Born in New Hampshire in 1868, Eleanor Hodgman Porter began writing as a second career in 1892. She was a prolific writer, but did not publish her first novel, Cross Currents, until 1907. This first novel was a children’s story that set the tone of her literary exploits until her death in 1920.
Porter’s most famous work is Pollyanna, published in 1913. Also a work of children’s literature, this book is the quintessential example of the author’s preferred genre and her place within the era in which she writes. She focuses on optimistic stories about difficult or even tragic circumstances which are eventually overcome, leading to happy endings. Placing Porter’s work into a specific era requires an understanding of the periods of American literature which fluctuated during her lifetime.
The Romantic period in American literature spanned from 1830 to 1870. Porter was born at the end of this era, but some elements of Romanticism are found in her work. Romantic writings favor emotional experiences over reason, and emotional experiences are central to the personalities of the protagonists found in her novels.
In the post-Civil War era, a period stretching from 1870 to 1910, naturalism and realism emerged as the significant methods of literary expression. Writers envision the world as it actually is rather than presenting idealistic stories appealing to emotion.
From 1910 to 1945, American literature entered the modernist period. Modernism is an experimental era in which writers sought new forms of expression. Modernist literature often centers on disillusionment. Since there are no hard and fast rules defining the era, some modernist literature ends with feelings of hope and happiness. These sensitive reactions to the setbacks faced by protagonists and other characters in Eleanor H. Porter’s stories are readily observed.
It is unlikely that any pinpointing of a single era to which Porter’s writing belongs would be 100% accurate. Her preferred genre is children’s literature, but her life and professional writing career span three major American literary periods, and her works contain noticeable elements from each era.