Oct 8, 2015

A Girl of the Limberlost

by Gene Stratton Porter

If you loved Anne of Green Gables, you're sure to like this book. It has a rather similar story, set in the late 1800's. Elnora lives with her distant, embittered mother on the edge of an Indiana swampland. Her mother has a cold, unfeeling attitude due to the father's untimely death when Elnora was an infant, and yet Elnora is patient, kind and understanding beyond measure. She loves the wild things of the woodlands, especially the large, beautiful moths which she collects and studies. Her greatest dream is to attend school but she has no money to pay for books and tuition, and her mother refuses to help. She doesn't want the assistance neighbors and friends offer, either, but finds a way to use her knowledge of the forest and her moth collection to raise money for highschool. Through many setbacks, Elnora comes through with determination and not a little cleverness in finding solutions as new problems that arise. The storyline shifts directions when a revelation about the past changes her mother's attitude towards her. Later Elnora is attempting to raise college funds when she meets a young man from the city who is spending time in the countryside to convalesce from an illness. You can guess right away that something will develop between these two, but it's complicated by the fact that the young man is already betrothed to a wealthy, primping lady who isn't about to let some unknown country girl disrupt her engagement. It does end well, but the route to that ending was not what I expected, and really made the moral fiber of these characters shine.

It's a really good book, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't actually love it. In the first place, I was expecting more nature writing, or at least descriptions of the swamp habitat. There's not much of that. In fact, there wasn't any of it for the first 150 pages. I almost wonder if the book I read was missing some of the original? because a few other reviews I see online mention the first few chapters of the book having wonderful descriptions of nature in the swamp and forest, whereas the first chapter I read was about Elnora going to school... And the parts about moth collecting aren't until the later third of the book.

It's really mostly about relationships and while that is interesting enough to make a good story, the people are a bit too noble and kind in these pages, a bit hard to believe. The turnaround Elnora's mother makes is also hard to credit, so instant and complete. I was also rather dismayed how much importance everyone put on appearances, that Elnora and all those around her were so set on getting her nice clothes to wear so she wouldn't be scorned and laughed at by other kids at school. I think it would have made a much bolder story if Elnora had found acceptance in spite of her old-fashioned, poverty-stricken looks. And it distressed me how much neighbors kept urging Elnora's mother to sell portions of her land for logging or oil drilling, so she could provide for her child. Both mother and child obviously loved the land and didn't want to see it despoiled, yet they couldn't be in accord with each other? And if she so loved the forest, why did she have so few qualms about collecting hundreds of moths and cocoons, especially the rare ones, to sell to collectors? Grated, they kept stating how important it was to educate other folks about wild things, but it seemed a hollow rationale to me.

Am I being too nitpicky? I probably would have adored this book as a younger reader, and I do love the solid message it gives of being honest and forthright, forgiving and true to yourself, kind to those in need, etc. The love story that unfolds near the end of the book is particularly well done. It shows just how true certain people can be, and how spiteful others. How some people are attracted to each other for all the wrong reasons, and how deep love can go when you approach it in the right way (at least, in my opinion). Elnora sure is an admirable character. (Oh, and did I mention she is pretty much a self-taught genius at playing the violin?)

But I do want to read more of this author's work, particularly Freckles, which precedes this story. Its characters and events were alluded to a lot, without enough satisfactory explanation. The author wrote as if she expected her readers already knew half her characters from before, and while I often find rehashing of previous books annoying, here I did want a little more backstory! Maybe I would have appreciated Limberlost a bit more, if I'd read Freckles first?

Bonus material: looking for pictures of the beautiful moths mentioned in the book, I found these images of incredible moth sculptures by artist Michelle Stitzlein

Rating: 3/5      485 pages, 1991

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  1. Yes, yes! I didn't read this as a kid, and the reason I haven't read it as an adult is that I do feel it's the sort of book one prefers if one experienced it first in childhood. I feel like I've missed the window now!

  2. A very thoughtful review. Not a book I've heard of and I don't imagine our county's libraries would have it, though I will check. It would do for 'Indiana' in my personal US states challenge. Although, like you, I would want more about the locale and nature.

  3. Do try The Keeper of the Bees....I read that for the first time very recently and so so loved it....

  4. Jenny- Yeah, I'm sure if I'd read it when I was ten or twelve, I would have found no fault with it. I'd like my daughter to read it, there's such great examples of people doing good, but it's probably not exciting enough for her.

    Cath- You might be surprised. It is considered a classic. My public library has copies.

    Marmee- I will look for that one! Thanks.

  5. Anonymous10/09/2015

    Did you like Anne of Green Gables better than this book? I love LM Montgomery's descriptive language... is the style similar in this one?


  6. xalwaysdreamx- It's been a long time since I read her books, but I do think LM Montgomery is more descriptive. This writing is more telling, less show but still a good read.

  7. Jeanne, you were absolutely right, my county library *does* have a copy and I *was* surprised. LOL! I've put a reserve on it but there are two people ahead of me - possibly they read your review too...

  8. This was one of my favorite books from my childhood. I read it multipe times and loved it each time. I wonder what I would think of it now . . .


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