A Girl of the Limberlost is one of those classic books that you hear people talking about now and then, it is very well-known in the States, in New Zealand, not so much. I just read it on the recommendation of a friend – and it is just great! Remember the first time you saw Casablanca and realised that it is really good, all those people going on about it are right? Reading Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1909 novel is like that: surprising and delightful and exciting.
It is the tale of Elnora Comstock, born and raised in Indiana’s Limberlost Swamp, who is determined to go to school and continue her education. Her mother is a damaged woman, unable to extend Elnora any love or support (their relationship is an amazingly astute and well-rendered psychological study), and so Elnora sets to collecting flora and fauna specimens from the Swamp to sell to collectors and finance her education. The lyrical descriptions of this now-much reduced wild place and its creatures are by turns beautiful, sinister and otherworldly, like the many moods of the Swamp. Elnora is a fabulous character, a resourceful, independent, resilient and honest young woman. She is someone you’d like to know because she is also full of integrity, good humour and irony. Despite the fact she has no phone in her pocket – indeed, even electricity in her house – and skirts to her ankles, she sort of shines, and you cheer for her in her travails and sort of hope you’ll meet your own with as much spirit.
Not pious like Marmee’s girls in Little Women, or annoying like Pollyanna and her Glad Game, or punished for her adventuresome nature like Katy in What Katy Did and less cutely harum-scarum than Anne of Avonlea, you wish Elnora was around now, to see her take on the modern world – she’d be unstoppable now, just as in 1909.
Go on, indulge in some ancient literature and a timeless heroine…