A Girl of the Limberlost Summary

Gene Stratton Porter

A Girl of the Limberlost

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A Girl of the Limberlost Summary

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A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) by Gene Stratton-Porter, a work of realist fiction with a naturalist bent, is considered one of the seminal works of Indiana fiction. A sequel to the novel Freckles, it follows the main character Elnora Comstock, a poor young woman who lives with her mother Katharine, a widow. The Comstocks live on the edge of the famed Limberlost swamp, which caused the death of Robert Comstock, Elnora’s father. Robert drowned in quicksand in the swamp while Katharine was giving birth to Elnora – for this reason, Katharine blames Elnora for her husband’s death, because she could not go to his aid. The book has naturalist themes and deals with the troubles of women living in poverty who refuse to drill for oil like their neighbors because it would ruin the natural landscape of their beloved home.

As the novel opens, Elnora is entering high school. Katharine, not believing that Elnora’s high school education is important, would rather she work as a laborer on their farm, but Elnora is certain that she will succeed in making something of her life if she gets an education. Elnora, particularly strong in math and natural sciences, soon creates a scheme to sell artifacts and moth specimens from her beloved home in the Limberlost swamp to help her pay for books and other necessities. Though Katharine constantly derides Elnora’s education, loving neighbors Wesley and Margaret Sinton support Elnora; with their help and her own talents, Elnora soon has many friends.

Elnora inherits her dead father’s violin, which her mother hates. Elnora studies the violin for two years until she becomes quite proficient as a musician. Elnora only practices in school, however, in order to avoid angering her mother. Then, one afternoon, Katharine decides to pay the high school a visit to further mock it to her daughter. Instead of finding a shabby school, however, she is quite impressed, and further impressed when she hears her daughter playing the violin to a crowd of students for a short concert. Katharine faints, believing that ghosts have sent the spirit of Robert from the swamp in the shape of her hated daughter.

Many other misadventures ensue, including Katharine’s cruel destruction of a moth that Elnora needs to pay her way into college to secure her future. The two women fight over the moth, and Katharine slaps her daughter, causing Elnora to go into hiding. Margaret Sinton, hearing what happened, finally intrudes, chastising Katharine for never appreciating her daughter and allowing her love for a man who was intending to be unfaithful to her get in the way of her loving her own beautiful and talented child.

In the second half of the book, Elnora meets Philip Ammon, who stays on the Comstock’s farm while recovering from typhoid. During the months Philip stays, he and Elnora slowly fall in love, but Philip is engaged to another woman, Edith, a self-centered, rich city girl. Eventually, Philip returns home and realizes he could never love Edith as he loves Elnora. Jealous, Edith postpones her engagement to Philip. In response, Philip professes his love for Elnora, who is cruelly chastised by Edith and her friends. In an effort to prove that she is the only one for Philip, Elnora disappears to convince Philip to rescue her. During Elnora’s disappearance, Hart, a kind friend of Philip’s, helps Edith see the wrongfulness of her ways. Eventually, Edith and Hart fall in love. At the end of the novel, Elnora returns to Philip, Edith finds the moth that Elnora needs to secure her future and gives it to her as a gift, and the two couples live happily ever after – Philip with his beloved Elnora, and Edith with his best friend Hart.

Gene Stratton-Porter was a native Indianan and a self-taught author and naturalist who wrote a number of popular books for women. She used her nature photography and her influence as a popular author to convince legislators to save the Limberlost swamp and other natural treasures of northeastern Indiana from destruction through industrialization. In 1924, she founded her own silent-film era production company, Gene Stratton-Porter productions. Her novels Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, and The Harvester were all set in the Limberlost swamp, and share some recurring characters. Stratton-Porter also wrote a number of nature books, books and poetry for children, and magazine articles. She died at age sixty-one in Los Angeles, California.