Friday, October 27, 2006

The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter

Gene Stratton-Porter didn’t know that this would be the last book she’d write. She couldn’t have known that shortly after finishing the last draft she would die tragically in a trolley-car collision in Los Angeles.

Yet somehow as I read “Keeper” I felt as if she was preaching her last sermon. Anyone who reads Porter’s books knows that her personal beliefs about home, family and life are clearly seen. But perhaps never so thinly clad behind the storybook characters as here. She speaks passionately on topics ranging from belief in God and prayer to healthy eating and premarital chastity.

There’s a lot about bees, too. In fact, the main character, James Lewis MacFarlane, spends a great deal of time tending hives and listening to the fascinating tales of bee life told by his young partner, little Scout.

As the story opens, Jamie is a sickly, disillusioned soldier recuperating from injuries received in the Great War. Although his physical body is very frail, his spiritual body is suffering even more. Bitter at the suffering he’d seen and experienced in war, he has nearly forgotten God and is completely and morbidly absorbed in himself.

Convinced he is about to die, when the chance comes to do one last deed for someone else, he accepts it readily. And this selfless act is the beginning of his Great Adventure.

Often, there is an overly melodramatic and sentimental tone which I dislike in books of this period (1900-1925). Despite this stylistic fault, I found the book to be pleasantly thought provoking and worth my time. I finished reading it more appreciative of nature and with some issues to ponder.

If you’ve never experienced the unique books of Gene Stratton-Porter, start with Laddie or Freckles first. These are the books which I consider to be her masterpieces. Once you’ve read them, don’t neglect The Keeper of the Bees!

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