Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Girl of the Limberlost

I had never heard of Gene Stratton-Porter before my fourteenth birthday, in spite of my extensive forays in our library bookshelves. And my copy of A Girl of the Limberlost, the first book of hers that would introduce me to the delights of Freckles and Elnora, was sitting on a thrift store shelf in a completely different state before it made its way to me. When I received it for a birthday gift, I immediately dove in to find out what Porter was like, and that started a deep affection for her novels that has lasted to this day. Who wouldn't love her works? A delightful touch of nature knowledge, a love interest or two that is tastefully written, and always characters with the goal to grow into clean, knowledgeable, God-honoring men and women with big hearts that are determined to better the world. From Linda Strong to Laddie Stanton, and Freckles McLean to Elnora Comstock, Porter's men and women capture the hearts of readers from one generation to the next.

Many of you have heard of Gene Stratton-Porter, and A Girl of the Limberlost is one of her best known works. But it's a classic worthy of a review, and this time of year is one of my favorite seasons to read it, just as the leaves are turning colors and the little nip of frost enters the air. For some reason, autumn has always been my favorite time to read Porter, and this is the perfect season to pick up one of her works.

The Plot
Elnora Comstock wants nothing more than to earn her way through highschool. A country girl living with a mother haunted by her husbands' death, Elnora realizes that she must pursue her aims on her own initiative if she wants to better her life and get an education . Money is hard to come by, and she uses her knowledge of moths to catch them and sell them to the Bird Woman. Gradually she begins to earn her way; but as she finds freedom, the conflict between her and her mother grows, and Elnora doesn't dare to reveal that she has set her hopes on college. With one woman clinging to the past and one woman clinging to the future, a gulf impossible to cross spans between them. And when Kate Comstock destroys a Yellow Emperor moth, a rare specimen and the last one Elnora needs to complete her collection, the mother and daughter find themselves at irrevocable odds.

The Limberlost, that once sheltered the anguished struggle of a boy coming to manhood, now watches as a woman walks the trails and seeks to find her place in a changing world.

My Thoughts
Technically Freckles is supposed to come before A Girl of the Limberlost, but not knowing that at the time, I read one before the other and it didn't confuse me much. The plots are individual enough to stand without each other when necessary, though you'll certainly want to read both, no matter which order you take them in. Needless to say, as soon as I realized there was a book about this elusive Freckles, I looked it up as soon as I could and I was delighted with what I found. You can find my review here

A Girl of the Limberlost contains a very few instances of mild language, and the themes may be better processed by teens and up, to draw the right conclusion. At first I wasn't quite sure how to take this book when I read it, as I wasn't familiar with the author or her beliefs. I'm always pretty stringent with evaluations when I'm reading an author I've never heard of. But when I got a better grip on Porter's worldview and style, I was impressed with how she handled the conflict she created.

It's always a bit of a double-take for homeschoolers when the main character's chief goal is to earn her way through public school. :) But if we actually truly look into it, public school isn't the goal Gene Stratton-Porter is advocating. She was favorable to either option of learning, as is evidenced very clearly in Laddie, when Little Sister's learning styles do not fit the class-room goals and her parents pull her out to learn on her own. Public school is only a front for Elnora Comstock's real struggle: trying to grow in womanhood when her mother is trapped in grief, and wants to trap everyone else around her as well.
This is an age-old ache, and will probably be around until the end of time. Bitterness chains people, and bitter people try to chain others to keep them company in their sorrow. When this tension stems from an authority figure, conflict always escalates dramatically, and the reader is left wondering what is right. Should Elnora have stayed home until her mother wanted her to go to school, or was she right to refuse to stay in their dreary world of anger and ignorance?

Well, first of all, Elnora had other older and wiser counselors that she looked to throughout the story, so she wasn't acting entirely on her own wisdom. Her Uncle Wes and Aunt Margaret, as well as the Bird Woman, understood the difficulty of her situation and offered her as much help as they could. Also, Porter brings about a beautiful reconciliation that never would have happened had not Elnora stood firm and broken the legacy of hurt she was given. She and her mother became not merely mother and daughter, but a good deal like sisters and the best of friends. Porter handled the conflict resolution beautifully, and I think in a very God-honoring way, as she explored the themes of young adult and parent relationships. The situation isn't perfect; Elnora's reactions weren't always perfect; but the end result brings the right lesson to the reader's mind.

The other thing that excites me about this book is Porter's exploration of higher education for women. We live in the age where college is the American dream, and every woman is expected to highly educate herself. But Porter debunks the myth that college is the only place to get a higher education.

Elnora says, when discussing her college dream with another character: 
 "Do you really mean that you would give up all idea of going to college, in my place?"
"I really mean it," said Phillip. "If I now held the money in my hands to send you, and could give it to you in some way you would accept, I would not. I do not know why it is the fate of the world always to want something different from what life gives them. If you could only realize it, my girl, you are in college, and have always been. You are in the school of experience, and it has taught you to think, and given you a heart."

Many young woman across the country and around the world are choosing the school of experience over traditional institutions. Certainly there are cases to be made for both options, but as one who has chosen the former over the latter, I always find it encouraging to read a book where the heroine is willing to think outside the world's dictates to learn how she can best steward the talents and purpose God has given her.

Entrepreneurialism. Reconciliation. The love of God, the love of humanity, and the love of God's creation. These are all mighty themes, and in this novel, they are portrayed in a mighty way.
Gene Stratton-Porter is one of my favorite female authors, and she's well-worth reading and pondering. Perhaps you've read A Girl of the Limberlost, or perhaps you've never looked up this author before. But either way, her books are gems, and she, if anyone, points to the fact that fiction can be written for the purpose of instilling wisdom in the heart of the reader.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Sounds like a really good book! Laddie was so much fun...
    I think it's cool when an author isn't against the learning by experience in her book when it's an idea everyone stands against in our day and age.
    I forgot you were doing a post today--it was fun that you had one up! :D ;)

    1. You'll love this book someday. :D

      I nearly didn't do a post. :P ;) But I really enjoyed thinking back over the themes in this book. :D It was fun to get out again.

      Love and cuddles,

  2. Sounds like this book could be a much-needed encouragement to young women in the 21st century. ;) I think we have this book somewhere...I should read it. Maybe I can pick it up before 2013 is out. Lovely post. :)

    1. Thank-you Kal! I think you would love it, and it *is* very relevant today. Some of the conclusions might be mine from thinking over the plot (i.e. perhaps not as obvious in the book as I remember them) but I think the general themes are there. Let me know if you read it! I'd love to chat with you about it. :D

  3. Every once in a while I reread this book and enjoy it. "Freckles" is more of a favorite, but I like Elnora's story, too.
    One of my sisters and I put together an imaginary cast for a film version of this movie. : )

    ~The Philologist

    1. I would agree; I like Freckles best! :) What a fun idea to make up a movie cast for her books...My brother and I made up our own cast for Great Expectations once and were quite pleased with the results. :)

  4. My mom got me Girl of the Limberlost when I was about 12. I hadn't learned to use discernment with books yet, but I knew I felt for Elnora! She helped me realize I didn't really have it *that* bad with my own mom. :-D
    Once we found a luna moth in the yard and I only knew what it was because of her. My dad worked at Lakeshore Hospital in Chicago for a year, and we've been to Mackinac Island a few times. It was so awesome to have a story set in places, if not times, I knew.

    The more I read your takes on books I know, the more I'm enjoying your blog. I wish I had time to help you get the word out better, but all things in God's time and way. :-)

    1. You've definitely had some amazing connections to Porter's books! I've never been to Mackinac Island (shame for living in MI all these years, I know!) but it would be fun to see someday, simply for the sake of going a place where Elnora *lived*.

      I got a beautiful old edition of Porter's "Moths of the Limberlost" from our library system once, and I think it may even have been an original edition. It was full of drawings and descriptions of the moths she loved, with tissue paper inserts over each photograph. She truly had an amazing amount of work collected by the end of her life.

      I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog! I always enjoy talking to you through the comments, and I'm glad it has proved to be likeminded in the book reviews. That's always encouraging to hear. :D

      By the way, I visited your site for the first time yesterday, and was so impressed with all the careful work you've laid out there. What a blessing to see where the Lord has taken your passion, and I look forward to exploring it more as I get the opportunity. God bless your work as you seek to spread the message of a literal, six-day creation! I know it will be an amazing tool for families to help teach their children. :)


  5. This post was delightful! I love Elnora and Freckles and am soon going to Mackinac Island. Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Oh, how fun! I hope you had a lovely trip! (I have yet to see Mackinac Island myself. :)


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