Monday, April 22, 2019

A Girl of the Limberlost

A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) by Gene Stratton-Porter

The heroine of Stratton-Porter's book is Elnora Comstock, a sixteen-year old girl who lives at the edge of Limberlost swamp in northern Indiana with her widowed mother. Elnora is a bright, beautiful (both inside and out) girl who longs to make a better life for herself. She has gone as far as she can in the local school and makes plans to attend the city high school. Her mother is a depressed, embittered woman who has never shown Elnora a mother's love--in part because she blames the girl's birth for her husband's death. Elnora was born the night her father died in quicksand in the swamp and Katharine Comstock is certain she could have saved her beloved if she hadn't been in labor at the time. Despite Katharine's coldness, Elnora has grown to be a kind, compassionate girl who is wise beyond her years. This is partly due to her nature, but also to the loving kindness of their nearest neighbors, the Stintons. 

Katharine begrudgingly tells her daughter that she may go to high school (provided all of her chores get done either before or after school) and that all has been arranged. But Elnora's dreams look to be dashed before she's even begun--she arrives at the school dressed (to the city kids' eyes) in outlandish clothing, with no books, and without having the out-of-city registration fees paid. Her mother knew the books and fees would be required but didn't tell Elnora and didn't bother to tell Elnora. In fact, she hoped the girl would be so disheartened that she'd refuse to go back. It's obvious that Katharine doesn't know her daughter. Elnora learns that there are those that will pay good money for natural specimens (moths, cocoons, and the like) as well as arrowheads and she sets about selling what she has and making plans to collect more. An even bigger break in family relations comes when Elnora needs just one more moth to complete a collection that will fund her college enrollment. How she and her mother reach an understanding and become a real well as how Elnora wins over her city classmates and gains the love and admiration of a good man comprises the rest of this classic story. 

I grew up reading and rereading one of Stratton-Porter's other classics, Laddie. It was, in fact, one of my all-time childhood favorites and it still resonated with me when I reread it just a few years ago (see review at linked title). Whether my continued love for the book was primarily from a sense of of nostalgia or that it is just a much better told story (Laddie was published four years later), I can't say for sure. But I do know that I did not enjoy Elnora's story nearly as much as I did Little Sister's. It's possible that part of my difficulty stems from my inability to understand Elnora's mother. I simply cannot understand how someone could spend 16 years (and more...since the events of the book take place over several years) blaming their child for something that was absolutely not their fault. How a mother could be so cold and unloving to their own daughter. It is also quite possible that I would have appreciated the story more if I had first read it near the time I first read Laddie.

There are many reasons to appreciate the book--its lessons on self-reliance and belief in oneself, for one. I certainly do appreciate Elnora's thirst for knowledge and the desire to better herself. It was very good to read a story about an intelligent young woman's whose sense of self and purpose was strong enough that she refused to let obstacles (like her mother's refusal to help) stand in her way. And she manages it without becoming bitter. A good solid story that I wanted to like much more than I did. ★★

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