A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter, Kindle edition. Originally published in 1909. 306 print pages.
I was not very familiar with the work of Gene Stratton-Porter before reading this classic novel. She was just one name among many authors bibliophiles encounter along our trail of books. Some authors we read, others we tuck into our mental Rolodex for a later date. Stratton-Porter was one I’d tucked away for a later date. I am grateful to say that I was induced to pull her from the recesses of my mind, out from among the heaps of jumbled authors and genres I hoped to some day read.
The Practical Conservative’s posted review of her work was the impetus, and after some reconnaissance I learned that Stratton-Porter is one of my favorite kinds of writers: the regional sort, highlighting the beauty and culture of a particular time and place. In this case, the place and time are the swamps and forests of northeastern Indiana around the turn of the century. It is in this context that we are introduced to Elnora Comstock, the young heroine of A Girl of the Limberlost.
The Limberlost swamp borders the land Elnora lives on with her widowed mother, Kate. As the story begins, she is a young teen who never knew the father who died while her mother was giving birth to her. Somehow, Elnora’s mother transferred all of her grief and bitterness over the death of her young husband onto the young girl. She was convinced that had she not been in labor with Elnora, she might have saved her husband from the tragic end which befell him when he sank into the quicksand of the Limberlost.
As we follow Elnora through her tumultuous terrain of life, her determination, kindness and virtue keeps readers at the edge of hope that the girl’s extraordinary character and work ethic will one day be fully rewarded:
It was a compound of self-reliance, hard knocks, heart hunger, unceasing work, and generosity. There was no form of suffering with which the girl could not sympathize, no work she was afraid to attempt, no subject she had investigated she did not understand. These things combined to produce a breadth and depth of character altogether unusual.
In the end, Elnora does reap the harvest she has so diligently worked for, yet without the fantastical sort of whirlwind that one often finds in these sorts of novels. One of the wonderful things about old stories is that they don’t often find the need to inject its hero or heroine with a fatal flaw. The postmodern tendency to denouce the notion of a character worth aspiring to gets tiring, which is I rarely read any modern fiction.
Stratton-Porter’s vivid portrayals of natural elements in the swamps along with the detailed descriptive categorizations of the moths and other creatures which Elnora was able to use to earn the money she needed to go to school were very beautifully executed. It was easy to imagine oneself standing at the edge of the Limberlost, taking in all the beauty, mystery, and danger one might find in a swamp.
I’ll end this review with one of my favorite lines from within it. Such wisdom could only have come from Elnora herself:
“I do not know why it is the fate of the world always to want something different from what life gives them.”
Heart wrenching and beautiful with a satisfying ending is my description of this classic book by Gene Stratton Porter. It would make an excellent summer read.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.