Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Books I'm Reading: A Girl of the Limberlost

Stratton-Porter, Gene. A Girl of the Limberlost. Reprint published in Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Originally published in New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1909.

The jacket says this is the most popular of all the books by Hoosier authors. I had never read it before, and I loved and disliked it at the same time. The heroine is a girl who is beautiful and resourceful hardworking and brilliant, and the young lawyer who falls in love with her and woos her loves her for the things they have in common. What an attractive ideal that is.

I guess I am reacting against this book a liittle because it is pretty secular. God is referred to, but church (and the community of believers that make up the church) have no place in the lives described. The characters are moral, but only because they live in an era that would not tolerate their not being moral. It would be unthinkable to be premaritally intimate, for example.

The most appealing part for me is how Mrs. Comstock, the heroine's mother, finds God in nature. Here is how she describes God at first, "With a whole sky full of worlds on His hands to manage, I'm not believing that He has time to look down on ours . . .. "

On p. 245, she prays that God will send a moth her way of a certain kind. She needs to catch that kind of moth repay her daughter for hatefully killing a similar one that the daughter needed for a collection. "This way, O Lord! Make it come this way! Please! You know how I need it! O Lord, send it lower!"

She ends up catching the moth, which sprays her and attracts so many other moths she doesn't have a way to hold them--until a dangerous thug who hangs about the swamp appears. He suddenly turns into a Godsend because he helps her find and keep many more moths, because she fearlessly orders him to help her. And the swamp bum like her mother deeply loves her young daughter in a miraculously respectful way, so he works with her also just to help the girl.

Later, on p. 295, Mrs. Comstock has a spiritual awakening and soon after finds the rarest moth in America, a "Citheronia Reagalis, which had just emerged from its case . . .." She watches it develop its wings and breaks into a spontaneous sermon.
"Young people," she said solemnly, [to her daughter and the young lawyer who are hunting moths together with her] "if you're studying science and the elements has ever led you to feel that things just happen, kind of evolve by chance, as it were, this sight will be good for you. Maybe earth and air accumulate, but it takes the wisdom of the Almighty God to devise the wing of a moth. If there ever was a miracle, this whole process is one. . . .

"There never was a moment in my life," she said, "when I felt so in the Presence as I do now. I feel as if the Almighty was so real, and so near, that I could reach out and touch Him, as I could this wonderful work of His, if I dared. I feel like saying to Him, 'To the extent of my brain power I realize Your presence, and all it is in me to comprehend of Your power. Help me to learn, even this late, the lessons of Your wonderful creations. Help me to unshakle and expand my soul to the fullest realiztion of Your wonders. Almighty God, make me bigger, make me broader.'"

In a digression, it seems to me that in her beauty, popularity, resourcefulness, and intelligence, Elnora, the heroine, is like Margaret Sanger. (But fortunately I can't imagine Elnora having multiple adulterous affairs later in her life like Margaret Sanger, unless maybe she moved to the city and fell in with a crowd of free-thinking socialists and free-lovers . . .. Nah, not a nice girl like Elnora.
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