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Gene Stratton Porter (1863-1924)

 

American feminist, photographer, one of Indiana's most famous female authors. Stratton-Porter's moralistic and romantic novels have been translated among others into Finnish and Swedish. By the time of her death, her books sales had topped ten million copies.

"Yes," said the Bird Woman, " I will buy them, also the big moth caterpillars that are creeping everywhere now, and the cocoons that they will spin just about this time. I have a sneaking impression that the mystery, wonder, and the urge of their pure beauty, are going to force me to picture and paint our moths and put them into a book for all the world to see and know. We Limberlost people must not be selfish with the wonders God has given to us. We must share with those poor cooped-up city people the best we can. To send them a beautiful book, that is the way, is it not, little new friend of mine?" (from A Girl of the Limberlost, 1909)

Geneva Grace Stratton was born on a farm in Wabash County, Indiana, the daughter of Mark and Mary (Shallenberger) Stratton. She was the youngest of 12 children. Her father, who descended from British ancestors, was a licensed Methodist minister and prosperous farmer. He loved books and read aloud his childred and to visitors about great historical characters. Mary Stratton was of Dutch extraction and knew how to distill perfume from flowers. "God fashioned her heart to be gracious," said Mark Stratton once, "he body to be the mother of children, and as her especial gift of Grace, he put Flower Magic into her fingers."

Gene's childhood was shadowed by family tragedies. Her mother died in 1875 and her older brother, Leader, drowned at eighteen in the Wabash River. Later she portrayed him in the novel Laddie (1913).

Stratton attended public schools. At an early age she roamed the countryside and developed a lively interest in nature and wildlife. In 1874 the family moved to the city of Wabash. She stayed in school until she was almost twenty, but did not receive a high school diploma. After an accident - she fell on an icy street and had a fracture of the skull – she met during her recovery Charles Darwin Porter, a pharmacist from Geneva, a nearby town. He was 13 years her senior. They married in 1886; their only child, Jeannette, published in 1928 a biography of her mother. After oil was discovered on some farmland Mr. Porter owned, the Porters built a large house on the edge of the Limberlost swamp, a natural preserve for wild plants, moths, and birds. Stratton-Porter began to photograph birds and animals of the Limberlost Swamp. Her early photographs appeared in the magazines Recreation and Outing. In 1901 she published her first piece of fiction in Metropolitan magazine.

"Freckles lifted his hat and faced the sky. The harvest moon looked down, sheeting the swamp in silver glory. The Limberlost sang her night song. The swale softly rustled in the wind. Winged things of night brushed his face; and still Freckles gazed upward, trying to fathom these things that had come to him. There was no help from the sky. It seemed far away, cold, and blue. The earth, where flowers blossomed, angels walked, and love could be found, was better. But to One, above, he must make acknowledgment for these miracles." (from Freckles, 1904)

As a novelist, Stratton-Porter made her debut with The Song of the Cardinal (1903). The next story, Freckles (1904), about an orphan who gets a job as a timber guard in Limberlost, became a success. Freckles has only one hand but it turns out that he has much courage. During the story he falls in love with a young girl, the beautiful "Swamp Angel," and his mysterious, noble past is revealed: he is is the nephew of "Lord O'More." The book was made into a film in 1935 and 1960. It's sequel, Freckles Comes Home, was written by Gene Stratton-Porter's daughter Jeanette, and appeared some 5 years after her mother's death. At the Foot of the Rainbow (1907) was a story about two friends, the good-natured Dannie Macnoun and deceitful Jimmy Malone. Through Jimmy's deceit, Dannie loses Mary to Jimmy, but eventually love wins. A Girl of the Limberlost (1911) follows the life of a poor Indiana girl, Elnora Comstock. She grows up on the edge of Limberlost. When her mother neglects her, the swampy forest gives her comfort. There she discovers how Limberlost can provide her a way to higher education. In Michael O'Halloran (1915) a young newspaper seller tries to find a little crippled girl a family. The protagonist in A Daughter of the Land (1918) is the youngest daughter of a prosperous Indiana farm family, who fulfills her dream to own her own farm. Stratton-Porter also published three collections of poetry and non-fiction. Moths of the Limberlost (1912) contained photographs of moths, their eggs, caterpillars, and the environment in which they are found.

Critics have attacked Stratton-Porter's "purer-than-life heroes and positively incandescent heroines," and hatred for Chinese and Japanese immigrants in Her Father's Daughter (1921), but her depiction of unspoiled nature full of wonders have attracted new generations of readers, who share the author's fascination with wildlife. In Freckles she wrote: "Nature can be trusted to work her own miracle in the heart of any man whose daily task keeps him alone among her sights, sounds, and silences." Often Stratton-Porter did not name her characters, they were designated as rare examples of species, such as "the Bird Woman", "the Man of Affairs", or "the Storm Girl".

The swamp, which inspired Stratton-Porter's works, was drained and the Porters sold their house. They moved in 1913 to northern Indiana, where a new house, "The Cabin at Wildflower Woods," was built on the shores of Sylvan Lake at Rome City. The Limberlost Cabin was later obtained by the Limberlost Conservation Association of Geneva and donated to the state of Indiana in 1947. Her home and gardens are now a popular visiting place.

During World War I Stratton-Porter moved to California. She wrote editorials for McCall's magazine and founded in 1922 Gene Stratton Porter film company to produce movies of her books. She also began building homes in Bel Air and on Catalina Island. Stratton-Porter died on December 6, 1924, in Los Angeles, from injuries following a traffic accident – her limousine was hit by a trolley car. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in California. Posthumously published The Keeper of the Bees (1925) explored the feelings of the post-World War I generation. The protagonist is an injured soldier, Jamie MacFarlane, who finds his life again by bathing in Pacific Ocean and beekeeping. The book was filmed in 1935.

For further reading: Heroine of the Limberlost: A Paper Doll Biography of Gene Stratton-Porter by Norma Lu Meehan (1998, paperback ); World Authors 1900-1950, vol. 3, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers, ed. by Aruna Vasudevan (1994); The Technique of Gene Stratton-Porter's Novels by John Chase Bussell (1993/1938); Gene Stratton-Porter: Novelist and Naturalist by Judith Reick Long (1990); Gene Stratton Porter by Bertrand F. Richards (1980); Gene Stratton-Porter Remembered by Frank N., Mrs. Wallace (1987); Gene Stratton-Porter: A Bibliography and Collector's Guide by David G. MacLean (1976); The Lady of the Limberlost: The Life and Letters of Gene Stratton-Porter by Jeannette Porter Meehan (1928) - Suomeksi kirjailijalta on julkaistu myös teokset Unelmain tyttö 1-2 (suom. Frans Talaskivi, 1919), Limberlostin vartija (suom. Heikki Impivaara, 1920) ja Pudonnut sulka (suom. Katri Vala, 1936)

Selected works:

  • The Song of the Cardinal, 1903 - Kardinaalin laulu: kertomus lintumaailmasta (suom. Heikki Impivaara,1917)
  • Freckles, 1904 - Pudonnut sulka (suom. Katri Vala, 1936) - film 1935, dir. by Edward Killy, William Hamilton, screenplay by Dorothy Yost; a 1960 remake for Fox, dir. by Andrew V. McLaglen, starring Martin West, Carol Christensen
  • What I Have Done with Birds, 1907
  • At the Foot of the Rainbow, 1907
  • A Girl of the Limberlost, 1909 - Limberlostin tyttö (suom. Hellä Kivilinna, 1920)
  • Birds of the Bible, 1909
  • Music of the Wild, 1910
  • The Harvester, 1911
  • Moths of the Limberlost, 1912
  • After the Flood, 1912
  • Laddie, 1913 - Prinsessa ja rakkaus: oikein tosi kertomus ( suom. Astrid Sivén, 1925) - film 1935, dir. by George Stevens, starring John Beal, Gloria Stuart, Virginia Weidler, screenplay Ray Harris, Dorothy Yost; remade in 1940 by Cliff Reid for RKO, with Tim Holt, Virginia Gilmore
  • Birds of the Limberlost, 1914
  • Michael O'Halloran, 1915 - Päivännousun lapset (suom. Siiri Teirilä, 1924)
  • Morning Face, 1916
  • A Daughter of the Land, 1918
  • Homing with the Birds: The History of a Lifetime of Personal Experience with the Birds, 1919
  • "Why I Always Wear My Rose-Colored Glasses," The American Magazine (August 1919), 36-37, 112, 114, 117, 118, 121
  • Her Father's Daughter, 1921
  • The Fire Bird, 1922
  • Wings, 1923
  • Jesus of the Emerald, 1923
  • The White Flag, 1923
  • screenplay: A Girl of the Limberlost, 1924 - film 1934, dir. by Christy Cabanne, starring Louise Dresser, Ralph Morgan, Marian Marsh
  • The Keeper of the Bees, 1925 - film 1935, dir. by Christy Cabanne, starring Neil Hamilton, Betty Furness, Emma Dunn, screenplay Adele Buffington
  • Tales You Won't Believe, 1925
  • Let Us Highly Resolve, 1927
  • The Magic Garden, 1927
  • Coming Through the Swamp: The Nature Writing of Gene Stratton Porter, 1996 (ed. by Sydney L. Plum)


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