Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To All Good Irishmen In General

book cover of 


 (Limberlost, book 1)


Gene Stratton Porter

Every spring I come back to one book in particular. It's a spring book; it can't be read with the same resilient ecstasy at any other time of year--at least for this bibliophile in particular.

It's A Girl of the Limberlost.

 A Girl of the Limberlost was my very first Gene Stratton-Porter book, which I received for a birthday gift when I was fourteen. I didn't know if it would be good or not--something about moths and a girl that wanted to go to school. But from the very first chapter I was strangely drawn in to this girl and her struggles (regarding love and otherwise.) Now that isn't today's review, because it was a sequel to another book, but I had to give you my very first impression of the Limberlost, the way it became known to me. In the last few chapters, I was even more strongly attracted to this author because of a cheery, grey-eyed Irishman. His name was Freckles--and I wanted to know more about him. So the very next time I visited a library, I braved the helper in the teen section, and asked if she could please help me find Freckles--because the computer said it was on the shelf. And she very obligingly found it for me. From the beginning chapter I was hooked.

Who wouldn't be? He's Irish.

Plot Synopsis
McClean, Scotchman, and rich partner of a Grand Rapids lumber firm, is in need of a good strong man to help him out. He takes care of felling timber for his company, and he has a position for a strong, burly guard to watch a valuable new piece of land that the firm has purchased. They'll be felling timber there in about a year, but for now they need to guard it from claim jumpers and timber thieves. The only problem is, he gave the job to a teenage boy lacking one hand and thin as a rail. And against all his better judgement, he gave it to the lad to see him win out against adversity. Thousands of dollars of valuable lumber stand in the balance.
Freckles was left a nameless waif on the steps of a Chicago orphanage, a wailing baby lacking one hand and rowed over until he was purple with bruises. Nineteen years later, he's still smarting under the cloud of  'not being wanted' through all the unhappy years of orphanage love. Scared to death in the cool depths of an untouched forest, the loneliness of the city changed to the loneliness of absolute isolation from human society. True, he boards with the Duncans at night, but during the day--and alone in the forest, with all the animal sounds he doesn't know--is cruel torture to his imaginative Irish blood.
Through the winter he fights on against his fear, walking the trail around the claim twice every day to test the fence lines and look for trouble. He befriends the beasts and the birds for lack of human society, and in the spring his life begins to look upward. He has a bit of money in the bank, a few books to learn about the wildlife he sees, and the trust of his beloved Boss, McClean. And then, a few months before his job runs out, the trouble piles up thick and fast. He passes up an opportunity to sell out the Boss--with his fists--and the sneaking spy who offered it to him is out for his revenge. Footsteps left in the muck of the swamp, flying bullets, and relentless saws challenge McClean's wager that he won't find a fresh stump in the Limberlost when he comes to take out the timber in the fall. And amidst all this danger, a beautiful Angel comes to Freckles--the Swamp Angel. A girl of sixteen, who comes with her friend the Bird Woman to help take pictures of the undisturbed wildlife for a nature book.

And his heart falls with such a loud thump at the Angel's feet, that he forever wonders why she never heard it.

Pursued by villains wanting revenge, tortured with the thought of parents who didn't love him and a hand forever lost, honorably loving a sixteen-year-old girl who never seems to notice his disfigurements, Freckles determines to fight out his difficulties with his soul and his honor intact. And just as the sun is rising on his destiny, a falling tree threatens to blight his prospects of love and happiness and life itself.

My Thoughts
To be honest, I was quite perturbed when I was discussing Freckles with someone, only to find that they had laughed at the poor fellow all the way through. Everyone else I have discussed this with has lamented with me. Yes, he's passionate, and he isn't afraid of expressing his feelings. Or to be quite honest, emotions. Freckles isn't afraid of expressing his love for McClean, the man who gave him a name and a job. He loves to praise the Bird Woman and the Angel for being 'out of the common run'. And he isn't afraid to admit--to the appropriate confidantes--that he loves the Angel. He's a bit blind on the question of his parentage, because he's had so long to brood over it alone. But he dearly wants to believe the best of them, whoever they may be. The fact is, Freckles combines the best of both worlds. He's a tender-hearted fellow with an appreciation for the birds and the beasts, and the good character of people he comes in contact with. He's chivalrous to a fault. But just give him the opportunity to stand firm in the face of danger, and he's a very wildcat for fighting stamina. He's a gentleman, and and Irish one at that. With a lovely little accent, droll wit, and beautiful imagery in his descriptions of people and nature, I was enchanted to make a further acquaintance with him after A Girl of the Limberlost.
Being a lumber camp there's language here and there, which I took care of appropriately. But the nice thing about this book is that the men are gentlemen in the presence of ladies. Not an unsuitable phrase passes their lips in the presence of women, whatever may happen after the women depart. And they go out of their way to make sure the ladies feel protected and valued.

Allow me one rant. :) I'll try to make it brief. Gene Stratton-Porter's daughter, Jeanette, tried to write a sequel to Freckles called Freckles Comes Home. I had the misfortune to find it at the library. I don't know who the main character is, but the  spoiled rich boy living in Ireland who forgets the Angel in the whiles of a really really irritating woman is not Freckles. Jeneatte Porter has the audacity to give the Angel a name (you'll never know her christened name in the original books) and make the Angel engage herself to another man because she's tired of waiting for Freckles.And she added in a romance between the Bird Woman and the Angel's father.  Oh, yes, of course it all gets straightened out. But I was quite upset by the end of it, because it didn't seem like Gene Stratton-Porter to do something like that to her men. She isn't the type to have a protagonist with a shining upright character turn into a  lazy effeminate man wasting his time until his twenty-first birthday. I was so relieved to find out it was the daughter's fault; it really bothered me that anyone would write a sequel of that calibre. Fortunately none of the ruckus could be true, because it doesn't fit chronologically in the space between Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. And even if it did, it wouldn't be in keeping with the character of Freckles, McClean, or the Angel.

Once you know Freckles, you'll be indignant at the idea of such a sequel. It's as bad as the Jane Austen sequels that have romances between Susan Price and Henry Crawford.

This sounds like another blog article sometime. I'll jot the idea down for future reference.

I hope you enjoy the story of Freckles as much as I have. I've walked the Limberlost trail  about six or seven times since my first acquaintance with him. Reading this special story of courage and redemption was an excellent way to start my summer reading for this year.

I leave you with one of his best quotes:

"Nobody ever puts the width of the ocean between me and the Angel. From here to the Limberlost is all I can be bearing peaceable. I want the education, and then I want to work and live here in the country where I was born, and where the ashes of me father and mother rest. I'll be glad to see Ireland...but I ain't ever staying long. All me heart is the Angel's, and the Limberlost is calling every minute."

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Sister,
    Excellent post! Sssssoooooo...When. can I read it? :)
    Love, Sister

    1. Thank-you, Sister dear. I was fourteen when I read it. :)

      Love and cuddles,

  2. Dear Lady Bibliophile,
    Everyone at our house who has read Freckles loves it, too. He is such a unique and noble character, and his relationship with McLean is so sweet. I was similarly horrified by the supposed "sequel" when I read it several years ago...I have gone back and re-read both Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost multiple times, but never the one in between.
    One of our favorite moments is when the Angel threatens to slap Freckles and his Irish soul bursts forth irresistibly... *broad smile*
    Thank you for your wonderful book reviews!
    ~The Philologist

    1. Ah, yes.

      "You just try dying and you'll get a good slap!" Or something to that effect. That is one of the most memorable quotes in the whole book. I burst out laughing whenever I remember it. :)

      I was so glad when I first heard from you that it was the daughter that wrote the sequel. I suspected as much, but you confirmed it for me. That was such a relief. And then I read A Girl of the Limberlost, and realized that it was impossible anyway, because it didn't fit chronologically with all of Freckles' children and Elnora seeing him on the trail when she was little.

      So glad you enjoyed another bibliophile's thoughts regarding Freckles. :)


  3. Oh, Freckles is my favorite novel. I am always inspired by Stratton-Porter's work. I just found your blog and I was absolutely delighted to find out that there are more books in the Scarlet Pimpernel series. Summer reading list, here I come!
    Amen on the sequel. I was sort of glad at fist when The Angel was given a name, but I'm not so sure of it now. It sort of make her normal, and that's sad. But what really annoyed me was the discrepancy in eras. Freckles Comes Home was written twenty-five tears after Freckles, and it shows clearly through the writing, You know, everyone's a 'peach', etc. etc. Not for me.
    Anyway, I'm glad to have found your blog, since I'm an avid reader and aspiring writer myself. --Lydia

    1. Stratton-Porter is one of our best samples of American lit. :) It's a pity more people don't know of her.
      You'll love the Scarlet Pimpernel sequels! There are oodles of them, and Eldorado is my favorite. You can find all the ebooks here: http://blakeneymanor.com/series.html
      That should keep you busy for a summer. :) I haven't gotten through them all, but I would like to get some more.

      Thanks so much for stopping by; it was a pleasure to have you. What do you like to write?


  4. Oh I adore girl of the limberlost, and the angel and freckles would have had to get married fairly quickly chronologically. The oldest child is 8. Angel was at her birthday party when she was already 16..so she's 17 by the end of the book..so if she was married in 1899 she could easily have the # of children and would be about 28..making freckles 33 or so in 1908. The chains bike that is new that freckles has was common only in the years 1897/98. I've sort of been obsessed about picking the two books apart chronologically. But girl of the limberlost and freckles work as long as you expect a girl in 1900 may well have finished school by 16 (which was common and married by 18..which was not uncommon (although not as pervasive as people seem to think. I'm sorry to say that I did not care for "freckles comes home which was written by jeanette porter not gene stratton porter. The angel becomes a slang throughly modern 1920's ' millie. Freckles has no spirit, and lord and lady O'Mara who were darling and sweet in the book become awful and pompous and hen pecked respectivly. I do think the actions of angel are in character , but not the speech, and it is cute the bird woman and angels father make a nice couple. I had read a review where someone objected to kate Comstock in girl of the limberlost peeling off her farm layers of being "brown as a nut" it's not porters fault that society valued a peaches and cream complexion. I thought not using names was delightful. As a victorianism I loved hearing about the clothing styles. To move into town kate Comstock would buy new cities clothes and have a facial. Today we'd spray tan botox and have a manicure so..it's all relative. So freckles and girl of the limberlost are sweet. I would love to know if any of freckles comes home was ever written out by the original author. I wish I knew history of that. "Freckles comes home" is too "the bees knees and though the title chapters are written in the same form the complexity and descriptive power of the writing fails. I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it well enough as a bobs twins grow up kind of book if it were stand alone, but since it was not intended to take place in the 1920's and yet so clearly does it is rather awful. Just read the first two and use your imagination if you want to know more about freckles and angel and elnora.


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