Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

Summary: Orphaned as an infant, Freckles has grown up knowing neither his parents nor his real name, but believing his family beat him and cut off his hand before leaving him with strangers.  He seeks work at a lumber camp, receiving the dangerous and lonely job of guarding the trees in Limberlost Swamp until they can be felled.  There he falls in love both with the beauty around him and with a young girl, whom he names the Swamp Angel.  The Angel, however, comes from a respectable family and Freckles feels all too keenly the social barriers preventing him from declaring his love.  A companion book to A Girl of the Limberlost.

Review: Certainly Freckles proves melodramatic and predictable at times, but no one who enjoys an old-fashioned romance will take any notice.  Some may find these points only add to the story’s charm.  After all, there really is nothing like reading a good story you just know has to turn out how you want it to.  Stratton-Porter did, however, catch me off guard at the end, just when I was expecting everything to wrap up nicely, but, I suppose that’s only testament to her skill as a writer.  That she has an unparalleled skill for describing nature and transmitting her love of it no one doubts.  I suppose I’d forgotten, however, that she also likes to make things very difficult for her characters.

I loved the story and I loved that Stratton-Porter had me very worried.  However, I found it difficult to love the ultimate message.  (If you read on, be warned that I what I have to say may spoil the ending.)  Stratton-Porter suggests at first that one’s birth does not define a person. Everyone around Freckles recognizes his good qualities, though he comes from an orphanage and evidently had abusive parents.  However, the Swamp Angel ultimately concludes that Freckles must have these good qualities because of his heritage—not because of who he is.

I recognize that Stratton-Porter wrote for the audience of her time and that judging the past can prove dangerous or hypocritical.  As a modern reader, however, I cannot deny that I was disturbed by the lesson that only those of high birth can be good people.  This was, for me, a significant flaw in an otherwise wonderful work.

Published: 1904

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