The most well-known authors generally have a gem or two that are not so well known. John Buchan, for instance, can be recognized for his 39 Steps, and Charles Dickens for Oliver Twist. But some of their best works, likes Buchan's Prester John and Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, have been all but left behind on dusty old library shelves.
The same holds true for Gene Stratton Porter. Freckles is dearly beloved. (If you love the Irish, that is.) A Girl of the Limberlost probably edges out Freckles as far as fame and fortune go. Even Laddie and The Keeper of the Bees are fairly familiar to people who love her works.
But one of her dearest works, and best done, is one that I can't say I ever hear discussed. It's called Her Father's Daughter, set in post-WWI California; and if I could own only one of Porter's works, I think I might choose this over Freckles.
Good thing I can own more than one. :)
Before her daddy died, he took her tramping all over the Californian deserts near their house, and taught her to know and love the plants and wildlife there. Now, in honor of him, she continues her work alone, and writes anonymously for a well-known newspaper, with articles about how to find and prepare the foods they discovered in the wild. She's missed her father deeply, in the years since the car brakes malfunctioned and he and her mother died in a crash with her best friend's parents. With a big older sister siphoning most of the household allowance for personal use, and her friend Marian selling her place and moving away, Linda Strong has a lot on her eighteen-year-old shoulders, and she figures it's about time for a change. A fair allowance, for a start, so she can start dressing like a young woman instead of a lanky adolescent; and enough money to renovate a room in their house for a decent workspace of her own.
Then Peter Morris comes to town, a friend of Eileen's fiancé, with the intention of building his first house. Linda likes him; he's an author, and he seems to be a thinker as well. As she helps him choose a spot for his house and designs the gardens and grounds around it, their friendship blossoms into a beautiful camaraderie of two dominion-minded souls, and she starts becoming the beautiful woman her father wanted her to be.
But Linda's youthful naivety coupled with her knack for writing doesn't always turn out to be the wisest combination. She starts writing 'friendship' letters based off of Peter Morris, and sending them as an anonymous admirer in an endeavor to cheer Marian up. Things get worse when Marian is disqualified in an architecture design competition because her plans are almost duplicates of the winner's, and she turns heavily to the letters for comfort. Linda, knowing that the design was Marian's own, sets out to prove someone stole it from her, and finds evidence that leads her to suspect that Peter Morris took the plans.
As Linda gets nearer and nearer her eighteenth birthday, Eileen grows more secretive about the household affairs, and when the day of reckoning comes, doesn't show up to divide their income evenly. And Donald, Linda's best friend in highschool, discovers that the Japanese student he's competing with is more serious about leading the class than they at first supposed, and will do anything to stop him from coming out first.
By far, what I love most about this book is Linda's love for her father. Even after his death she honors his preferences, values his work, and seeks to grow in a way that would be pleasing to him. As she interacts with other men and women, her father's legacy is implanted firmly in her heart, and cannot be dimmed or forgotten. Even in the tension with her sister, Linda keeps in mind what her father would have wanted.
Porter doesn't pit one sister against the other and make one triumph in a power-grabbing kind of way; they each are faced with choices on how to interact with the other, and Linda's behavior is a powerful example of how to stand up against manipulation with integrity and graciousness. Without giving away the story, Porter is big on reconciliation and family unity, and Linda finds a way to declare truce so that she's not constantly at war.
The only negative elements in the story are several instances of profanity, and elements of racial prejudice against the Japanese. Some people hate this book because of Linda and Donald's fierce desire to get the Japs out of their school. That plotline never occurred to me as a problem until I started reading all the negative reviews on Amazon. But I think the prejudice against Japan is an honest portrayal of the pain Americans felt after the recent war, and a valuable part of the story. Linda and Donald are passionate about keeping America free, and protecting her from subtle invasions as well as open ones, and that affects their view of the enemies who had so recently fought against their country.
Another element I love is how Linda, though tragedy has deprived her of her parents, still has many wise counselors around her. From her elderly Irish cook Katie, to her new author friend Peter, to her wise young friend Marian, Linda doesn't lack for good advice; and though she's young and makes mistakes, she has a tender heart towards good counsel and isn't too proud to admit when she's wrong. Another refreshing aspect of this book is Linda's relationship with young men. Constantly contrasted throughout the book are her older sister's choices to flirt and manipulate, and her choice to work alongside, dialogue with, and build them up.
Linda is a wonderful example to young women of how they can be entrepreneurial and have a heart for the home. From beginning to end, her deepest desire is to see families rise up and grow into strong and healthy American citizens. She's a proponent for houses full of babies, and making cozy homes. But within that context, she uses both her writing and her love of nature to work for the betterment of every family who reads her articles. She combines family and dominion in a grand and glorious way that is a trademark of Porter's novels.
If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app on your laptop, you can pick up a no-frills version of Her Father's Daughter for free on Amazon. I highly recommend getting a copy.
I'm going to take a break from blogging next week to rest up and enjoy reading some vintage novels. I will see you all back on the 3rd of June!