If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that in addition to sci fi and detective crime fiction, I like works written in the last part of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th. Just something about their style and content that evokes the America and England that we are all so nostalgic about. This book was written in 1909 and is considered a classic of Indiana literature.
A Girl of the Limberlost takes place in Indiana, in and around the Limberlost Swamp. Even at the time, this impressive wetland region was being reduced by heavy logging, natural oil extraction and drainage for agriculture. (The swamp and forestland eventually ceased to exist, though projects since the 1990s have begun to restore a small part of it.)
It seems today to be a YA, yet at the time it was a best seller to a general audience. It features a teenager, the only child of her widowed mother, whose mother does not want her. The husband died in the swamp when Elnore was a baby, and the mother has mourned ever since, tuning bitter and miserly.
Elnore wishes to attend high school in the near by city, and is forced to find money for this on her own. Fortunately, she is supported emotionally by neighbors whom she calls Aunt and Uncle. She finds she can finance her academic career by selling moths, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects to a local naturalist who writes books, and can sell arrowheads she finds to the head of the bank, who is a collector.
At the end of her high school career, she meets the nephew of a townsman who is staying in the area to regain his health by spending time outdoors. Although engaged, the young man secretly falls in love with Elnore, and she him. After a disaster at a terribly fancy formal engagement party in Chicago where the socialite fiancée pitches a hissy fit in front of everybody and cancels the engagement, the young man returns to the Limberlost to claim his love, who also turns him down, worrying that he will eventually change his mind.
Of course there is a wonderfully sweet satisfying ending, and yes, it is really a very sentimental work, but it is filled with wonderful descriptions of the Limberlost Swamp, and the creatures who dwell there. Wonderful characters to whom nothing really awful happens keeps us content, because sometimes we just want a story where everything works out beautifully in the end.
Stratton-Porter was “one of the most popular woman novelists of the era, who was known for her nature books and her editorials on McCall’s ‘Gene Stratton-Porter Page’ as well as for her novels. At the time of her death in 1924, more than ten million copies of her books had been sold – and four more books were published after her death. She was a Wabash County, Indiana, native who became a self-trained American author, nature photographer, and naturalist. In 1917 Stratton-Porter used her position and influence as a popular, well-known author to urge legislative support for the conservation of Limberlost Swamp and other wetlands in the state of Indiana.
She was also a silent film-era producer who founded her own production company, Gene Stratton Porter Productions, in 1924. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including Braille, and at their peak in the 1910s attracted an estimated 50 million readers. Eight of her novels, including A Girl of the Limberlost, were adapted into moving pictures. Stratton-Porter was also the subject of a one-woman play, A Song of the Wilderness. Two of her former homes in Indiana are state historic sites, the Limberlost State Historical Site in Geneva and the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site on Sylvan Lake, near Rome City, Indiana.