Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Face is Familiar

It is that time of year again. The blockbusters of summer are giving way to the Oscar candidates of October. This year, there a is film that is gaining a lot of attention, and one actress in particular. To most Americans, Carey Mulligan is an unknown who has come out of nowhere to steal the "Best Actress" spotlight. Her film "An Education" is getting rave reviews and winning awards at numerous film festivals. But those of us who who watch Masterpiece Classic have been watching Carey for a few years now, and it should have come as no surprise that she would one day catch the world's eye.

Us Anglophiles have been watching her from her beginning as Kitty Bennett in Pride and Prejudice to the sweet and beautiful Ada Clare in Bleak House to the conniving Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey.

Her sudden leap to American stardom does raise an interesting thought. With her potential Oscar nomination, Sally Hawkins' (Persuasion) Golden Globe win last year, as well as Kate Winslet's (Sense and Sensibility) Oscar win, one begins to think that the British are beginning to gain a foothold in the American film industry. And we are not talking just British actors in American films. An Education stars many faces that British Film fans will recognize like Domonic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility), Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day), and Olivia Williams (Emma). Hopefully this will mean that I will get to see more and more of my favorite actors and actresses on the silver screen. Hmmm...Richard Armitage on the big that's worth a $9 movie ticket!

Monday, October 19, 2009


"I see soft, slow clouds oozing across the blue, me big black chickens hanging up there, and a great feather softly sliding down. I see mighty trees, swinging vines, bright flowers, and always masses of the wild roses, with the wild rose face of me Ladybird looking through. I see the swale rocking, smell the sweetness of the blooming things, and the damp, mucky odors of the swamp; and hear me birds sing, me squirrels bark, the rattlers hiss, and the step of Wessner or Black Jack coming; and whether it's the things that I loved or the things that I feared, it's all part of the day."

Gene Stratton-Porter was many things in her 61 year life. She was an author, an amateur naturalist, a photographer, and an activist. Her love of nature and it's many beauties permeated all of her work. Though her first love was writing books on the study of nature, it was her romantic novels that both funded those projects and made her famous, both then and now.

The Plot:

Raised from infancy in an orphanage in Chicago, young Freckles is ignorant of both his name and his heritage. After he runs away from the harsh family that "adopted" him, he seeks work with Mr. McLean, a wealthy timber man who, despite Freckles' youth and missing hand, decides to give the young man a shot. He assigns him to guard the valuable trees in the Limberlost, a large and dangerous swamp in Indiana.

But the Limberlost is not without its beauties, and Freckles soon loses himself in its charms. He makes many friends from the many birds in the area to the Bird Woman who documents them to the beautiful and gay Swamp Angel. As time passes, evil continuously threatens both Freckles and the Limberlost itself. It will take all of Freckles' strength, courage, and nobility to defeat those who seek his ruin and win the heart of the Angel he has come to love.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I have classified this novel as Children's Literature, though Young Adult might be more appropriate. It is fairly easy reading, but is probably most interesting for those about 12 years old and up. Though it is very clear that this novel was written in the early 1900s, you can't help but like it in many ways.

First off, Freckles is the kind of person that you just have to root for. He has had a lot of bad luck in his young life, but none of that stops him. He gives everything he has for those he loves. More than anything, he craves Mr. McLean's respect and trust and literally lays his life on the line to earn them. No, he's probably not the most realistic portrait of a nineteen year old man, but he is a character that you can look up to and respect.

What really sets this novel off though is the way the Limberlost is portrayed. Stratton-Porter's love of nature really shines through and makes the Limberlost a character in and of itself. It fact, you could almost say the Limberlost is the most developed character in the story. I love how Stratton-Porter describes it in its many seasons from bleak winter to blossoming spring. Her words really evoke a feeling that is breathtaking and hard to describe. I'm not exactly what you might call a "nature lover", but this story really makes me appreciate the beauty that I see out my window everyday.

Now, I do have a few problems with this story. I've already mentioned that many of the characters seem sort of flat, they are either 100% good or 100% evil. But my biggest beef is how Stratton-Porter works out Freckles' heritage. Yes, it's cool that he is descended from Irish nobles, but Stratton-Porter seems to argue that he couldn't have been anything else. She basically says that Freckles couldn't have been as true and noble as he was if his family hadn't been highborn and honest. That isn't necessarily true, for many people have risen above their family history to achieve greatness. I just think it would have made the story a bit easier to swallow if his family had been poor and he had risen above them. Not to mention it would have been nice to see Angel give herself to him even in his poverty.

These are not major problems, however, and the book is still a nice read. For its noble hero and for its portrayal of nature's beauties, Freckles is a refreshing story for young and old, and one that I think many will enjoy.

The Movie:

There are actually quite a few versions of "Freckles" on film, the earliest being from 1917. The 1928 version actually stars Gene Stratton-Porter herself as the Swamp Angel.

The only version I have seen was actually released under the title of City Boy.
It only takes the bare bones of the plot and not even really that. It's not a bad "made for tv" movie, it's just not a very accurate portrayal of Stratton-Porter's original.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm Back

Sorry for the prolonged absence everyone. Life has gotten a bit crazy around here. Anyway, here are a few tidbits of what has been happening in the past few weeks.

  • A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Washington D. C. We went all over and saw so many wonderful and interesting things. As a bookworm, a trip to the Library of Congress was a must, and what an amazing place it is. First off, the architecture, both inside and out, is simply stunning. The ceiling in the main gallery is beautifully painted and the names and statues of various authors are everywhere. Besides the artwork, there were some pretty amazing things on display like the Gutenberg Bible, early American maps, and books from Thomas Jefferson's library (that is what the picture in this post is of). I found Jefferson's library to be particurealy interesting. He had books from literally every genre imaginable, from medicine and theology to history and botany. I also loved how the building itself just exuded history and learning and how the marble steps are worn from the many feet that have climbed them in pursuit of knowledge. If you ever get to go to D. C., be sure to make this one of your stops.
  • Did you hear about the Winnie-the-Pooh sequel? Over 80 after The House at Pooh Corner, David Benedictus will be picking up where A. A. Milne left off with Return to the Hundred Acre Wood. Michael Brown of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties (the original books' trustees) said "We hope the many millions of Pooh enthusiasts and readers around the world will embrace and cherish these new stories as if they had just emerged from the pen of A. A. Milne himself." We'll have to see if this new book can recaptrue the magic of the originals.
  • I've got books stacking up that need to be reviewed. Be on the lookout for reviews of Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, and Captain Blood coming soon.
  • This week marks the 2 year anniversary of "Complete and Unabridged". Thank you so much to my readers and commenters. I am humbled by your participation. You can read my first post here.