Where Readers & Writers Connect
My mother-in-law introduced me to an author I had never heard of who was one of the most popular authors of the early 20th century. She wrote both fiction and non-fiction, nature articles for a number of magazines and was an early environmentalist who warned of coming climate change due to man’s destruction of natural forests, swamps and other ecosystems. A number of her novels were made into silent movies. At the time of her death in 1924 from a car accident, she was one of the most widely read authors worldwide. She had fifty million readers in the US alone. At the time of her death, the publishers estimated that her books had sold over 1700 copies a day for seventeen years. Remember, this is in 1924.
So, who is this prolific, popular writer who time has forgotten? Her name is Gene Stratton-Porter. She was the youngest of twelve children of an Indiana farmer. Born in 1863, she spent her first twelve years on the farm exploring the swamps and forests encompassing the property. A lifelong love of and passion for the natural world and concern for the lose of ecosystems brought about by man made her one of the first to sound the alarm for the harm man was bringing to the planet.
Her books are sweet and appropriate for any reader, both young and older. They give us an accurate picture of life at the time of her writing. The moths, plant life, animals, etc. are vividly described. Things we consider hardships of the turn of the 20th century are simply part of everyday living.
It is interesting to read about the lunches The Girl of the Limberlost took to school and what they were packed in. How they collected and used twigs and leaves to make baskets and decorations. That a person could collect nature specimens and sell them to collectors in order to be able to pay for high school since education was not free at the time.
I’ve now read most of her books several times. A number are part of the Guttenberg Project available for free download in many e-formats and on Google Books.
My favorite is Keeper of the Bees which was published posthumously in 1925. A gassed veteran of World War One walks away from an army hospital after overhearing that the doctors do not think he will live and are sending him to a facility to die.
The phrasing in the books reflects the way people spoke at the time and is foreign to us. It adds a flavor which cannot be duplicated today as the reader expects dialog style to be familiar.
The Harvester, Girl of the Limberlost, Laddy, Song of the Cardinal, Keeper of the Bees–find one online, at a library, or purchase any of these and the other novels written by this early environmentalist and immerse yourself in how life was lived one hundred years ago.
Now nearly forgotten, Gene Stratton-Porter was once one of the most popular authors of her time. Read her works. You’ll find out why!
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Sophie Dawson writes Christian Historical Fiction; Healing Love and Lord’s Love (available Sept. 2012). She hopes to inspire people to live faithfully according to God’s word. A farm wife, mother of two grown sons, with one granddaughter, she loves to read, sew, knit and crochet. She also loves to snuggle with her cat.