Posts Tagged ‘A Girl of the Limberlost’

a girl of the limberlost gene stratton-porter 001A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ 1909. This edition: Grosset & Dunlap, circa 1927. Hardcover. 453 pages.

My rating: 6/10

Spinning my book-discussing wheels somewhat, trying to think of what to say.

An unusual book; definitely memorable for its strong imagery of beautiful Elnora, her white-haired, haunted mother, and the moths that flit in and out of every scene, until popped into the cyanide-filled killing bottle.

You see what I mean? This one made me downright squeamish here and there.

So here we are back in the Limberlost Swamp in Indiana, some years after our previously met fine fellow, Lord Terence something-or-other O’More, a.k.a. Freckles, has quit his timber patrols, married his Swamp Angel, and taken on his aristocratic hereditary mantle. The locals whisper his name with awe, and his benevolent shadow is present throughout the book, along with a more substantial appearance at the end of the tale. But in the meantime, the timber companies have harvested many of the trees, and oil has been discovered in the swamplands, so many of the smallholders on the fringes of the Limberlost are doing very well indeed.

One farm, however, remains untouched. The Widow Comstock’s trees are still standing; no oil pump brings black gold to the surface. Stern Mrs Comstock ekes out a subsistence living by farming, living off the land, and selling butter and eggs to the townfolk. She refuses to let a tree be fallen or an oil well drilled, as she holds the land as a sacred trust in memory of her dearly departed husband, whose acres these were.

Oh, yes. The husband. He perished most unpleasantly by falling into the quicksand swamp just out back of the family home. Mrs Comstock ran to the rescue, but she couldn’t save him because she went into labour right there on the edge of the swamp, and her baby was born as its father glubbed his last. And, get this, because the swamp is “bottomless”, the body is still down there, sixteen years later. No wonder Mrs Comstock’s hair went prematurely white, and she’s more than a little eccentric.

That baby, our heroine Elnora, has grown to sweet-sixteen-hood being deeply resented by her mother, with the only openly expressed love in her life coming from a child-less couple one farm over. (These folks had two daughters, but these perished early on; their parental love is therefore spent on deserving Elnora.)

Okay, this is turning into a saga already, and that’s just the barest setup. Let’s see if I can condense.

Elnora is desperate to continue her education past the country school and go onto high school in town. Off she goes in her clunky shoes and calico dress, only to be immediately and openly scorned by the other teenagers, and shocked to discover that she will need to pay tuition and buy books. Luckily a way opens for her. The kindly neighbours buy her clothes (which she insists on paying them back for out of stern pride) and she discovers that she can earn money by collecting Indian artifacts and nature specimens – arrowheads, rocks, leaves and insects – which she sells through the local naturalist, the Bird Lady. (See Freckles.)

Garbed in her new duds and with her gorgeous red-gold hair fashionably arranged, Elnora instantly becomes the belle of the school, winning over the entire student body. She is also naturally intelligent, and she excels at her studies, graduating at the top of her class. Attracted by some mysterious pull to try her hand at playing a violin left in an unoccupied classroom, Elnora is a virtuoso at first touch of the bow. (Must be heredity, because her dead dad was a dab hand at the violin, too, which is why her mother refuses to countenance an instrument in the house.)

Benda's illustration of Elnora and Phillip girl of the limberlost gene stratton-porter

Lovely Elnora and her wealthy lover, Phillip, dallying amongst the wildflowers. Illustration from the first edition “A Girl of the Limberlost.”

She befriends a trio of pathetic orphans, one of which is adopted by the neighbour couple, and in general is a ray of sunshine about the swamp. Butterflies and moths flock to her outstretched hands, to be caught and killed and then pinned to mounting boards for resale to collectors all over the world. ~ Insert subplot concerning rare moth here. ~

Then love walks in.

A wealthy young man discovers Elnora and falls in love with her, but both deny their feelings for each other because the young man is otherwise engaged. He leaves. She stays. He has a bust  up with his fiancé and returns to pledge his troth to Elnora. Complications ensue; Elnora runs off to spend some time with Freckles and Angel and their winsome brood of perfect children; young man has a spell of “brain fever” and is saved at last minute by his original fiancé’s agonizingly selfless kind deed of telling him where Elnora is hiding out.

Oh, and Mrs Comstock has a complete change of heart part way through, when she finds out that her husband died because he was creeping through the swamp on his way to a rendezvous with another woman, sneakily avoiding being seen by his great-with-child wife. Once that’s cleared up, Mrs Comstock comes to appreciate sweet Elnora, and turns into a model mother immediately.

I didn’t fall in love with Elnora as so many readers have, perhaps because I didn’t become acquainted with her when I was a young reader. My cynical side, which allowed itself to be fairly quiet while revisiting Freckles, surged to the surface while reading Elnora’s melodramatic tale.

Do you know what this book remends me of? Nothing other than L.M. Montgomery’s Kilmeny of the Orchard, which I read and despised last year. Elnora hails from 1909, and Kilmeny from 1910; almost-twin daughters of a style of story-writing just a bit too dated for my full appreciation, I suppose. (Or maybe it’s the common trait of these untrained young girls instantly mastering the violin…)

But sharp-eyed readers of this blog will note that I awarded A Girl of the Limberlost a respectable 6/10. That’s because, despite my rudeness regarding Elnora’s unlikely tale, it was very readable, and it kept me decidedly engaged from first page to last. And I will keep it, and probably reread it, though doubtless while muttering in annoyance here and there.

It’s a rather unique book, in so many ways, and I can see why there are so many fans.

Here are thoughts from a few other readers.

One in favour: Shelf Love: A Girl of the Limberlost

And one not so enamoured: The Book Trunk: A Girl of the Limberlost

I agree with both of these reviews, if that’s possible. To me, Elnora was a too, too “perfect” heroine, but there were glimpses here and there of something rather interesting going on, and I must say I loved Elnora’s mother at her very nastiest; she was the high point of the book, until she had her epiphany and deteriorated into being oh-so-nice and sweetly motherly and sentimentally soppy.

So another conflicted review of Gene Stratton-Porter’s work. Which means I’ll be reading more of her, I’m sure. She intrigues me, in a rather uneasy way.

And her many tempting food descriptions make me hungry. I’ve been thinking longingly since I turned the last page of fragrant spice cake and crispy fried chicken!

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