Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

I really should write a review of one book before I start another, because now I don't want to put down another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery to write about A Girl of the Limberlost. So I'll try to make this short (although a quick scroll down my posts indicates that is generally not a quality of this blog).

As much as I liked Freckles, I think A Girl of the Limberlost is a much better novel. The characters are much more diverse and developed in more detail. The story is more complex, though there are some similar features: a neglected child with innate goodness and a strong work ethic, details about the Limberlost swamp and its creatures, and a little romance with the male lover becoming deathly ill. I wonder if these are consistent themes throughout Stratton-Porter's novels.

Once I got over the initial disappointment that this sequel did not directly or immediately carry on the story of Freckles and the Swamp Angel (though they do have minor supporting roles), it was easy to love Elnora - to cheer for her hard-working tenacity and good nature and sigh over every turn of hard luck. At one point, Elnora thinks she might as well be a fatalist for all the bad things that keep happening, but in spite of many difficulties, everything turns out all right in the end for all the characters. In comparison with the fatalism of Thomas Hardy in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Elnora's life is almost a fairy tale.

In respect to characters, I appreciated how Gene Stratton-Porter portrayed Elnora's mother, the primary antagonist. She was so grief-stricken and, as a result, self-centered that she has no regard for her daughter until the truth about her late husband's character really does set her free. Her transformation of character is truly amazing, and a healing balm to Elnora, who had hungered for her mother's love for almost 20 years. Mrs. Comstock's transformation is not the only biblical truth illustrated in this story. Elnora's mother gives a wonderful speech, no, an exaltation really, when she accompanies Elnora to the swamp to collect moths (which was the primary way Elnora funded her education). As I mentioned in my review of Freckles, Stratton-Porter presents a biblical worldview that is quite refreshing in this day of political correctness.

"Young people," she said solemnly, "if your studying science and the elements has ever led you to feel that things just happen, kind of evolve by chance, as it were, this sight will be good for you. Maybe earth and air accumulate, but it takes the wisdom of the Almighty God to devise the wing of a moth. If there ever was a miracle, this whole process is one. Now, as I understand it, this creature is going to keep on spreading those wings until they grow to size and harden to strength sufficient to bear its body. Then if flies away, mates with its kind, lays its eggs on the leaves of a certain tree, and the eggs hatch tiny caterpillars which eat just that kind of leaves, and the worms grow and grow, and take on different forms and colours until at last they are big caterpillars six inches long, with large horns. Then they burrow into the earth, build a house around themselves from material which is inside them, and lie through rain and freezing cold for months. A year from laying they come out like this, and begin the process all over again. They don't eat, they don't see distinctly, they live but a few days, and fly only at night; then they drop off easy, but the process goes on. . . There never was a moment in my life," she said, "when I felt so in the Presence as I do now. I feel as if the Almighty was so real, and so near, that I could reach out and touch Him, as I could this wonderful work of His, if I dared. I feel like saying to Him, 'To the extent of my brain power I realize Your presence, and all it is in me to comprehend of Your power. Help me to learn, even this late, the lessons of Your wonderful creations. Help me to unshackle and expand my soul to the fullest realization of Your wonders. Almighty God, make me bigger, make me broader!'" (296-297)

Well, you see, I can't do short reviews. But I think that long quotation was worth sharing. A Girl of the Limberlost is a delightful novel for those who love historical fiction. Like the Bird Woman's photographs*, it captures a place and period of history that are gone forever, but the insights to human suffering and joy, truth, and growth of character are timeless.

*My library had a copy of Moths of the Limberlost, a non-fiction title by Gene Stratton-Porter, originally published in 1912 and illustrated with black and white photographs. (Apparently some earlier editions had hand colored photographs - now that would be worth finding at a used book store!) I did not read it in its entirety, but it was interesting to see some of the moths mentioned in Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost as well as read some anecdotes about how the author incorporated her own research and experiences in these novels.


Carrie said...

Well, that's quite alright as I prefer the long review to the short! And I still need to secure a copy of this book and read it!

hopeinbrazil said...

I read and enjoyed this book many years ago and had forgotten the passage that you quoted. Maybe it's time for a re-read.