Some books you meet when you are young and they live with you forever. Some you find yourself, on a bookshelf or in a shop or library where you take them home and enter in to find that they catch you and keep you. Some are passed on by friends who warn you of the crack cocaine qualities before you get hooked… but you ignore them & are hooked anyway. Some you read because ‘I have to do it for school/college’ and they worm their way into your consciousness for good or bad. And some are inherited. They’re passed on to you by the generation above as one of their favourite books, or a gift from their childhood, or the one they remember making a difference to their own lives.
I’ve read that a lot of feminist literature gets passed on that way: cookbooks, household manuals, crochet patterns and 70’s polemics against the patriarchal society are passed from mother to daughter with a ‘read this and act’ message deeply embedded in there.
Today’s book is one of those. My own copy is an ex-library version that my Mum bought from the library when she was about 13, and passed on to me when I was searching for something to read when I was about 13. I’m late passing it on to my daughter, but I should do, as a story that she’d like, and see what it does for her.
The Harvester was written by Gene Stratton Porter in 1911 and set in the swamps of the Limberlost in Indiana, where she lived and loved. She’s described by Wikipedia as an author and naturalist, and this shows through in her works. The Harvester is her version of Walden’s A Life in the Woods, showing how his pure, clear, simple life could be done for real. The hero is David Langston a 6 foot, blond, heroic Medicine Man who is, sadly, only fictional and next to whom many a real man must fall short. He’s dedicated, selfless, raised to honour and cherish all living things, loyal, brave, rich. Really he is too good to be true, but as a 14 year old girl he was my ideal man.
And the story is a beautiful romance: about how his dog, Belshazzar chooses his future for him each year; stay in the woods and be a medicine man, or go to town and get a different job, and whether or not to find a wife. The day that Bel chooses ‘Go and find a wife’, David kicks him… first time ever… but that night he has a dream of a beautiful, tall, thin, dark haired woman. His Dream Girl takes hold of him and he sets out, with single-mindedness and determination, to find her.
He also sets out to build a house for her. Up until now, he has lived quietly in a very Walden-esque cabin, sleeping with a wall open to the elements, bathing in the lake nearby, working and eating in a space that in Swedish terms would be lagom, not too big, not too little. It suited him as a single man, but won’t do for a wife. The book describes beautifully the planning, building and outfitting of the house, with wonderful descriptions of the rooms, furniture and furnishings he gets. I think The Harvester is personally responsible for my obsession with Willow pattern plates and china, but I am seeking out the ‘Dutch figured daily service’ that he gets for everyday use.
The book also speaks about the herbs and plants that The Harvester grows and collects to make the medicine that heals sick people. It’s interesting to see how many are still used in one way or another, and to realise
Of course, nothing is straight forward in a fairy story and when the girl appears she has a wicked uncle from whom she needs rescuing, and The Harvester is just the man to do it. There are other plot twists, which I won’t go into in case you read the book. Suffice to say, it kept me reading as a teenager and I still read it as a comfort book now.
It’s a fairy story, a beautiful tale, full of perfect people and situations. I suppose for some people it would all be too perfect, but I loved it as a young girl and I still love it. I know nobody’s perfect, but escapism sometimes if just the thing, when the world is too much with us and we feel like everywhere is doom and gloom. The Harvester is a good book for a slightly damp Sunday afternoon, when you have no where particular to go,a cup of tea in hand and a pillow and crochet blanket calling your name in that chair next to the window where you can watch the drops flow slowly down. It will take you back to a purer, clearer, decent time,when men aimed to be men, proper gentlemen and medicine was in its infancy and very often a matter of trial and error.
The Harvester is available from Amazon and other good booksellers, and as an Audible audiobook. If you buy from Amazon through the link, I think I get something daft like 2p per copy. As Tesco say, Every Little Helps! And the Goodreads reviews can be found here.
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