Freckles (1904) is the prequel to the much better known A Girl of the Limberlost. When it was first published, it was confused for one of her “pure” nature picture books. I greatly hope to score one of those editions someday.
Stratton-Porter’s nature-worship permeates both books, as does what amounts to her HBD style racial views. People are quality because they come from literal “good blood”. There’s also a lot of modern touches, like limiting how many children you have to go all-in on one prized child, along with the obsession with diet and physical exercise as moral worth measures.
Stratton-Porter is a good writer, great when talking about nature and also adept at not letting her stranger themes overwhelm the core romantic nature of her books. But it was a bit surreal to see many of the things I lament in modern American culture were present a century earlier and are American traditions, as it happens. I’m still navigating this fact, that American traditions are so anti-social and self-focused, but there you are. Another interesting aspect of this book is how the innocence of the pure young woman who is Freckles’ love interest is not gullible or naive, but cautious.
The girls in Stratton-Porter books are not steeped in the grosser ways of the world, but they aren’t deluded that some men are not honorable and that even men who look honorable might turn out otherwise if given license. I think it’s interesting that early 20th century teenage girls were getting this kind of literature written for them, that encouraged them to be intelligent or at least self-directed in learning, well-kept in dress and manner, and to desire marriage, but to build interests before marriage that could be maintained in content singlehood if marriage never came around.
That theme is more developed in the sequel, but it’s still present in Freckles, where the Swamp Angel (Freckle’s love interest) is a soda artisan at the local soda fountain. Her drinks are the very best and she makes them for new people in town. She’s also the daughter of the richest man in town and exceptionally beautiful and in Austenian terms “condescending to all”. She is especially kind to Freckles, who is missing a hand due to a brutal childhood accident that has major plot significance in the last quarter or so of the book.
Freckles is himself an orphan who ends up working for a tough, smart, meritocratic Scotchman guarding lumber and being quasi-adopted by the foreman’s wife. The various digressions on the high-end lumber market are fascinating, as they show that even a century plus ago the “cheap luxury” of veneers and patinas was well established and a path to great profits for the ones who owned the thousands or hundreds of acres with the right kinds of trees on them.
Freckles does great at guarding lumber and winning the heart of Swamp Angel. He does anger a lumber thief and there’s some confrontations and dramatic action sequences, including Swamp Angel having to stand down the lumber thief’s gang with just the power of her beauty and well-bredness. And also a gun.
There’s also an author insert called the Bird Woman, who provides Swamp Angel with said gun and provides some support to Freckles in his quest to learn his parentage. Everyone says he is just too excellent mannered and upstanding to be an orphan from some trash background with cruel ill-bred parents. And, well, the reader eventually learns that indeed he is something else entirely and that the accident that cost him his hand had nothing to do with his parents. Since I am going to discuss all Stratton-Porter’s books, I will spoiler the surprise. Freckles is of noble birth and secretly very wealthy, and thus totally worthy to marry the daughter of the richest man in town.
I could easily spend a week’s worth of posts on each of her books. But this is just a very little introduction as I go through them all in publishing order.