August 28, 2009

So, A Girl of the Limberlost is only a sequel to Freckles in the way that Alger’s Phil the Fiddler was a sequel to Paul the Peddler, but the text of A Girl of the Limberlost is kind of aggressive about insisting that the reader read Freckles as well, so I did. (The only thing Alger was only ever aggressive about was insisting that a fifteen-cent plate of meat come with a plate of bread.)

So, um…this is where Slippy McGee came from, I guess. It’s really disconcerting to me to see how much Marie Conway Oemler owes to Gene Stratton-Porter. At the same time, though, it’s kind of nice to be able to catalogue all the ways Oemler was better. But this post is not about Marie Conway Oemler, except in the sense that every post on this blog is a tiny bit abut Marie Conway Oemler. It is about Freckles.

Freckles, a boy of about twenty, has no other name. He was abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage in Chicago as an infant, badly bruised and with one hand cut off. He’s left Chicago and set out to find work, but few people want to hire a guy with one hand. He ends up at a lumber camp in Indiana, and talks the boss, Mr. McLean, into hiring him as the guard for the Limberlost, a swamp full of valuable trees that he’s just purchased.

Freckles’ job is to walk the length of the fence Mr. McLean’s company has put up around their land, checking to make sure it’s intact. It’s seven miles of walking every day, holding a heavy cudgel with which to test the fence, surrounded by unfamiliar plants and wild animals. At first Freckles is terrified of the swamp, and not really up to the physical work, but as he gets stronger, he also becomes interested in the wildlife. The foreman, Duncan, with whom he boards, helps him set up a case with a lock in a little clearing, and Freckles starts collecting specimens. He also decorates the clearing with flowers from around the swamp, and apparently the whole thing is a beautiful expression of his poetic soul.

Enter the Swamp Angel, who does have another name, but not one we get to find out. Stratton-Porter is so secretive about the Angel’s real name that she calls her father A Man of Affairs, so we can’t find out even a piece of it. I guess that’s fair, though, since Freckles doesn’t get a real name either, for most of the book.

The Swamp Angel is a girl who lives nearby and frequently accompanies the Bird Woman, the local naturalist, to the Limberlost. The Angel is very beautiful, and very nice, although she is no Mary Virginia Eustis. She and Freckles become friends, and Freckles falls in love with her.

Eventually Freckles saves the swamp from lumber thieves, earns the love of everyone (except the lumber thieves) and is horribly injured trying to protect the Angel from a falling tree. They find out that he’s the nephew of an Irish lord, and everyone lives happily ever after, although the Irish lord and his wife are sorry when Freckles decides to stay in the U.S. Also, I think Gene Stratton-Porter has a thing for emeralds.



  1. My memory of this is that Freckles has an amazingly strong faux-Irish accent for soemone who was abandoned in Chicago as a baby!

    • Your memory has not failed you. Freckles apparently retains the vestiges of an Irish accent from a time before he was able to talk.

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