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Friday, May 9, 2014


Author, nature photographer and conservationist Gene Stratton-Porter was a favorite author of my late mother, also an Indiana native, who grew up perhaps an hour from what is now the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva. Stratton-Porter and her husband, Charles Porter, built a rustic 14-room log cabin home now far from the roughly 13,000-acre Limberlost Swamp in the early 1900s - and it was here that she wrote and five of her seven nature books and six of her 12 novels, including this one, Freckles and the one with which I'm more familiar, the follow-up A Girl of the Limberlost. I well remember my mother talking about that book, and the author - I'm pretty sure she even read it to me at one time.

So when I was offered an opportunity to get Freckles free at Amazon (through, the memories came flooding back and I immediately downloaded it. Written in 1904 - well before my time and my mother's - I expected it to be a bit stilted in language and with, because of Stratton-Porter's conservationist leanings, a bit of Rachel Carson thrown in.

That it was, and more; it certainly is reflective of a time when the "upper-crust" ruled and anyone without a well-documented family pedigree virtually was a non-person. That theme, almost above all else, came through loud and clear in this book, which follows the adventures of Freckles, a young man who was orphaned as an infant (missing a hand that had been cut off). Now grown, he's earned the favor of a man who owns a lumber company and is charged with protecting the valuable trees in the Limberlost - a stretch of swamp now owned by the company. Soon, a beautiful young woman enters - dubbed the "Angel" because of her love and acceptance of every living thing regardless of "station" in life. The story then follows their adventures in trying to protect the trees, the swamp and all the creatures living within it as well as development of Angel's relationship with Freckles, who sees himself as (in modern-day terms) a total loser because he's missing both a hand and the aforesaid pedigree.

The dialogue is, in fact, a bit difficult, especially given the language of the day and Freckles' rather thick Irish brogue. Presumably, Stratton-Porter borrowed the latter from her Irish husband, but we have no idea where Freckles picked it up, since he was deposited in an English orphanage as a baby and had no interaction with anyone Irish until he was grown up (a mystery that bothers me and not a few other reviewers). 

As I read along, I also kept waiting for something truly awful to happen (a box of tissues was at my elbow throughout). But this really isn't a tear-jerker; and I was more inclined, given the times in which I live, to want to smack the characters upside the head than feel sorry about their belief that circumstances dictated their destinies. But that was then, and this is now - something readers must keep in mind throughout. If you view the book as a love story between two young people and an environment they both love, it's well written and poignant.

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter (sold by Amazon Digital Services Inc.); 244 pp.

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