Posts Tagged ‘Laddie’

Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ 1913. This edition: Grosset & Dunlap, 1913. Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer. Hardcover. 541 pages.

I had a really long post written, but I’ve just deleted it. My troubled relationship with Gene Stratton-Porter seemed to be getting in the way – I enjoy large parts of her stories (except for the appallingly racist Her Father’s Daughter ) but there’s always something utterly improbable to jib at, and Laddie is no exception.

Here’s the (only slightly) condensed rewrite.

First, the good.

This tale is based on Gene Stratton-Porter’s own childhood as the “afterthought” child in a well-off Indiana farm family of mother, father, and twelve siblings. It takes place not too many years after the end of the Civil War, which is frequently referenced. The family was most fervently on the Union side, and there is a major incident concerning a hideaway built to shelter stoppers-by on the pre-war Underground Railway.

The memoir passages taken from GS-P’s personal experience are, for the most part, absolutely charming. Depictions of family dynamics, sibling squabbles, beloved pets, and of course nature rambles, all ring wonderfully true, and kept my interest during the “fairytale” scenes, which were much more of a chore to get through straight-faced.

The hero of this story is the family’s middle brother, “Laddie”, based on GS-P’s own beloved brother, who died in a drowning accident when she was nine years old. The Laddie of the novel is the embodiment af all the masculine virtues; he never (and I mean never) sets his foot wrong, or does a mean act to anyone. The girl he (ultimately successfully) courts throughout this tale is virtually his matched twin in physical perfection, athleticism, intelligence,  and kindliness.

The only star missing from the Princess’s (for that is her nickname) crown of virtues is that of fervent religiosity, and she attains that by the end through Laddie’s efforts (he has enough religion for two), so all will presumably be well going forward with them, graced as they are by a kind fate which has also endowed upon them abundant financial resources and aristocratic English heritages, those last two always a Very Big Deal in Stratton-Porter’s fictions.

Oops, I’ve strayed into the bad.

Snobbery.

Gene Stratton-Porter’s most unappealing trait. She’s a snob, and that sticks out in great big bumps in every single one of her novels.

Sure, mere common-place characters are allowed to toddle about with her mild approval, but she was a fervent advocate of the “good birth will tell” school of thought, and so it’s no great surprise when it is revealed that Laddie and his family have true blue blood a-sloshing away in their veins, having ancestors back in the old country (England) who were Crusaders. In the family treasure chest is the old family crest; there’s an Earldom (or something similar) in their background, and once the equally snobbish (and newly arrived from England) father of Laddie’s heart-throb learns this, all objection to his aristocratic daughter mating with a commonplace (though well-off, well spoken, morally pure, physically perfect etc etc) farm lad magically disappears.

I think I’ll stop right here. If anybody really needs a plot description, it’s basically a gentle family saga, children being children, the young narrator (she’s eight years old or thereabouts) running free and then adjusting to the imprisonment of school, and Laddie, on the cusp of adulthood, courting his future partner for 500 pages or so before the inevitable happens (everyone says yes) and things are tidied up. There is another blighted romance which gets fixed up, a mystery or two, an adventure involving stolen money, lots of riding around on Arab-Kentucky thoroughbred horses, and tons of charming nature-related anecdotes.

And God.

Lots and lots of God. GS-P’s own father was a lay preacher of sorts, and so is the father in the book, so Biblical references sprout up on every page.

The happy ending relies heavily on the hand of coincidence; it is by far the weakest part of what isn’t really as rotten a book as my niggling criticism might make you suspect.

I actually quite liked Laddie, despite the frequent annoying bits and the “God-given superiority of the British upper classes” strand. It’s long, it’s glacially slow-moving, it’s full of off-tangent excursions and rabbit trails of thought, but there’s a core of sweetness, too and an appealingly obvious love of the author for her family and her childhood home.

My rating: (deep breath) 7.5/10

Okey-doke. Bonus. If you’re still with me, here are the author’s own words, recorded in Gene Stratton-Porter: A Little Story of The Life and Work and Ideals of “The Bird Woman”. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926.

In August of 1913 the author’s novel “Laddie” was published in New York, London, Sydney and Toronto simultaneously. This book contains the same mixture of romance and nature interest as the others, and was modelled on the same plan of introducing nature objects peculiar to the location, and characters, many of whom are from life, typical of the locality at a given period. The first thing many critics said of it was that “no such people ever existed, and no such life was ever lived.” In reply to this the author said: “Of a truth, the home I described in this book I knew to the last grain of wood in the doors, and I painted it with absolute accuracy; and many of the people I described I knew more intimately than I ever have known any others. Taken as a whole it represents a perfectly faithful picture of home life, in a family who were reared and educated exactly as this book indicates. There was such a man as Laddie, and he was as much bigger and better than my description of him as a real thing is always better than its presentment. The only difference, barring the nature work, between my books and those of many other writers, is that I prefer to describe and to perpetuate the best I have known in life; whereas many authors seem to feel that they have no hope of achieving a high literary standing unless they delve in and reproduce the worst.

“To deny that wrong and pitiful things exist in life is folly, but to believe that these things are made better by promiscuous discussion at the hands of writers who fail to prove by their books that their viewpoint is either right, clean, or helpful, is close to insanity. If there is to be any error on either side in a book, then God knows it is far better that it should be upon the side of pure sentiment and high ideals than upon that of a too loose discussion of subjects which often open to a large part of the world their first knowledge of such forms of sin, profligate expenditure, and waste of life’s best opportunities. There is one great beauty in idealized romance: reading it can make no one worse than he is, while it may help thousands to a cleaner life and higher inspiration than they ever before have known.”

Take that, nay sayers! Clean lives and high inspirations for all!

(Now I’m hitting the publish button, before I take it all down again. Cheers!)

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