Friday, August 3, 2012

Why A Girl of the Limberlost is the Best Book for Recovering from an Illness

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter, is one of my favorite books to read at any time, but there is no better book to read while you're getting over an illness. It's about life in the country -- in the Limberlost, a swamp that used to exist in northern Indiana -- and one of the themes of the book is that all the fresh air and beauty and abundant wildlife of the countryside makes you healthier. I mean, unless you sink into a swamp and die.

 ("The Edge of the Limberlost," illustration from Gene Stratton-Porter's Moths of the Limberlost.)

That's what happened to the father of the heroine, Elnora Comstock, just before she was born, and it drove her mother insane. This is probably why being sucked into a swamp was a major fear of mine as a child growing up in Indiana, even though Indiana is now pretty much swampless. This and the Neverending Story. But anyway, Elnora spends all of her time flitting around the Limberlost observing nature and catching moths, and that makes her radiantly beautiful and healthy.

So possibly it would be better, when you are recovering from an illness, to actually go out in the fresh air, hike through the wetlands, maybe hunt some moths. But I swear, it makes you feel better just to read about it.

( Citheronia Regalis from Moths of the Limberlost.)

You know the Limberlost has restorative properties, because Philip Ammon has come there to get his strength back after recovering from typhoid fever. The scene where he meets Elnora's mother is hilarious. She has been picking dandelion greens; he is carrying a cocoon for Elnora.

"Philip Ammon extended his hand. 'I am glad to know you,' he said.

'You may take the hand-shaking for granted,' replied Mrs. Comstock. 'Dandelions have a way of making fingers sticky, and I like to know a man before I take his hand, anyway. That introduction seems mighty comprehensive on your part, but it still leaves me unclassified. My name is Comstock.'

Philip Ammon bowed.

'I am sorry to hear you have been sick,' said Mrs. Comstock. 'But if people will live where they have such vile water as they do in Chicago, I don't see what else they are to expect.'"

 (Mrs. Comstock, by Wladyslaw T. Benda.)

Gene Stratton-Porter has the best characters. She is also the best at describing nature, obviously, since she spent her girlhood out in the Limberlost like Elnora, observing birds and moths. If you like A Girl of the Limberlost, you should definitely read Gene Stratton-Porter's nature books, especially Moths of the Limberlost, which you can read here.

 (Gene Stratton-Porter, from the Indiana Historical Society.)

She makes moths sound unbelievably gorgeous. It is my dream to wear the amazing dress that one of the characters has made based on the colors of the Yellow Emperor moth, an evening dress of gold velvet with lavender embroidery, worn with lavender slippers and gloves, and amethyst jewelry. (Gene Stratton-Porter says in Moths of the Limberlost that yellow and lavender are her favorite colors.)

(Yellow Emperor from Moths of the Limberlost.)

Also, A Girl of the Limberlost is one of the great food books -- those books that make you hungry when you read their delicious descriptions of food. (Farmer Boy is another one; more about that later.) I'm a vegetarian, and I still want to eat the juicy shaved ham, egg sandwiches, tomato salad, spice cake, and preserved pears that Mrs. Comstock packs in the many ingenious compartments of Elnora's fancy lunchbox. And then Elnora makes these treats for her school friends: popcorn balls with maple sugar and beechnuts, a "basket of warm pumpkin pies," sugar cakes and spiced pears, and countless little birchbark baskets lined with fall leaves and containing wild fruits and nuts. So Martha Stewart! I am definitely going to try making those baskets.

 (I think Elnora's baskets look like daintier versions of this one.)

So, A Girl of the Limberlost! It's beautiful, it's inspiring, and I'm pretty sure it's good for your health. Everyone read it.


  1. Wow, somehow I read that book repeatedly but never realized that the Limberlost was a REAL place! How did I miss that?

  2. My year 7 English teacher (thankyou Miss Hayes) read this to us in class (1966!), in instalments.
    I never forgot it.
    I have recently re discovered it and am enjoying it right now. I think I'll read it to my Grandchildren.
    Thanks for your great blog.
    Molly in Australia.

  3. I loved Stratton-Porter's books when I was growing up. Imagine my delight when I found her book on moths and butterflies of the Limberlost in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto!