Friday, June 22, 2012

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter

I read A Girl of the Limberlost in conjunction with the Reading to Know book club. For those of you who are participating and reading along with us this month, the link up post will go up next Friday, June 29th. You have one week from today to complete your reading and write up a post!

Personally, I was glad that Stephanie from Simple Things selected this book for the book club as I had never read it. Having always heard such wonderful things about it, I felt deficient in some way and was happy for the excuse to rectify the situation. One afternoon a few weeks back I settled in to read it, feeling in the mood for a good piece of fiction and therefore I expected I'd plow right through it. Not so! I found it difficult to meander through. In the end, I believe I spent about two weeks reading this book (where I'd say something of this size and sort would normally only take me a few days). It took me a long time to engage with this story in a positive way.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of A Girl of the Limberlost, as I was, the basic plot is as follows:

Elnora Comstock is a poor high school student when this book opens. She lives in a cottage in the woods with her mother, who does not love her. Elnora can find no comfort or support from her mother when it comes to supplying for Elnora's financial needs as they relate to her going to school and so the girl begins to collect moths in the swap to sell to The Bird Lady. In this way, Elnora is able to finance her own way through high school. It is her plan to go straight from high school to college but various circumstances conspire against her and she is unable to go. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise as it is through her post high school struggles that she comes to realize that her mother really does love her. Furthermore, a young man enters the picture and Elnora predictably falls in love.

I had a very difficult time with this book, initially, due to the writing style of Gene Stratton-Porter. Before I began reading it, I was informed (I can't remember by who or where) that the author, born Geneva Grace Stratton, used a male pen name, as female writers were not as well accepted at the time this book was published (in 1909). I can't find any evidence online (in my quick perusals) that this was, in fact, the case. However, I can't imagine that anyone at any point in history would have been fooled into thinking that this book was authored by a man, given the vocabulary and dialogue within the page. (Let's face it, men don't typically use the word "goody!" when talking about anything.)

The dialogue between the characters went on endlessly, in my opinion. Each character shared too many of their inmost thoughts with one another. I felt like Stratton-Porter didn't trust her readers to catch on to the obvious relational difficulties and avoided any attempt at subtly in telling her story. Every relationship issue between Elnora and her mother, for example, had to be spelled out in nitty gritty detail in conversations with other characters. Most people do not casually drop references to the fact that they feel unloved by others, for instance. Elnora did this quite a few times in an unnatural way and it made it very difficult to take the book remotely seriously. However, by the second half, Stratton-Porter seemed to have gotten into her writing groove and Elnora spoke less frequently. A little more of the intricacies of various relationships were left to be inferred by the reader. By the end of the story, I found myself being able to relax and enjoy it for what it was. (However, this is not going to go down in history as my favorite story.)

What I find most interesting about this book, is learning about the lady who wrote it!

Fun facts:

* Geneva Grace Stratton was the youngest of 12 children.

* She hailed from Indiana.

* She never completed high school, but went on to become a successful novelist, amateur naturalist, photographer, as well as a movie producer! (I love that!)

* She and her husband, Charles, only had one daughter - Jeannette Stratton-Porter. Jeannette wrote and published a sequel to Freckles in 1929, after her mother's death.

* Charles and Gene purchased some land next to the Limberlost Swamp and built a FOURTEEN ROOM LOG CABIN which Stratton-Porter referred to as the "Limberlost Cabin." (I live in a log house. I'm fascinated by the idea of a FOURTEEN ROOM one. If you can't tell.) Here's a picture of it:

* Her popularity as a writer caused her to have to move from this house, in order to obtain some bit of privacy. (Sadness!)

* She eventually moved to Los Angeles (where she dabbled in the movie business).

* She was killed by a street car in Los Angeles. At the time of her death she was considered the most wealthy authoress in America and it was estimated that over half of the country's population was reading her books. (Given vocabulary words like "goody", I'm betting she was popular with the female half.) (Also, if you were a popular female author in the first half of this century, you really ought to have taken great care when around street cars. I'm thinking of Mitchell, of course.) She was buried in Hollywood, CA.

Here is a picture of Gene Stratton-Porter:

Am I glad I read this? Oh yes! I think it an important read as it relates to American literature. If I had read this when I was a teen, I bet I would have been enthralled with it! As a thirty-something year old, it just seemed a little over-the-top in the relationship-drama department. That said, it's not a story I'll soon forget and I found the authoress herself extremely fascinating. In the end, I recommend it. Thanks, Stephanie, for choosing this one!

Reading to Know - Book Club


Joyful Reader said...

I really enjoyed the book...:) Loved this post, so full of great information! I was captivated the entire time. I felt for poor Elnora and the was so happy for her when things started going her way. Being the time that it was written the style was different from modern fiction. Looking forward to the Narnia Challenge in July!

Barbara H. said...

I'm going to come back to this later because I'm in the middle of the book now and don't want to uncover any surprises. :-)

BerlinerinPoet said...

I had a similar experience back when I read it the first time. Most of my friends raved and I thought it was just....meh. Hopefully I can let you know where I fall within the week. ;-)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

You already know how I feel about this one. I think I liked it better than you, but your feelings for this one sum up my feelings for Freckles rather well.

obclhorn said...

I will, somewhat shamefacedly, confess to enjoying some GSP as a teenager. In fact, when reading your review, prior to getting to the last line, that's what I was going to add: They're good books for teenagers.

Although, there is the caveat that she has some truly atrocious books, too.

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Interesting!! I've seen the WonderWorks movie of this book, but never read it.

Stephanie said...

I'm like you in that it took me so much longer to read this than I was expecting - especially since I had set aside our spring break time to read it and knock it out in a few days. Not so!

Thanks for sharing - I found the book grew on me as well as I went through it and am glad we tackle this this month. : )

Stephanie Kay said...

I had never heard of this book. We've been insanely busy so I didn't have time to participate. I need to get going on my Narnia reading!

Litterairy said...

I did read Girl of the Limberlost as a teen and I did enjoy it. I'm not sure what I would think of it now, but you have to remember it was a product of its time. Compare it to Eleanor Porter (Pollyanna) or Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and it stands up reasonably well. The heroine sets out to solve her own problems and works hard to succeed in life and win her mother's love. I agree that some of the plot resolutions seem a bit unrealistic, but much of Victorian/Early Edwardian youth literature focused on the virtues of hard work and pure heart being their own reward. And in a world where YA fiction involves avoiding being eating by amorous vampires and coping with teen suicide and incest, I'll take rewarded diligence and innocence every time, even if they do say "Goody!"

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Here is my review:

I think that the idea of a person flat out stating that her mother doesn't love her is realistic - for a certain personality.

I, for one, could see myself doing it. It might be more of a guy thing, but I can think of a few females that might as well.

Carrie said...

@BerlinerinPoet - I'm now very curious to find out if a re-read changes your opinion!

@obclhorn - I obviously haven't read any of her other books.

@Brooke - I AM interested in seeing a movie version of this book, now that I've read it!

@Litterary - Your comment made me burst out laughing. Oh yes! I would heartily recommend this read over just about anything being published today for the same age group. haha!

Barbara H. said...

My review will be up tomorrow.

I had read this as a child but forgotten much about it, so it was nice to revisit it. Some of the dialogue did go on, but overall I think Elnora was a good heroine.

Shonya said...

It took me longer to read than I expected--I think I had some of the same difficulties you did (drama and writing style). But I thought the book was redeemed by its focus on nature and the benefits of exploring your interests without being motivated only by manufactured learning opportunities. I was also annoyed by the mother's idolatry of her husband--I just wanted to shake her. :)

Shonya said...

Litterairy--ha, ha! I love your comment contrasting Victorian youth lit with today's YA! :)

FancyHorse said...

I had the same thought about buses/streetcars and Margaret Mitchell!
Gene was an attractive young woman.
Maybe it was her childhood nickname, "Gene" for "Geneva."

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