in that last quotation, though I don't know if Gene Stratton-Porter ever read Charlotte Mason. This is one ideal that I'm afraid I can't fully embrace - between allergies, bugs (ticks, ewww!), and heat our outdoor educational experiences are somewhat stifled. But I do hope to do a few more outside activities and take advantage of the trails at some of the great nature preserves in our area.

Idealism aside, however, Laddie is simply a great example of historical fiction from the early 20th century! It has mystery, romance, wisdom, engaging characters, and even a few bad guys. I heartily recommend it for your next historical fiction selection.


Carol in Oregon said...

I love Laddie. I've re-read it perhaps five times, lent it, given it. It's a classic.

Thanks for the great review.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I haven't read this GSP novel, but I LOVED Limberlost, which I read last year. Here's a link to my review---> http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2009/10/13/a-girl-of-the-limberlost-by-gene-stratton-porter/

I'm adding Laddie to my tbr list!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I finally picked up Laddie this week, and I ran across your review again. I'm really enjoying it!