Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Girl of the Limberlost

"If I am a woman at all worth while, it will be because I have had such wonderful opportunities," said Elnora. "Not every girl is driven to the forest to learn what God has to say there."

We tend to think of education as time spent in a classroom, pouring over books and listening to a teacher. But though these things are important, so is time spent in the world of nature and real life. In this sequel to her novel Freckles, Gene Stratton-Porter introduces us to a young woman who, though lacking in formal learning, has nevertheless gained a wisdom and maturity from the wild and lonely world of the Limberlost.

The Plot:

Elnora Comstock has had a hard life. Her father drowned in the Limberlost Swamp the night of her birth, and her mother has blamed her ever since. Consequently, she has been neglected and deprived of a mother's love her entire life. Her only solace has been the Limberlost, and more importantly, the many butterflies and moths that live there. Having "inherited" Freckles' flower room, she spends much of her time roaming through the swamps and soaking in its beauties. When she enters High School in the local town, she is faced with ridicule both from the prissy town girls and from her mother who sees book learning as worthless. But through it all, Elnora confidently faces her detractors and relies on her own strength and knowledge to see her through.

In the second half of the book, a young man named Philip Ammon comes to the Limberlost to recover from an illness. He spends his days helping Elnora hunt butterflies and moths. As the days pass, he is more and more taken with the intelligent and beautiful young woman. The problem is that he is already engaged to a spoiled socialite in Chicago. Now, Elnora must face her toughest challenge that no education could have prepared her for: an affair of the heart.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Though this is technically a sequel to Freckles, there are only a few hints of the previous story. Freckles and the Angel do make an appearance in the last part of the book, you can read this book before reading the others and still enjoy it.

this novel, Gene Stratton-Porter further explores the effect that time spent in nature can have on a young person's life. Elnora's life isn't as bad as it could be, simply because she has the Limberlost to turn to. It is there that she gains many of the qualities that make her such a wonderful character. Her patience, her confidence, her strength, and her knowledge all stem directly from the time that she spends wandering the swamps.

I have to say that I prefer this novel over Freckles in many ways. First off, Elnora herself is, IMO, a much more complex and interesting lead character. She has so much more depth and comes off as such a real person. The overall story itself has many more dimensions, and the romance is pulled off better as well.

I think that what I liked best was how Elnora is so different from that day's (and today's) social norms. She never attends college, but she is still extremely intelligent. She isn't stunningly beautiful, but she has an inner beauty that really shines through. She is not from an upper social sphere, but she has a grace and dignity that is very attractive. She has no plans of setting the social scene for her husband, but her simplicity makes her desirable to Philip as a wife.

This story has a magical quality about it. Whether it is Stratton-Porter's description of the beauties of the Limberlost, or the inspiring strength of Elnora as she faces life's difficulties, it is full of bewitching moments. This is a book that I wish I had read at 12 or 13 rather than 17 or 18. So if you have a young girl who is looking to break into the classics, this is a wonderful place to start.

The Movie:

There are at least 3
movie versions of this novel. There is a 1934 version and a 1945 version. I have only seen the 1990 version starring Heather Fairfield, Annette O'Toole, and Joanna Cassidy. This version only follows the first half of the novel, so all of the romance between Philip and Elnora is missing. It can give you a rough idea of the basic plot, but the book is better.

1 comment:

Lepidoptera said...

I saw the 1990 version on Wonderworks and remember being taken with the story. It did make me want to read the book, something I have yet to do.

Education is not a measure of intelligence. I firmly agree with the author on this subject. Also the topic of nature and butterflies and moths in particular is a big drawing factor for me too.

Thank you for your review. I need to write this one down so that I will remember to look for it after I finish my present read (Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby)!