One of the many things I’ve loved about being part of the book-blogging world is that whenever I feel solitary in my love of a book or author, I know I’m not. No matter what it is, there’s bound to be someone out there who has read the same book I have and has enjoyed it as much as I have. (And those of you who haven’t will sigh, and add the book to your growing TBR mountains.) So the fact that no one I know in real life has ever read anything by Gene Stratton-Porter doesn’t matter a bit, right?
A Girl of the Limberlost, written in 1906, is the story of Elnora Comstock. Elnora’s mother suffered a tragedy when she was young, and has had to struggle with raising Elnora on her own; the difficulty of the struggle has made her bitter, and she shows no affection to her daughter. As the story opens, Elnora is ready to go to her first day of high school: she is ill-dressed, too poor to afford books, and ignorant of where she must go and what she must do, but she is generous, compassionate, intelligent, candid, and utterly determined not to be beaten. The first half of the book tells of how she uses her hard-won knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Limberlost forest of Indiana to earn her way through school and into the hearts of her classmates, her teachers, and (eventually) her mother.
The second half of the book builds on the first. Still depending on the Limberlost’s moths, butterflies, plants, flowers, and other natural assets for her living, Elnora is determined to pay her way through college. She meets a young man named Philip Ammon, engaged to a society girl at home, who offers to help her collect her specimens. The story of their friendship, and what happens next, is a romance, an adventure, and a lovely example of nature writing all at the same time.
This book is, to my mind, completely satisfying. Stratton-Porter has every detail right, from the buckles on Elnora’s new leather lunchbox to the perfection of the great night moths she collects. The moral of the book — that nature can teach us lessons we cannot learn in town — is romantic, but beautifully done; there’s genuine emotion, humor, and good old American determination and ambition on every page of this novel. Elnora is a wonderful heroine. She’s intelligent and truthful, understanding but never a pushover, courageous and knowledgeable. I’ve probably read this book fifteen times and it never palls. (I can also highly recommend Freckles, Michael O’Halloran, The Keeper of the Bees, and The Harvester.) Read it if you haven’t read it, and chime in if you have!