Posts Tagged ‘E. McKnight-Kauffer’

green mansions 1944 dj w h hudsonGreen Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by W.H. Hudson ~ 1904. This edition: Random House, 1944. Introduction by John Galsworthy (1915); illustrations by E. McKnight-Kauffer. Hardcover. 303 pages.

My rating: 3.5/10

Memorable and deserving of its status as a literary classic? “Yes” to the first bit – it is definitely memorable – and “Sure, okay, I guess so” to the second. I can see how this one caught people’s attention, with its exotic setting and all. In 1904 deepest darkest Amazonia was still fairly blank on the world map.

Enjoyable reading? I am so sad to say that as far as I’m concerned, this is an emphatic “No!”

Ugh. It’s been a very long time since I read something that repelled me as deeply as did Green Mansions, glowing descriptions of Amazonian flora and fauna and Galsworthy’s effusive foreword aside.

Venezuelan aristocrat Abel gets mixed up in a failed coup and must flee for his life. He ends up in the interior of Guayana, someplace beyond the Orinoco River. As he wanders about, doing a bit of hunting here, a bit of gold prospecting there, he starts to gain an appreciation for the natural wonders of the jungle. He then falls in with a small tribe of “savages” and decides that maybe this would be a cool place to hang out for a while. Impressing the chief savage with the gift of a silver tinderbox, Abel slings his hammock in the corner of the communal shelter and settles down to being waited on by the women in between stints of building himself a guitar and condescendingly teaching the youngsters of the group to fence with wooden foils.

The E. McKnight-Kauffer illustrations in my 1944 edition of this book are lovely; the best part of the book!

The E. McKnight-Kauffer illustrations in my 1944 edition of this book are lovely; the best part of the book! Check out all the symbolic details that the illustrator has included here.

To condense greatly (which I wish the author would have) Abel encounters a mysterious girl in the nearby forest, in the taboo region where his host tribe will not hunt. She teases him with glimpses of her lovely self, all the while whistling and chirping like a mysterious bird. Eventually the two make contact, but as he embraces the elusive creature Abel is bitten by a deadly coral snake. He flees through the forest, expecting death at any moment, stumbles upon the camp of an old European man, and collapses. When he comes to, miraculously on the mend from the snakebite, he finds that he has found Bird Girl’s “grandfather”, a shifty-eyed elderly bearded type named Nuflo.

Much twittering about the forest ensues, Abel lusting after Rima (which turns out to be Bird Girl’s name) and Rima being all ethereal and hard to get. She’s the wood nymph protector of the forest creatures, etcetera. Meanwhile Nuflo daily sneaks off with his two dogs and surreptitiously kills the odd little animal, which he devours in a secret hideaway, joined by Abel who is getting rather famished living on the roots and berries which Rima feels are the only food needed to sustain life.

At some point all three go off to the place “twenty days away” where Nuflo discovered her wounded mother, on a quest to find Rima’s hypothetical vanished tribe. (Nuflo, “grandfather” title to the contrary, is actually no relation, but he had appointed himself guardian of the tiny child when her mother eventually died, some ten years before Abel enters the picture. Rima is now seventeen, making her ripe for love and hence fair game, as the author continually implies.)

Off to find the lost tribe.

Off to find the lost tribe.

Anyway, Abel convinces Rima that her mother’s tribe appears to be truly vanished, and Rima decides to return to the forest, leaving Abel and Nuflo to follow at their own pace, because she’s just so darned marvelous and ethereal (not to mention weather resistant in her spiderweb dress) and not requiring of any boring shelter or cooked food so she can travel so much faster than the menfolk. And she wants to prepare a lovely forest home for herself and Abel, as she has finally agreed to give in to his passionate entreaties, but she wants them to “do it” properly in nice surroundings.

So imagine Abel’s feelings when he and Nuflo come back home to find that the savages have chased Rima to the top of a tall tree and then burned it down, with her plunging to a fiery death. We don’t get to witness this, just hear about it from one of the savages, leading to the false hope that Rima may still be alive out there in the forest. (Spoiler: She isn’t.)

Rima's spirit lives on is the gist of this one, I think.

Rima’s spirit lives on is the gist of this one, I think.

Abel vows revenge, and goes to the next tribe of savages over (who are, naturally, sworn enemies to the first tribe of savages) and sets them to slaughter tribe of savages number one. Once everyone is dead (including Nuflo), Abel scrapes up Rima’s ashes, makes an ornate clay urn to contain them, and returns to civilization, where he spends his time pondering the wickedness of man, the glorious wonder of nature, and the sad fate of his bird girl.

I’m trying to think of one single character who didn’t make me want to vehemently cuff them at some point, but nope, can’t do it. Rima is just plain annoying, with her teasing girlish ways, her glowing red eyes, greyish-ivory skin, cloud of halo-like hair and spiderweb dress. Abel is a lout, living off the locals and rudely critiquing every detail of their morals, intelligence, appearance and lifestyle. Nuflo is shady to the nth degree, and the native tribespeople are paradoxically portrayed as universally unintelligent, deeply superstitious and highly manipulative.

I am glad I finally read this book, as it is so highly regarded by so many and so often referenced in literature, but I am even gladder to have turned the last page, and I have zero intention of ever reading it again.

Onward then, to something more palatable. I deserve something really good, I think, to take the taste of this one away. Let’s see now… maybe something by Elizabeth von Arnim? Of a similar vintage, to restore my faith in authors of this era.

This is how I felt after reading this book. (The illustration is actually from early on in the story, when Abel despairs at getting his hands on the elusive Rima.)

This is how I felt after reading this book. (The illustration is actually from early on in the story, when Abel despairs at getting his hands on the elusive Rima.)

And please don’t let my snarly review put you off. Thousands thrilled to this book, and you might well be among them. Here it is, online at Project Gutenberg.

Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson

Has anyone else read this? Loved it or despised it or felt completely ambiguous about it? Please do share!

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