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A Girl of the Limberlost

Summary


Author
: Gene Stratton-Porter

Summary: Young Elnora Comstock lives  with her widowed mother on the edge of the Limberlost swamp. The girl, who receives little love or sympathy from the embittered Mrs. Comstock, delights in her wetland surroundings. She finds in them a way to pay for her high school education by selling moths and other items. Eventually, Mrs. Comstock discovers the truth about her  philandering husband, leaves her delusions and mourning behind and restores a loving relationship with her daughter. The latter part of the book recounts the growing love between Elnora and Philip Ammon, a young man from Chicago who is staying with relatives as he recuperates from an illness.

A Girl of the Limberlost is a sequel to Freckles that easily stands on its own, although there are a few characters and references better understood if Freckles is read first, 

Reading Skill Level: Young Adult

Reviewed by: Derri Smith, November 2006

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Our Angle


Granted, A Girl of the Limberlost is a tad melodramatic at times and not altogether  realistic. The story is so well told and the characters so delightful, however, that one can quickly put those small faults aside and bask in the pleasure of a book that deservedly takes its place among children's classics. 

Gene Stratton Porter's love for nature, and particularly the Indiana wetlands she called home, shine through her protagonist, Elnora. Elnora's hardships strengthen, rather than embitter, her. She forgives easily, is industrious, kindhearted and noble, even at the risk of great personal loss. She lives by the Golden Rule and is the sort of young woman most mothers will delight to have their daughters befriend and emulate.

The conflict in this plot comes not from evil villains, but from fleshed out people with whom we can sympathize. Mrs. Comstock is an embittered woman who withholds love from her daughter, and she fails to encourage Elnora's aspirations while mourning her dead husband. Edith Carr is a self-absorbed, beautiful socialite, who was raised to be more ornamental than functional. As Mrs. Comstock discovers the delusion she has been living under, and as Edith begins to see herself as she really is, both are changed for the better.

I am not usually a fan of romance books and generally avoid them for my daughters. But the romance in A Girl of the Limberlost is based on self-sacrificing love, admirable character and shared interests, not merely physical appearance or self-gratification. This tale is pure and wholesome, and it ends with a marriage. This is, in short, the sort of romance I want my girls to desire. And, I should note, it is women (young and old) who will most enjoy this book. 

Some readiness issues make this story best suited for youth and above, but for these readers, A Girl of the Limberlost is a gem of a book that will instruct, inspire and entertain.

Noteworthy Content

 

Warning: Many spoilers contained herein.

Family Relationships

There are numerous tensions between mother and daughter and, though Elnora never lies to Mrs. Comstock, she does at times keep information from her. When, for example, Elnora learns to play her father's violin - something her mother would never permit, she does not mention that she will be performing on the violin at a school function. In fact, her mother does not even know that she has the instrument, which her aunt helped her procure, nor that she has been learning to play. Later in the story, when the relationship improves, Mrs. Comstock loves to hear her daughter play.

Elnora's mother is unsympathetic towards her desire for higher education. She grudgingly allows her to attend school, but does little to help her or to foster the kind of trust that would lead her daughter to reveal joys and pains to her mother. When Elnora first goes to high school, she is very upset to learn that her mother knew what she would face at school, including the need for money for textbooks and tuition, but did not warn her. This thought later eats at her. At graduation time, Elnora is surprised at the last minute that her mother did not provide her a dress for graduation. Later, Mrs. Comstock realizes how important the dress was, and shows her regret by giving Elnora some of her wedding finery to wear at the final graduation ceremony. Up to this point, Elnora is hurt, but is now able to forgive.

The mother-daughter tension reaches a climax when Mrs. Comstock in anger kills a rare moth needed to complete Elnora's collection. Elnora planned to sell this collection to raise money for college. Elnora tells her mother she hates her and leaves home. This breech is quickly resolved. 

After learning that the husband she has mourned for so many years had been an unfaithful scoundrel, Mrs. Comstock is able to leave her pain behind, and her heart changes towards Elnora. Thereafter, she is loving to Elnora, and she develops a keen interest in nature, sharing outings to the woods and swamp area with her daughter. Elnora reciprocates that love.

When the father of Billy, a young acquaintance, is found dead, Elnora's uncle brings him home. His wife is very cold towards the boy and does not want to keep him. Events bring some softening and, when Billy asks, "Do you love me now?" she replies that she will try to, "if you are a good little boy." The aunt and uncle do keep the boy and raise him the best they can. This same aunt and uncle provided support and love to Elnora in her childhood, which continues as she reaches adulthood.

Character

After leaving for school, Elnora rearranges her hair contrary to her mother's command. She despairs of her long skirt, heavy leather boots and plain clothing. On another day, Elnora voluntarily arranges her hair as she thinks her mother wants it, and her mother comes and rearranges it in a softer and more becoming style. In general, Elnora is an obedient daughter, however, there are a few times when she does disobey. She loves music and longs to play the violin, which her mother forbids because Elnora's father had played the violin. Elnora longs so much to play that she feels she "can't help it." Her aunt lets slip that Elnora's father had a violin. She then has it repaired and gives it to Elnora with the admonition never to let her mother know she has it and to practice in secret. (Later in the book, her mother loves to hear Elnora play, and the girl often plays for her mother's pleasure.)

Elnora plays the violin in a school play—a fact she mentions neither to her aunt, uncle nor her mother. When the relatives discover she is to be in a play, they attend. Mrs. Comstock faints upon hearing Elnora play the violin. 

Elnora plans, when she is of age, to sell of some of her share of her father's land to pay for her college, knowing her mother  would bitterly oppose her. 

Elnora has a great deal of personal pride and self-reliance. Her uncle, for instance, offers money for school books, and she refuses to accept it. 

Elnora is very determined to get an education, despite many obstacles. 

Elnora plans ahead to work and make the money she will need for her education, including a college fund. She learns she can sell some of the rare insects she collects to the "bird woman" who lives nearby and collects such specimens, as well as some other items she can gather and sell to local shopkeepers.

Encouraged by her uncle, Elnora does not tell her mother about some of the money she earns, fearing the mother would take it to pay taxes. Mrs. Comstock has the means to raise the tax money, but refuses to use those means, such as selling cattle or cutting trees for lumber. 

When Elnora comes across the hungry, dirty young Billy,  she gives him her first special fancy school lunch and continues to do so for some time thereafter. When a girl at school discovers that Elnora is giving her lunch away each day, she gathers others in her circle of friends to meet Elnora on the way to school and each contribute to a fine lunch for Elnora. Elnora is henceforth accepted and admired by this group.

A gang of ne'er do well youths hang out in the swamp, drinking, smoking and gambling. Periodically, they steal money from someone in the surrounding area, like a farmer who just sold his crop and hadn't been to the bank yet. They are merely mentioned and play almost no part in the story.     

Elnora is ever grateful for kindness and anything seeming like love from her mother, rarely showing any resentment or bitterness.

When Billy does something wrong, like stealing cookies (for someone else) he confesses fully, is repentant, and, recognizing the need for discipline, accepts it stoically.           

When the fiancée of a young man named Philip insults Elnora's breeding, appearance and home, Elnora answers with dignity and does not respond in kind.    
In all her dealings with others, we see Elnora living out the Golden Rule.

Romance

The latter chapters of the book revolve around the budding romance between Elnora and Philip, a young man from Chicago who is staying with relatives to recuperate from an illness. He is engaged to a girl back home, and Elnora knows this. Both enthralled by nature, the two spend many happy, wholesome days, simply as friends,  collecting moths together. When it is time to return home, Philip suddenly asks Elnora for a kiss.  She refuses, saying that his fiancée will not want his lips tomorrow if they have touched Elnora's today. She declines to write to him and tells him that she has never liked him so little as she does at that moment. 

Philip's fiancée, a vain, peevish young woman named Edith, repeatedly breaks off their engagement, simply to enjoy her power over Philip or to express her displeasure. The final time she breaks the engagement, she has a flare of temper over a trivial matter and publicly insults and humiliates Philip at a dance he had planned in her honor. Seeing her true nature, Philip catches a glimpse of what a future with her might be. And when Philip contrasts in this mind Edith's character with Elnora's, his romantic love for Edith dies. 

Even as the relationship develops between Elnora and Philip, Elnora refuses to accept a proposal of marriage before Edith has every opportunity to learn that she has lost Philip's love.

Even among engaged couples, no physical contact is made beyond kissing hands "passionately." Note : The girl's mothers are kissed repeatedly, also. 

There is no dating. Young people spend time together with each other's families. 

Elnora's plans to look after her husband's needs and support him in his work when she becomes Philip's wife is contrasted with Edith's plans to be an admired social leader.

  Language

"You idiot." (mother to Elnora). 

We are told that young Billy swears (no specific words) and Elnora chastises him. The boy replies that his father says worse with every breath.  Billy later inadvertently says "damn" and is immediately disciplined (denied cookies) and repents. 

Alcohol/Smoking

Billy's father spends the family money on alcohol and gets drunk often. We learn, in past tense accounts, that he hit his children only when he was drunk, at which times he also neglected to give them food or otherwise provide for  them. Elnora's uncle finds Billy's father dead; the children playing around him hadn't even realized he was dead. They thought he was just in another drunken stupor. 

In narration, we learn that a  gang of boys who hang out in the swamp drink and smoke.

Spiritual

The school superintendent reads from the Bible at the opening of school. Elnora mentally notes one line and prays, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings." After receiving money for books and clothing, she determines that God has answered her prayer.

"I believe the best way to get an answer to prayer is to work for it," Elnora thinks. 

A snobbish girl at school declares, after seeing peacock feathers on Elnora's hat and learning they were gathered from the ground on a farm rather than store bought, that she wouldn't dream of having such things on her $20 hat. Elnora agrees, saying that such an exquisite work by the Creator can't compare to something manmade, and the feather deserves a finer forum than a mere $20 hat. 

Elnora dreams (accurately) that see sees the clothing her father died in and a small scar on his face. These are facts no one told her. Her aunt is unable to explain Elnora's dream, although she does not believe in revelations through dreams. 

Elnora confronts the women her husband had been seeing before his death and finds her riddled with guilt and dying of cancer. When the woman cries for mercy, Mrs. Comstock verbally refuses it, yet shows some mercy in her actions. Concluding that the women has been punished enough for her sin, Mrs. Comstock tells her about some herbs that will relive her pain. Still, Mrs. Comstock speaks much of "the wages of sin." The consequences of unfaithfulness are clearly shown as destructive to all involved. Mrs. Comstock notes, however, that she does not believe that the cancer is God's punishment for the women's sin, having known a righteous woman who also died of cancer. 

Mrs. Comstock is transformed after learning her husband's true nature.  She begins to help Elnora collect moths and is enthralled with them and their intricate life cycles. She says she cannot see how anyone could not believe in an Almighty Creator when they look on such marvels. She prays fervently to God, asking Him to change and expand her. 

Sex/Morals

After mourning her husband for twenty years, resenting and neglecting her daughter in the process, Mrs. Comstock discovers that her husband had been unfaithful to her. Mr. Comstock lied to his wife about his plans for the evening and  drowned in the swamp when he took a dangerous route to  hide the direction he had come from so that his wife would not suspect where he had really been. Actual events are not discussed in sexual terms. It is merely stated that he had planned to take another woman to a dance that night, but his unfaithfulness is discussed and clear.

Educational Tie-Ins

Elnora collects cocoons and pupae cases to sell and raise money for her schooling. She is a naturalist at heart, sharing a lot of information about creatures who live around the swamp. The author, herself, was a naturalist who  meticulously documented all the flora and fauna of her home in the Limberlost swamp of eastern Indiana.

Intense Situations

Elnora's uncle recalls the day he watched her father die in a swamp and watched also the agony of her mother, who was present. 

We learn that Aunt Margaret and Uncle Wesley lost two daughters to diphtheria.

An unknown man watches Elnora through her window. He writes her an anonymous letter ,which indicates that he might be tempted to harm her.  But he doesn't really want to; he warns her not to go to the swamp area alone.

  Miscellaneous

Billy ties two kittens tails together and hangs them on a clothesline to dry. he also pulls the tail off a turkey.  These acts are out of childish ignorance, rather than maliciousness.  

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