Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why You Should Take Advice from Fictional Characters

(The 1922 edition of The Beloved Vagabond.)

Obviously I love children's books. A lot. But I thought that every now and then on this blog I would throw in a book meant primarily for adult audiences. Of course the book I've chosen for this post -- The Beloved Vagabond, by William John Locke -- is partly about the upbringing of a child. And the reason I read it in the first place was because it was mentioned in a classic YA novel, Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy and the Great World. Still, it totally counts as a novel for adults.

First of all, Betsy and the Great World is wonderful, and so are all of the other books in the Betsy-Tacy series. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote them as a fictionalized autobiographical account of growing up in Minnesota in the late 1880s and early 1900s. (I love all fictionalized autobiographies of girls who grow up to be writers: Little House on the Prairie, Emily of New Moon, Little Women.) The Betsy-Tacy books begin when Betsy is five, and they go through her high school and college career to the first year of her marriage (1917). Betsy and the Great World is the one where Betsy spends a year traveling in Europe: 1914, the year that Maud spent abroad in real life.

 (Illustration by Vera Neville from Betsy and the Great World.)

On the ship crossing the Atlantic, Betsy meets several people, including the rakish Mr. O'Farrell, her shipboard crush. Everyone begins to discuss books:

"Shouldn't an author know the classics?
But people at dinner tables, she discovered, didn't talk about the classics much.
Fortunately she had one dear love among books that was not a classic. And Mr. O'Farrell mentioned it.
'The Beloved Vagabond? Why, I've read that over and over!' Betsy cried."

The Beloved Vagabond is about a man called Paragot and his eccentric, bohemian life. Betsy and Mr. O'Farrell both admire Paragot, but not everyone on board agrees.

"The English lady knew Paragot, too. 'But I wished he'd cut his nails,' she remarked. 'And I didn't like it when he put his hairbrush in the butter.'"

So after that I had to read The Beloved Vagabond. I always take reading recommendations from my favorite fictional characters. Plus, I wanted to find out what the deal was with the hairbrush in the butter.

 (Title page of the 1922 edition, from this Ebay sale that is sadly over.)

The Beloved Vagabond wasn't a classic when Betsy and Mr. O'Farrell were discussing it, because it had just been published nine years earlier, in 1905. I'm not sure whether to call it a classic now. Are die-hard Betsy-Tacy fans the only ones reading this book in 2012? But it was incredibly popular when it first came out. In 1907, Hamilton Carr gave it this rave review:

"He who has not read 'The Beloved Vagabond' has missed something quite unique in current fiction. It is a fantastic picture of compelling charm, extravagant in enticing details, at times broadly realistic and always human. Its scheme is a daring one, and because of it there is reflected an irresistible atmosphere of vagabondage, where untrammeled volition trips gayly across the years to the eternal melodies of the soul's emancipated glories."

An irresistible atmosphere of vagabondage, you guys! I need to start writing my reviews more like Hamilton Carr.

 (You can find lots of screenshots from the 1936 movie here.)

The Beloved Vagabond was so popular that it was made into a play, and then into two British movies, one in 1923 and one in 1936. The 1936 film starred Maurice Chevalier as Paragot (which is not how I imagine the character).

 (Image from here. No way was Paragot this clean-cut and suave.)

The whole point of The Beloved Vagabond is the remarkable character of Paragot. You meet him, you marvel at his spectacular weirdness, and you fall in love with him. Paragot begins the story by saving the narrator of the novel, then a London street urchin, by purchasing him from his neglectful mother for half-a-crown, which I think is like twenty cents. The boy sees Paragot as a god, even though Paragot is horrifyingly messy:

"Paragot lay in bed, smoking a huge pipe with a porcelain bowl and reading a book. The fact of one individual having a room all to himself impressed me so greatly with a sense of luxury, refinement and power, that I neglected to observe its pitifulness and squalor. Nor of Paragot's personal appearance was I critical. He had long black hair, and a long black beard, and long black finger-nails."

Okay, so I'm with Maud Hart Lovelace's English lady here. I want Paragot to cut his fingernails. And maybe to clean up his room a tiny bit:

"The herrings and a half-smoked pipe shared a plate on the top of the rickety chest of drawers. I had to blow the ash off the fish. A paper of tea and a loaf of bread I found in a higgledy-piggledy mixture of clothes, books and papers. My godlike friend had carelessly put his hair-brush into the butter."

That last sentence is perfection.

(Dulac's illustration of Paragot's meeting with the narrator.)

Paragot turns out to be kind-hearted, capricious, and given to lengthy philosophical speeches. He saves people everywhere he goes, he never follows social conventions, and he has a secret, tragic love affair in his past. At first, the story of Paragot is just an entertaining romp through his devil-may-care life. But by the end of the book, the story got really gripping. I was dying to know what would happen to Paragot, and I was ready to weep angry tears if I didn't get the ending I wanted. Then I finished the book and I wanted to read it again. Possibly after cleaning my house and getting a manicure, though.

 (Paragot under a tree with his friends, living a life free from the demands of nail care.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Dear Little Dogs in the Magic City

I know that E. Nesbit week is technically over, but I need to mention at least one more book before I move on to other books that are not about hilarious Edwardian children. It's The Magic City, a children's novel that E. Nesbit wrote in 1910.

 (Cover from the first edition of The Magic City.)

There are two awesome things about The Magic City. One is that it will make you want to build a miniature city out of stuff you have in your house. The other is that two of the characters are adorable dachshunds.

 (Illustration from the 1910 edition of the magic city, by H.R. Millar.)

The Magic City is about two children who build a city out of blocks, toys, and knick-knacks. When the moonlight shines on the city, it comes to life. Edith Nesbit wrote this book after building some of these cities herself. In her non-fiction book on children's education, Wings and the Child, or, The Building of Magic Cities, she says that city-building is the best game because it's one of the few activities that both children and adults love. "Grown-ups suffer a great deal in playing with children: it is not the least charm of a magic city that a grown-up can play it and suffer nothing worse than the fatigue incidental to the bricklayer's calling," she says. "Try the experiment the next time you are spending a wet week-end in a country house where there are children."

 (Edith Nesbit with the magic city that she built, from Wings and the Child.)

After The Magic City was published, so many people wrote to Edith asking how to build magic cities that she decided to build one and exhibit it at the 1912 Children's Welfare Exhibition. And it was pretty spectacular.

 (Wings and the Child has a lot of great pictures like this of Edith's magic city, as well as detailed instructions for building your own.)

I'm not surprised at all by the popularity of magic cities. After I read the book for the first time, I built one. And I stayed up all night to see if it would come to life in the moonlight (this was when I was eight, not, you know, recently). My little brother built one too. And now that I've reread The Magic City, I want to build another one, even though I don't have the gorgeous building materials that the children in the book find in their country estate. Philip, the main builder of the city, goes around the house and filches a bronze Egyptian god, silver candlesticks, rare books bound in white vellum and green morocco, brass fingerbowls, mother-of-pearl card counters, a needle case of filigree silver -- basically all incredibly fancy stuff that I will never own. 

 (I still don't really know what card counters are -- like poker chips, I think? -- but here are some beautiful mother-of-pearl ones from the 18th century. You can see that they would make excellent pavements for a magic city.)

Philip finds himself inside this fantastic city along with another child, Lucy. They meet lots of people, most of whom were originally toys, and they have all kinds of adventures. About halfway through the book -- and this is where the story really takes off -- the dachshunds are introduced. They come from a Noah's Ark set, and they are my favorite characters in the book.

 (H.R. Millar, the illustrator of the 1910 edition of the book, inexplicably drew the dachshunds as dalmatians. So instead, here is a 1910 postcard with a dachshund on it.)

 (And another 1910 card with two dachshunds.)

 (Also there is some great dachshund art from around this time period by Pierre Bonnard.)

The dachshunds in The Magic City are named Max and Brenda. They can talk. They are loyal, but afraid of almost everything, and they are very excited about food. They aren't major characters, but they are so funny. I love the way they keep referring to themselves as "dear little dogs."

"'I wonder,' Brenda said to Max in an undertone, 'I wonder whether it wouldn't be best for dear little dogs to lose themselves? We could turn up later, and be so very glad to be found.'
'My dear,' said Max heavily, 'I could give seven noble reasons for being faithful to our master. But I will only give you one. There is nothing to eat in the desert, and nothing to drink.'"

At one point the dachshunds save the children's lives by licking all the paint off the legs of some Noah's Ark lions, which destroys them. (I think that this was a thing children did -- basically the 1910 equivalent of eating Play-Doh. Except probably more toxic.)

(Seriously, H.R. Millar, dalmatians? What??)

I love Max and Brenda, and I love The Magic City. The only problem with the book is that it contains several poems, and, as you know, I am not a fan of E. Nesbit's poetry, except for the intentionally bad poetry that she has her child characters compose. (But if you read the joke poetry and then her real poetry, it's kind of hard to tell which is which.) In spite of that, The Magic City is wonderful. It made me want to live in a country house with an amazing library, and also to get a couple of dachshunds to live there with me. And that is a beautiful dream.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Which E. Nesbit Book is Best for Mermaid-Lovers

(Frontispiece from Wet Magic, 1913.)

Wet Magic is one of the many E. Nesbit books where a group of children meet a magical creature. Some E. Nesbit children get to meet a phoenix, or a Psammead, or enchanted statues. In Wet Magic, it's a mermaid.

(Illustration from the 1913 edition of Wet Magic.)

Wet Magic isn't my absolute favorite of E. Nesbit's fantasy novels (that's The Enchanted Castle), but it is charming and entertaining, and if you like mermaids you shouldn't miss it. It's about some children who rescue a mermaid from a sideshow at a fair, and then travel to an underwater realm of merpeople, sea urchins, and narwhals.

(Wet Magic is also recommended reading for those who like narwhals.)

This book is also, basically, about books. The children summon the mermaid by quoting poetry by Milton ("Sabrina" from Comus), and they're constantly talking about books, both the good ones that they love and the bad ones that they are forced to read by their unsympathetic aunt. The good books are mainly historical romances, poetry, and fantasy stories. The bad ones -- as we all could have guessed, right? -- are moral tales for children. In the end, the books come to life, and there is a literal war between good and bad children's literature.

(Illustration by Arthur Rackham of Milton's Sabrina and her nymphs.)

Wet Magic isn't free for your Kindle -- it's 99 cents. But for 99 cents, you get grouchy mermaids, ferocious narwhals, a plucky carnival boy, and a tour through a lovely, pearly underwater kingdom. So this book is going on my virtual bookshelf.

 (Puck Magazine, September 1913; image from here.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Welcome to E. Nesbit Week

I know it's Friday, not Monday, but I'm still starting a theme week on the Bamboo Bookcase. It's E. Nesbit week! I definitely need a whole week to talk about Edith Nesbit. She wrote a ton of books for children and adults, they are all free ebooks, and they are almost all wonderful. (Let's just get this clear right away: don't read her poetry.)

(Check out Edith Nesbit's haircut! That short hair was shocking in its time.)

I am so fascinated by Edith Nesbit and her whole social circle. She was a follower of William Morris, and she was friends with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. In 1899 she moved with her husband and her best friend (who was her husband's lover; Edith adopted their children) into an amazing old country house, and it became a gathering-place for all of her writer, artist, and activist friends. When you read an E. Nesbit novel, you get a glimpse into that unconventional life. It's basically like reading a gossip magazine for me. If gossip magazines were about eccentric Edwardian writers.

 (All of those artistic turn-of-the-century men had luxuriant beards like George Bernard Shaw here.)

The most gossipy and hilarious E. Nesbit books are the ones starring the Bastable children: The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Wouldbegoods, and New Treasure Seekers or, The Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune. The Bastables also show up in some short stories in Oswald Bastable and Others, and they make a cameo appearance in The Red House, one of E. Nesbit's novels for adults. The Bastable books are about a family of six children who get into trouble over and over again. But the minor characters -- the grown-ups -- are poets, archaeologists, editors of literary magazines, sandal-wearing reformers, and modern, cigarette-smoking women with short hair.

 (Illustration from The Wouldbegoods of the Bastables playing a trick on an eminent archaeologist.)

When I was a child, my favorite book in this series was The Story of the Treasure Seekers, in which the children realize that their father has lost most of his money, and try to earn enough money to "restore the fallen fortunes of the ancient House of Bastable," or at least to get back to a time when they had pocket-money and currant puddings. They try writing a newspaper, digging for gold, becoming bandits, selling sherry door-to-door, and lots of other schemes, all of which turn out hilariously.

Now my favorite Bastables book is The Wouldbegoods, which is the name of a good-deeds society that the Bastable children create. I love how E. Nesbit turns the moralizing children's novel inside out. In most moral children's stories from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the children learn to be good. Or, they learn to be good and then they die. But I love the way the Bastables, while trying to copy these fictional children, end up destroying property, setting farm animals loose, draining a canal, and burning down a bridge. And they never learn their lesson.

 (Scene from The Wouldbegoods in which the children flood their house.)

If you like P.G. Wodehouse, you will like the Bastables series. They have the same sense of humor. You get the narrator who doesn't understand everything that's going on around him (in the Bastables books it's Oswald, the eldest child), you get the mixture of fancy literary style and everyday slang, and you get the light-hearted humor of a story that never takes itself too seriously. Here is an example from The Wouldbegoods, about the morning after the establishment of the Wouldbegoods society:

"The next morning Oswald awoke early. The refreshing beams of the morning sun shone on his narrow white bed and on the sleeping forms of his dear little brothers and Denny, who had got the pillow on top of his head and was snoring like a kettle when it sings. Oswald could not remember at first what was the matter with him, and then he remembered the Wouldbegoods, and wished he hadn't. He felt at first as if there was nothing you could do, and even hesitated to buzz a pillow at Denny's head. But he soon saw that this could not be. So he chucked his boot and caught Denny right in the waistcoat part, and thus the day began more brightly than he had expected."

 (An illustration of this passage from New Treasure Seekers: "The five others now fell on Oswald and rolled him under the table and sat on his head so that he had to speak loudly and plainly."

The Wouldbegoods and New Treasure Seekers are also really good for glimpsing fictionalized versions of Edith Nesbit and her interesting friends. The Bastables are friends with their neighbor's uncle, who writes serial stories for literary magazines, and with a famous poet named Mrs. Leslie. In The Wouldbegoods, the children befriend characters based on Edith Nesbit herself and her husband, Hubert Bland. The Edith and Hubert characters are called "Mr. and Mrs. Red House" after their wonderful country estate.

 (Well Hall House, the real-life model for the Red House.)

But the best characters of all are in The New Treasure Seekers, and they are the ones that the Bastables meet after they're sent to the seaside to recover from measles. They stay with Miss Sandal, who wears long, drab dresses, is a vegetarian, and tells the children, "The motto of our little household is 'Plain living and high thinking.'" The children, confused by her minimalist decorating style, assume that she's terribly poor and spend most of their trip trying to raise money for her. Then there is her brother, Eustace Sandal, a reformer who tries to raise the consciousness of the lower classes, but who ends up falling off some scaffolding while he is trying to give a pamphlet to a workman.

 (I think that Mr. Sandal might be a lovingly satiric portrait of Edward Carpenter, who introduced sandals to England.)

Miss Sandal has two more siblings: Mrs. Bax, who is one of E. Nesbit's cigarette-smoking, short-haired, down-to-earth women, and a lunatic brother who draws beautiful chalk sketches of flying things all over Miss Sandal's white walls. I can't help thinking that all of these fantastic characters are amalgams of Edith Nesbit's actual friends. She even named the main character, Oswald Bastable, after her writer and genealogist friend Oswald Barron, to whom she dedicated The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

(Miss Sandal's brother is obsessed with flying.)

I should warn you that the Bastables books do have the occasional racist language, and also some insensitive depictions of other cultures. In The New Treasure Seekers, for instance, you have to suffer through one episode where the children meet some Chinese immigrants who speak a dialect that is really painful to read. But for the most part, you can't top these books for comic value and gossipy Edwardian goodness. If you like comic British novels and eccentric characters, you have to read these books. I promise that you will laugh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why I Like What Katy Did

If we're going to talk about books in which people recover from an illness, we really have to talk about What Katy Did, the 1872 novel by Susan Coolidge.

What Katy Did is the classic girl-gets-paralyzed story. That actually is a thing! So many girls' books from this time period are about girls who suffer from paralysis, either from illness or injury (Pollyanna,  Jack and Jill, The Lilac Lady, Heart of Gold). I always thought that this literary phenomenon was so strange. Why was it so common? Why does it always happen to girls? This book might answer some of those questions. By the way, if you like books about people recovering from illnesses, there are five books by Susan Coolidge about Katy Carr and her family, and someone gets sick in every single one of them.
 (In this illustration, Katy learns from her saintly Cousin Helen, another character who is confined to bed.)

But What Katy Did is the one where Katy Carr has an accident and ends up unable to walk for at least two years. Before her accident. she's unruly and disobedient, but while she's confined to her bed, she learns to be self-sacrificing and domestic. So, yes, the moralistic tone of the story is a bit much at times, but I still love this book.

 (Katy with her brothers and sisters at Christmas.)

I think I love What Katy Did so much because the children in it seem so real. Susan Coolidge (really Sarah Chauncey Woolsey) based them on her own sisters and brothers, and she's obviously the model for Katy, who is always writing serial stories. In the book, Katy writes this never-ending serial called "The Blue Wizard, or Edwitha of the Hebrides," and I wish I could read it! It's about "a lady, a knight, a blue wizard, and a poodle named Bop," and Katy keeps it stuffed down the back of an armchair in the parlor.

 (The Carr children on their way to "Paradise," a shelter they built out of jump ropes and branches.)

I love all of the strange games that the Carr children invent: a dangerous game called "Kikeri," which is a kind of Blindman's Bluff played in the dark, and the Game of Rivers, which basically just involves everyone running around and screaming. I love Katy's sister Johnnie and her little chair that she names "Pikery" and treats like a doll. I also love what the children imagine they're going to do when they grow up: Katy has a million schemes, but mainly wants to look like the lady on the Tricipherous bottles (a hair tonic); her brother Dorrie just plans to eat turkey and batter-puddings every day; and her sister Clover is going to live in a yellow castle, wear gold and silver dresses with satin aprons, and have a pond in her back-yard full of Lubin's Extracts (a fancy perfume).

(You can buy this image as a poster and dream about having that hair yourself.)

What Katy Did is so funny, and the characters are so human, that the moralizing is balanced out for me. But I still laughed out loud when I came across E. Nesbit's satirical take on this book in The Wouldbegoods, which is about a group of children trying to be as good as the characters in a Susan Coolidge novel and failing spectacularly. They are wild and disobedient, like Katy, but they are never able to reform. At one point their misbehavior leads to one of the girls cutting her foot badly:

"The worst was when Dora couldn't get her shoe on, so they sent for the doctor, and Dora had to lie down for ever so long. It was indeed poor luck.

When the doctor had gone Alice said to me -- 'It is hard lines, but Dora's very jolly about it. Daisy's been telling her about how we should all go to her with our little joys and sorrows and things, and about the sweet influence from a sick bed that can be felt all over the house, like in What Katy Did, and Dora said she hoped she might prove a blessing to us all while she's laid up.'

Oswald said he hoped so, but he was not pleased. Because this sort of jaw was exactly the sort of thing he and Dicky didn't want to have happen."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What I Failed to Learn from A Sweet Girl Graduate

Okay, so A Sweet Girl Graduate, by L.T. Meade, is not A Girl of the Limberlost, even though both are books about poor country girls who go to school. A Sweet Girl Graduate is not great literature. The heroine is relentlessly good, the story is preachy, and this is an example of the writing:

"Prissie felt full of courage and good resolves. She was going out into the world to-morrow, and she was determined that the world should not conquer her, although she knew that she was a very poor maiden with a specially heavy load of care on her young shoulders."

But I loved this book when I was younger, and I think it's still worth a read now. Here's why.

1. I love the entire genre that this book belongs to: the school novel. Maybe it's because I'm a professor and so I never really left school? I will read any book in which anyone goes away to school, from Jane Eyre to Harry Potter. And in A Sweet Girl Graduate, L.T. Meade really gets it right about what it's like to arrive in college: the strangeness of your room when you're in it for the first time, the feeling of being far away from everything you know.

2. The heroine's name is Priscilla Penywern Peel, which is such a great name. (She is aptly nicknamed "Prissie.")

3. The plot is basically Mean Girls of 1891. (There is so much drama about the relationships between the girls; I hope someone has written an article on depictions of sexuality and gender in this book! I do really like this take on the play that the girls perform.) Anyway, the meanest girl is blonde, baby-faced, and delightfully evil. L.T. Meade is so good at writing villains.

4. The other thing that gets me every time about this book is the interior decorating. I love L.T. Meade's room descriptions! Of course the whole point of the book is that decorating your room is wrong, because you shouldn't care about material things, but that's not the message I took away when I read it as a child. I just remembered the pale blue walls of Priscilla's room with their boldly-painted frieze of briar roses, and the cozy room of Maggie, queen bee of the college. Maggie's room is full of knick-knacks, "tempting, small, neatly bound books," and piles of sheet music. "A fire glowed on the hearth and a little brass kettle sang merrily on the hob. The cocoa-table was drawn up in front of the fire and on a quaintly shaped tray stood the bright little cocoa-pot and the oddly devised cups and saucers."

Oh, Maggie, I don't care how high-drama you are; I still want to hang out in your room and drink cocoa.

 (Maybe I need a brass kettle!)

 (And a cocoa-pot!)

5. In this book, Latin and Greek are beautiful indulgences, like cocoa-pots and coral necklaces (the story also involves the girls' desire for a lovely but decadent coral necklace). The moral is that you should give up these things: don't spend your money on expensive luxuries, and don't study subjects that won't get you a high-paying job. I get that. Studying Latin and Greek will not make you rich! But again, somehow I failed to learn any lessons from this book. I teach Latin and Greek, I like decorating my house, and I am totally going to get a cocoa-pot. I'm not tempted to get a coral necklace, because I don't like the idea of wearing coral -- but, okay, maybe I am a little tempted by this one:

(This pendant has already sold, so at least I'm not leading anyone down the wrong path with this image.)

6. Sure, A Sweet Girl Graduate has its issues. But I'm in favor of any book that involves women going to college and becoming teachers. I even love what Priscilla's Aunt Raby has to say on the subject: "Go and learn all you can at your fine college, Prissie. It's the fashion of the day for the young folk to learn a lot, and there's no going against the times. In my young life sewing was the great thing. Now it's Latin and Greek. Don't you forget that I taught you to sew, Prissie, and always put a back stitch when you're running a seam; it keeps the stuff together wonderfully. Now go to bed."

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.