August 10, 2013 by Heidi
If you ask me about Indiana, you’re gonna get an earful of the song Gary, Indiana from The Music Man. Either I’ll throw in a Ron Howard impression, or change Gary to Eerie and make you want to watch that spooktacular 90’s show. Your pick.
Personal favorite? A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.
What’s your favorite Indiana read?
Title: A Girl of the Limberlost [Goodreads]
Author: Gene Stratton-Porter [Website]
Standing: Stand alone companion novel to Freckles.
Published: September 1st, 1986 by Yearling (originally published in 1909).
Format: Paperback; 416 pages.
A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) by Gene Stratton Porter is the story of a poor Indiana girl Elnora Comstock who lives with her emotionally abusive mother, a stern heartless widow, at the edge of the Limberlost Swamp.Elnora attends school against her mother’s wishes, fighting every inch of the way for her dream of an education, and collects and sells moths and other rare biological specimens from the swamp to pay for her schooling, books, and bare necessities. At first a laughingstock of her fellow students, Elnora persists against unfair odds, and asserts her true self.
A wonderful turn-of-the-century novel of discovery of identity, wonders of nature, friendship, family trust, love, and the process of growing up in the magical shadow of the Limberlost.
A Girl of the Limberlost is one of those true treasures of the book world, one I personally never would have uncovered if it weren’t for my notion to do Booking It Across the US. I was at a loss for an Indiana book, there weren’t an abundance of titles that I recognized, but when I called on Twitter, Allison of The Allure of Books answered with Gene Stratton-Porter. I adore hidden classics (though I admit there are quite a few not-so-hidden ones I really need to get to), and so I commenced to reading the free e-book version that is the delight of classic lovers everywhere (if you are unaware, out-of-copyright works are most often available in free e-formats). I fell in love. That special kind of book love that you know will last a lifetime and require many rereadings. I purchased a physical copy within 5 minutes of finishing the digital one–I had to have it. Reading A Girl of the Limberlost for the first time reminded me a bit of my first readings of Louisa May Alcott–only perhaps even more wonderful because while I’d seen movie versions of Little Women prior to reading that book I had no idea where A Girl of the Limberlost would lead me story-wise. I do love a girl who knows her heart and mind, and I find that in both Elnora and my dear Jo, they are a reminder that what is instinctual and what is necessary to be happy are not always one and the same.
In a way Elnora is admittedly a bit of a Mary Sue–before Mary Sues were really a thing. Which I suppose made her the admirable type for me rather than the eye-rolly one. Instead of being a character to scoff at, she becomes a heroine to aspire to. Gene Stratton-Porter creates this character whose heart is so large and desires only love and fulfillment, but never demands it at the cost of others. She is a hard worker, a devout learner and friend with ambitions that extend beyond what her meager upbringing would have normally been laid before her. The fact that she is so noble as to refuse the man she loves rather than be a second choice in his heart (don’t you worry–there’s a happy ending), the resilience and insistence that she be absolutely certain of everyone’s coming out of a situation to the best advantage, her ability to forgive her mother years of misguided cruelty for a future of love–these are the qualities that make Elnora unforgettable.
In setting, Gene Stratton-Porter manages to enfold us in the Limberlost, making these Indiana woods and town feel more real and true to us than so many other books are able to manage. It’s no small wonder that the author has exhibits commending her locally as she manages in a mere two novels to bring the Limberlost to the world. The enterprising young Elnora spends her days collecting and searching for the moths that populate the area, and in so doing we gain a picture of the woods as they are in day and in night, the beautiful and the unsavory.
I loved the notion of a young girl earning her own way through school and aspiring to college when her mother supports her neither monetarily or morally. While the first half of this novel could be admittedly slow, I still very much enjoyed following Elnora from a naive bright eyed girl to a woman rich in friendship, love, and knowledge. That said, it was the second half of the book (that’d be the half with the romantic bits), that really caught my heart. I can see myself picking this one up and reading from the chapter where Elnora and Philip first meet over and over again. I love that Gene Stratton-Porter doesn’t make her romance easy, she makes it a downright health concern. For so many pages my heart was in my throat with worry and suspense, not knowing how this life would pan out for Elnora, Philip and his fiancee (oooh, see that–scandalous!) Edith. This book shows so clearly how we can be blinded by the affections of youth and begin to take our relationships for granted. It is a book full of heartache, desire, and a warmth for others that really know the heart of you far beneath the surface.
A Girl of the Limberlost is, in fact, a companion novel to Gene Stratton-Porter’s earlier work, Freckles. You by no means have to read these two books in order (I didn’t), however, if you are like me you will fall so deeply in love with Elnora and this place that you will want to read all about the man Freckles and his Angel that repeatedly save her. A Girl of the Limberlost is a beautiful representation of Indiana as place, and a book that the state should be (and is) proud of. If this unarguable hidden classic has slipped beneath your radar, I cannot stress more sincerely my hope that you pick it up. I am endlessly in awe of Gene Stratton-Porter’s ability to represent these people in such a way that their life journeys seem timeless, their trials as near and true as any contemporary novel of today. It is a perfect example of the reality that times, traditions, and technologies may change, but human nature never will. This novel was easily my favorite pick of the entirety of Booking It Across the US, and one of my all time favorites to boot.