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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, "her body to be the mother of
children, and as her especial gift of Grace, he put Flower Magic into
her fingers." (A Little Story of Her Life and Work by Gene Stratton-Porter, 2009, pp. 4-5)
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 following her mother's death she left Wabash high school and never returned to graduate.
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 14-room house on the edge of the Limberlost swamp, a natural preserve for wild plants, moths, and birds. There Stratton-Porter began to photograph birds and animals of the Limberlost Swamp. Some of the photographs appeared in the magazines Recreation and Outing. Her first book, The Strike at Shane's (1893), in which animals refuse to work for farmer Shane until they get better treatment, was published anonymously. From 1900 Stratton-Porter wrote under her real name.
"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)
With The Song of the Cardinal (1903) Stratton-Porter
established her reputation as the "Bird Woman." The next book, 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. Like in L.M. Montgomery's novels set on Prince Edward Island, nature plays an essential role in the narrative. She once
claimed that fiction was not her primary interest but that her books
were nature studies.
Critics have attacked Stratton-Porter's "purer-than-life heroes and
positively incandescent heroines." Moreover, she has been accused of racist attitudes, especially towards Chinese and Japanese
immigrants in Her Father's Daughter
(1921). Referring to the book, James Omura describes it as "one of the most unjust novels ever to come off an American Press." (Born in the USA: A Story of Japanese America, 1889-1947 by Frank Chin, 2002, p. 124) "People have talked about the 'yellow peril' till it's got to
be a meaningless phrase," says the heroine, Linda Strong. "Somebody
must wake up to the realization that it's the deadliest peril that ever
has menaced white civilization." However, when her fellow student calls
a brilliant Japanese student "the little monkey," Linda corrects him:
"Man, you mean". Peter Eickmeier has argued in the article 'A Closer
Look at Gene Stratton-Porter and Her Father's Daughter'
(2011) that the author's commonplace racial remarks were a tactic to
hide the true goal, "to get her readers to regard East Asians as having
human intelligence like the white man." Basically she repeated many of
the popular racist views of her time that produced such charaters as Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan.
Stratton-Porter's 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 work, was destroyed by draining and oil drilling 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. In addition, she bought a plot of woodland bordering the lake. 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 chauffeur-driven 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: 'Gene Stratton Porter: Naturalist, Photographer, and Author,' in Bold Women in Indiana History by Louise Hillery (2016); 'Girls of the Limberlost: Gene Stratton-Porter and Opal Whiteley,' in Playing House in the American West: Western Women's Life Narratives, 1839-1987 by Cathryn Halverson (2013); Nature's Storyteller: the Life of Gene Stratton-Porter by Barbara Olenyik Morrow (2010); 'Stratton-Porter, Gene' by Gwynne Middleton, in Modern American Environmentalists: A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by George A. Cevasco & Richard P. Harmond (2009); 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)