Like Upton Sinclair, Gene Stratton-Porter struck a chord with readers that literary critics found dissonant. As quoted in Judith Reick Long’s 1990 biography, Stratton-Porter puzzled over their disdain:
A thing utterly baffling to me is why the life history of the sins and shortcomings of a man [as in, person] should constitute a book of realism, and the life history of a just and incorruptible man should constitute a book of idealism. Is not a moral man as real as an immoral one?
H.G. Wells might have answered her that the real man is neither moral nor immoral but a bit of both – or that he certainly should be.
At the same time, the sincerity of Stratton-Porter’s outlook and prose, and its wide appeal (with millions of readers around the world), hold some clue as to an earlier, now exotic mindset, one that unselfconsciously embraces the familiar and the domestic. One reader, an American soldier serving in France in 1919, wrote to express thanks for the comfort he’d taken from A Girl of the Limberlost:
It sounded so American and the nature suggestions brought me back to myself again. I have wondered if I would be able to drop back in my old groove when I return and enjoy the things which used to give me my finest recreation. The book helped assure me that I could.
Barry Unsworth, in The Rage of the Vulture, captures the same idea when he describes another soldier’s image of home as “the territory one hoped to recover again, oneself miraculously perfect still, unwounded, unmutilated, whole.”
With the ideal of sincerity comes this distinctly un-Freudian conception of wholeness, that we might see ourselves truly and fully, as though from a distance, and find nothing from which to recoil.