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A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter
First, a Little Background
I read both "A Girl of the Limberlost" and "Freckles" in, I believe, 1980, when my mom and I brought them with us on vacation. She read "A Girl of the Limberlost" first and she let me have the book so that I could I read it once she had finished it. Meanwhile, she started on "Freckles." This was so many years ago that I forgot that we read the books in the wrong order. As a result, I read them in this wrong order on this reread, which was more than slightly confusing at first.
"A Girl of the Limberlost" is a story of many different kinds of love -- parental, friendship, and romantic. I think it would also make a very nice cure for anyone who insists that there was such a thing as a "golden age."
Stratton-Porter wrote "A Girl of the Limberlost" in 1909. As you know, this was a simpler time, when people were honest and there was no crime. People didn't have to lock their doors, because they trusted each other.
And if you believe that one . . . .
Okay, I will admit that so far as I can tell, the protagonist's door doesn't have a lock. This means that obviously it is a nice, safe area, particularly since it's out in the country. Except, her mom sleeps with a loaded pistol under her pillow (for good reason, as we find out). Personally, I'd rather have locks on my doors.
"A Girl of the Limberlost" is the story of Elnora Comstock. Elnora lives in the countryside of Indiana, in a swamp known as the Limberlost. Elnora has plans. She wants to go to high school, and then, maybe, on to college.
So, in her dowdy, ill-fitting clothes and her clompy shoes, she heads off to her first day of high school. When she gets there, she discovers that since she lives out in the countryside and not in town, she will have to pay for both her books and her actual schooling. This causes problems, since her family doesn't have much in the way of money.
She won't take the money that her friends and nearest neighbors, Margaret and Wesley Sinton offer, but finds a benefactor in the Bird Woman. The Bird Woman (who has been understood to be a surrogate for Stratton-Porter herself) has contacts who are looking for specimens of moths and butterflies. As it happens, Elnora has been collecting moths and butterflies. The Bird Woman buys her current collection, which pays for her schooling and books, plus some extra, and agrees to buy more in the future.
Meanwhile, the Sintons have supplied her with new clothes and shoes. Elnora, knowing that her mother won't approve of them giving her these things, buys them from the Sintons at what we find out (but Elnora never does) was a fraction of their actual cost.
The Sintons also provide Elnora with a lunchbox and fill it with amazing food. On her way to school, she is accosted by a waif, Billy, whose father is habitually too drunk to be any actual use. She feels bad for him, so she shares her lunch with him.
The next day, she gives her entire lunch away when Billy turns up with his brother and sister in tow. In the process of all of this lunch sharing, she makes several good friends among her classmates.
And that's just her first week of school.
One of the largest sources of conflict in Elnora's life is her mother, Kate, a bitter widow who has never gotten over the death of Elnora's father. Not until the second half of the book does Kate realize how much time she has wasted and what an opportunity she almost lost in the way she raised her daughter.
The second half of the book is a romance novel. Elnora meets a young man named Phillip Ammon, who is just as moth-crazy as she is. Unfortunately, Phillip is already engaged and hopelessly besotted with his fiancée, with whom he has nothing in common.
Freckles and the Swamp Angel from "Freckles" make a return appearance towards the end of the book, as well.
One of the saddest things about this book is that the Limberlost is gone now -- lost underneath the cornfields. However, there is a project to restore the Limberlost. More than 1,000 acres have been restored so far. Hopefully my children or grandchildren will be able to experience the Limberlost, even if I am never able to.
Overall, "A Girl of the Limberlost" is a wonderful book, and it is easy to see why it is one of the classics of children's literature.