Bridgette Redman's Reviews > A Girl of the Limberlost

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
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Feb 01, 2012

really liked it

Girl of the Limberlost is not a book to be read when one is feeling cynical, critical, or simply jaded. For starters, it is a children’s book and children aren’t supposed to be jaded or cynical yet. Secondly, it’s a book that emphasizes sweetness and light—not dreary realism or angry conflicts.

Girl of the Limberlost portrays a time long since lost. It relates the story of Elnora Comstock and her life in the swamp of the Limberlost. She is a plucky girl, but not of the type of pluck that we associate with Pippi Longstocking or Annie Warbucks. Elnora is not in the least bit a tomboy.

This book begins on Elnora’s first day of high school. We learn that although she is intelligent, graceful, kind, and generous, she hasn’t been told the things she needs to know to succeed in school—such as what girls wear, where to get books, or that there is a tuition charge for those who live in the country. She leaves her first day humiliated by girls who lack her graciousness and courtesy.

However, Elnora isn’t discouraged. Her mother thinks school is a waste of time and says she cannot afford to help her. So Elnora turns to the resources of the swamp. She becomes a naturalist, selling butterflies and other specimens to earn money for all her needs.

This is a book that is far too easy to criticize. I found myself growing impatient with the portrayal of Mrs. Comstock. She is cold toward her child except for moments of regret when she sees her child overcoming her disinterest. While Mrs. Comstock changes throughout the course of the book, most of her changes are much too sudden to be very believable.

Also, there is mention made of many characters who are never fleshed out, but the reader feels like he or she should know these characters. It turns out there is a previous book by the same author wherein these characters are introduced. Although I haven’t read it yet, I would suggest that reading that first book, Freckles might make Girl of the Limberlost more enjoyable.

Elnora is also just a little too perfect to be believable. Everyone around her (with the exception of her mother for the first half of the book) worships her. She never does anything wrong and excels at everything she attempts.

Having said all this, I’ll admit that many of my would-be criticisms of this book can be easily turned around. As a mother, there is something appealing in a book where the heroine strives and achieves perfection. Elnora extends courtesy to her mother far beyond what the mother deserves. She models such virtues as self-sufficiency, self-esteem, patient goodness, generosity, and kindness. She is intelligent and willing to work long, hard hours to achieve her goals.

Girl of the Limberlost is also a snapshot of the ideals of a century past. It is set in Indiana at the beginning of the twentieth century. The author, Gene Stratton Porter, was herself a naturalist and she infuses the pages of this novel with her own knowledge of butterflies, caterpillars, moths, and the swamp’s ecosystem. While in the year 2000, I look at Elnora as being overly concerned with dresses and appearances, I’ll acknowledge that for a book written at the turn of the century, she is extremely independent and a very strong female character.

There is also a sweetness in this book. The heroine doesn’t struggle against evil by fighting or defeating it. Instead, she shows how a determined example and consistent behavior can overcome “evil” by altering it and bringing even the worst enemies into the warmer fold of goodness and charity. It is a book that demonstrates that it isn’t necessary to fight fire with fire or to compromise our ideals in defense of those ideals. Instead, Elnora is a memorable character because she is a good person who sticks to her morals no matter what other people do or say.

It is a book I will re-read someday when I feel less cynical and when I can read it to my children, children who will not yet be jaded or skeptical when confronted with goodness.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2000 – Finished Reading
February 1, 2012 – Shelved

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