The choice for for Carrie’s book club for the month of June is A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, chosen by Stephanie at Simple Things. I had read both Freckles (linked to my review) and A Girl of the Limberlost as a child and for years had wanted to read them again, so I was glad this challenge gave me the impetus to do so.
A Girl of the Limberlost is a sequel to Freckles, but it can easily be read alone. Freckles and the Swamp Angel are referred to and appear later in the book, and the events of this book take place near the Limberlost forest and swamp.
But this is the story of Elnora Comstock, a teen girl about to enter high school, indeed to enter public school for the first time. Her mother doesn’t place much value in school and doesn’t give Elnora any encouragement or even advance preparation. So Elnora goes the first day and embarrasses herself by expecting books to be provided only to find out she has to pay for them and tuition as well. She is embarrassed by her clothing, hat, and shoes, too. Knowing her mother will never grant her the needed money, Elnora stresses over how to come up with it and then is told that the Bird Woman (also from Freckles and still not given another name) will pay for certain items of nature: moths, nests, cocoons, etc.
Elnora’s mother cares for her on some level, but that care is eclipsed by grief over her husband, who died in the swamp years earlier, and by resentment toward Elnora as the reason Mrs. Comstock couldn’t go to him.
The Comstocks’ neighbors, the Stintons, are friendly with Elnora and help her as much as they can. About the only time Mrs. Comstock ever takes any pains with Elnora is in a type of competition with the Stintons, or when she thinks others will see and care, such as with Elnora’s school lunches.
Things continue on this way until a couple of major incidents threaten to affect Elnora’s relationship with her mother permanently .
That’s the first half or so of the book: that crisis is resolved and the second half covers another storyline: a young man who is a relative of one of the townspeople comes to recuperate after being seriously ill. He sees Elnora hunting moths, knows something about them from his studies, and begins to help her. Her mother immediately sees him as a possibility for Elnora, but he is engaged to a “strictly ornamental” high society girl back home, and the rest of the book plays out that situation.
Elnora is not quite as idealized as Freckles was in the previous book, but she is still admirable for her pluck, determination, hard work, thriftiness, intelligence, and kindness. And there is again the theme of someone coming from humble circumstances yet working hard and making something of themselves, but without reference to “noble blood” this time.
I don’t know Porter’s religious background — I thought I had read that her father was a pastor, but I can’t find that piece of information now. But though I would not call this a Christian book, there are a couple of passages in the book that refer to God in a wonderful way, particularly when Mrs. Comstock watches a newly-hatched moth expanding its wings and is so caught up in wonder that she glorifies God for His wisdom in its creation and declares she never felt so in His presence as at that moment. In another place, when a different character has to face the consequences of her sin, the author says, “The wages of sin are the hardest debts on earth to pay, and they are always collected at inconvenient times and unexpected places.” My first thought was that I am glad that we don’t have to pay them, that Christ did for us. But she wasn’t speaking of that so much as the consequences or “come-uppance” a person has to deal with when their sin “finds them out.”
I spoke in my review of Freckles about the difference between naturalism and environmentalism. There is not as much of that kind of topic in this book, but one passage stood out to me. Elnora says “Sometimes I think it is cruel to take such creatures from their freedom, even for an hour, but it is the only way to teach the masses of people how to distinguish pests they should destroy from the harmless ones of great beauty.”
I had to admit I smiled a bit at all the mention of the beauty of moths: I tend to see them only as pests that eat clothes. And I thought it was absurd that a high society girl allows a whole ball given in her honor to be decorated in the colors of a rare moth when she personally couldn’t stand them.
I listened to most of this book as an audiobook and then finished it by reading the rest. Even though it is written in an old-fashioned style that is a little melodramatic and drawn-out in places, it was enjoyable.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)