Sunday 29 January 2012

The Most Annoying Heroine

Just because something is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good – and A Girl of the Limberlost, hugely popular though it may have been in its time, has not aged well. Even allowing for changing tastes over the last century it can’t ever have been regarded as a great piece of writing. And personally, I thought Elnora Comstock was one of the most irritating heroines I’ve ever encountered in any novel. She annoyed me beyond measure and is right up at the top of my hate list, along with Little Nell, who isn’t a heroine, but did infuriate me because, as I may said before, she is such an insufferable little prig, and is too good to be true.

Elnora is also too good to be true. She’s pretty, with a good figure, lovely hair, and a kind, caring disposition. She’s also amazingly clever (in some subjects she knows more than the teachers) and must be the only person in the entire world to have produced pleasant sounds from a violin the very first time she plays it.

Limberlost Cabin: the home where Gene Stratton-Porter lived, near the swamp.
I suppose I had better give you a run-down on the plot. It’s one of those novels so popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries where a poor, unloved girl, dressed in dowdy old-fashioned clothes, overcomes all odds to achieve scholastic success, winning the hearts of all who meet her. Such girls always seem to be happy and upbeat about life, and there is generally a lot of moralising, and little homilies to show how God rewards the good. Elnora lives on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp, in Indiana, neglected by her hard-hearted, grim-faced mother who is perpetually mourning the death of her husband 16 years earlier - he was sucked into the swampy pool outside their home when Elnora was born.

Determined to acquire an education and escape, Elnora sets off for high school, where she is a laughing stock (but only for a couple of days). She overcomes all obstacles as kindly neighbours provide pretty clothes and a fashionable lunchbox, and a tutor provides books from a former student. Needless to say, Elnora is determined to be independent and pay for these items, as well as covering the cost of tuition fees (obviously as much of an issue in America in 1909 as it is in England today) and other expenses, so she sells rare moths and Indian arrow-heads. She really is a paragon of virtue. She works hard at her studies, looks after the animals, works on the land, gathers moths and other insects, and still finds time to enjoy an active social life with the friends who adore her.

Gene Stratton-Porter
Gradually her mother begins to thaw, and undergoes a transformation when she is finally told the truth about her long-dead husband. But there is more trouble in store for Elnora when she meets Phillip Ammon. The two young people are attracted to each other, but Phillip is engaged to Edith, who throws him over – and then decides she wants him back again. But, of course, true love wins the day.

I nearly gave up on this book half-way, and only made it to the end because I skipped and skimmed large sections. I’ve got no desire to read anything else by Gene Stratton-Porter and, since this was a free download (from I shall delete it from the Kindle forthwith.

Stratton-Porter, who was born in 1863 and died in 1924, was an amateur naturalist and wildlife photographer, who wrote nature books as well as novels (indeed, chunks of A Girl of the Limberlost read as if they really belonged to one of the nature books), and supported conservation in the Limberlost, which was under threat from drainage. However, development continued, and in 1913 she and her husband, who lived near the swamp, moved to the Rome City area. Both her homes are sites of historic interest.
The hunt for a Yellow Emperor moth (E imperilis)
is a central theme in the novel Reproduced uder a Creative Commons Licence.


  1. I was never interested enough in the plot to read this but I did read The Keeper of the Bees nine years ago, and I loved it. Really loved it. These are the words I wrote in my book journal:

    'A man has been in a California veterans hospital for a year with shrapnel wounds in his chest. He overhears the administration people say that he will be transferred to another hospital because he will "probably" get TB. The man knows that this is the place people go to die. He simply walks away. He meets kind people. He is asked by a beekeeper to live in his house and take care of his bees and gardens while he is in the hospital. The writing is very poetical and philosophical. Simplistic, yet complex in its thoughts and observations. A truly beautiful book - hopeful, optimistic, spiritual. Belief in the goodness of nature and the humanity of people. The author wrote: "To my way of thinking and working, the greatest service a piece of fiction can do any reader is to leave him with a higher ideal of life than he had when he began. If in one small degree it shows him where he can be a gentler, saner, cleaner, kindlier man, it is a wonder working book."
    Well, she certainly accomplished this in The Keeper Of The Bees.'

    The book I read was a library ILL, but I recently bought my own copy, and I have been thinking of reading it again to see if I still feel the same way.

  2. Well, that sounds more like...You've made it sound really interesting,so maybe I'll try this and see how how I get on!

  3. Trust me, you do not want to read Freckles, which features the Swamp Angel (the name alone should have warned me). I actually like A Girl of the Limberlost, but other than Freckles, I've never made it through any of her other books.

  4. Freckles and the Swamp Angel also appear, fairly briefly, in Girl of the Limberlost... I felt further acquaintance was unnecessary.

  5. I stumbled across a battered old copy of this book in my school library where it had mouldered in a corner and was interested enough to take it home. I loved it, but then I am a Rebecca/Anne of Green Gables/Pollyanna sucker for these kind of books. Recently re-read I agree it still has not aged well but I retain my fondness for it.

    Little Nell - totally at one with you there!

  6. I like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Anne of Green Gables (which I re-read recently, and will write about at some stage), and Pollyanna, but I just couldn't cope with Elnora... sorry!

  7. Oh goodness, I forgot all about the violin when I wrote my review. That was an eye-rolling moment indeed, although I did like the book overall more than you did.

    1. The fact that we all like different things is what makes the book blogging world so wonderful!