A Daughter of the Land is flawed, heroic feminist

Gene Stratton-Porter was not only a prolific author, but a prolific author of bestselling novels.

A Daughter of the Land is better than any of her others.


A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter

1918 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg ebook #3722. My grade: B+.


The novel is about Kate Bates, youngest of 16 children of one of the richest, stingiest, and most egotistical farmers in the county.

Kate’s seven brothers each got a house, stock, and 200 acres when they turned 21.

The nine Bates girls each got “a bolt of muslin and a fairly decent dress when she married.”

Kate bitterly resents the disparity.

When her father refuses to let her take a summer course that would qualify her to teach, Kate borrows money from her sister-in-law and goes out on her own.

The novel follows Kate from Normal School training into teaching, courtship, marriage, motherhood, widowhood, and, eventually to love as she pursues her goals of “a man, a farm, and a family.”

Aside from one slip when she has Mr. Bates seeming to applaud Kate’s rebellion, Stratton-Porter tale of an heroic and flawed woman’s fight to run her own life—and a 200-acre farm—feels entirely true.

Kate makes plenty of mistakes along the way, but she accepts their consequences an moves on.

In my book, that’s heroic.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

When a Man’s a Man the unexpected happens

When a Man’s a Man opens in sermonizing style.

Fortunately, ex-preacher Harold Bell Wright soon climbs down from his pulpit, the better to tell what his characters are up to.1916-02_when_a_man

Early in the 1900s, a stranger walks onto the Cross-Triangle Ranch near Prescott, Arizona, seeking work. The greenhorn, who gives “Honorable Patches” as a name, has no work experience, but he’s strong and willing to try anything.

He’s hired.

Phil Acton, the ranch’s second in command, undertakes Patches’ training.

It doesn’t take Patches long to learn to ride, rope, shoot, and become a part of the ranch family.

In return, Patches puts in a plug for Phil with Kitty Reid, who misses in Phil the culture she recalls from her three years of school in Cleveland.

Wright puts in the standard elements of Westerns—rustlers, wranglers, wild horses—and a few Eastern elements: a desiccated professor of aesthetics, a cowpoke with a reading habit, and an outlaw below average in the IQ department.

Wright achieves a plausible, unexpected ending that makes up for much of the hackneyed in the plot.

And along the way he tucks in enough information about ranch operations to allow readers who dislike westerns or fiction to feel their time’s not been wasted.


When A Man’s a Man by Harold Bell Wright

Grosset and Dunlap, 1916.  1916 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #14367. 

My Grade: B-.


© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Eccentrics abound in Angela’s Business

By day, Charles Garrott, 29, earns a skimpy living as private tutor.

By night, he’s “the coming American novelist.”


Angela’s Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Frederic R. Gruger, Illus. Project Gutenberg EBook #34297. 1915 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.


1915-10_illus4Charles is a Modern Man. He considers his dear friend Miss Mary Wing a perfect example of the New Woman. She’s the first female City High School assistant principal and a rising star in the education reform movement.

When Charles meets Mary’s young cousin Angela Flower, who considers home-making a full-time business, he feels less scorn than his modernity might dictate.

And when Mary is demoted for championing a woman who ran off with a married man Charles is unwilling to call it “a plucky thing.”

Angela’s Business is raised two steps above the typical romance by its almost-eccentric leading man and a plot nearly too odd to have been invented.

Henry Syndor Harrison neatly sets readers up to expect Charles to fall in love with Angela and conventional attitudes.

But Harrison doesn’t do the expected.

Instead, he presents people who are bundles of contradictions.

They face challenges and learn, but they never quite get their acts together.

There’s always an emotion they can’t quite control or a question for which they can’t find an answer.

The result feels like life, only more amusing.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Home-Maker Ahead of Its Time and Possibly of Ours

Cover of The Home-Maker by Dorothy CanfieldAs Dorothy Canfield’s novel The Home-Maker opens, Eva Knapp is scrubbing the kitchen floor, seething at the price of cleaning powder and the ingratitude of her family for not appreciating  her hard work.

Eva’s hatred of housework is making her and her whole family physically and emotionally ill.

Lester Knapp hates his department store bookkeeping job as much as Eva hates being home.

When Lester loses first his job and then the use of his legs, Eva uses her store experience and knowledge of people to get a sales position at the store which had fired Lester.

Lester becomes the home-maker, relishing time with the three children as much as Eva hated it. He realizes, “There was no sacrifice in the world which [Eva] would not joyfully make for her children except to live with them.”

That a man could be more nurturing than a woman is startling for 1924, and the descriptions of each parent interacts with each child are extraordinary.

Despite its unethical ending, which I’ll leave readers to discover, The Home-Maker ranks with  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on my must-read list for parents, teachers and concerned neighbors.

The Home-Maker
By Dorothy Canfield [Fisher]
NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
320 pages
1924 bestseller #10
My grade: A

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni