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


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

House of Coombe Pits Deserving Orphan Against Her Mother

In The Head of the House of Coombe, Frances Hodgson Burnett gives an unexpected twist to much-used tale of deserving orphan who triumphs over adversity.

Robin Gareth-Lawless might as well be an orphan. Her all-too-alive widowed mother has no interest in Robin at all until she realizes the child is beautiful enough to become her rival for men’s affections.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

“Feather” Gareth-Lawless is a mental and moral featherweight. Suddenly widowed, she agrees to be kept by Lord Coombe, a man of intelligence, impeccable tailoring, and disinclination toward marriage.

Robin is left in the care of a nurse, rarely sees “The Lady Downstairs,” and does not even know the meaning of the term mother.

At 6, Robin meets a Scots lad of 8 who is drawn to the beautiful, lonely girl. When Donal’s mother learns his young friend is the daughter of the woman Coombe keeps, she rushes her son home to Scotland. Momma thinks it’s bad enough Donal is in line to become Coombe’s heir; she draws the line at fraternizing with the bastard of his mistress.

Later, Robin overhears servant gossip that suggests Coombe deprived her of Donal and begins to hate her mother’s benefactor. Coombe, however, continues to act with Robin’s best interests in view.

Burnett tantalizes readers with speculations about why Coombe cares for the child, his relationship to Feather, and the depravity to which he stoops on his frequent “Friday to Monday” trips to the continent.

If Coombe is a mystery, Feather is not. Her particular brand of brainless nastiness makes Becky Sharp look saintly.

This is one romance that even those who hate the genre can love.

The Head of the House of Coombe
Frances Hodgson Burnett
1922 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #6491

Editor’s note: This review was scheduled to run July 25, but I failed to hit the right buttons. I apologize for the delay.

Photo Credit: Photo of Frances Hodgson Burnett from Stories by American Authors published by Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1900, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni