Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Books: Green Mansions

Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest
By William Henry Hudson
Copyright 1904
About 350 pages
Kindle Edition


My mother once told me that Green Mansions was her favorite book. Upon reading it, I think I may have read it when I was very young, as the storyline had some familiarity (and probably wondered then, as I do now, why my mother loved the book). I ran across the story as a free Kindle download and decided to read it since my mother had thought so much of it.

The story, set in South America in Venezuela in the mid to late 1800s, is about a man named Abel. It is told by an unnamed narrator who befriends Abel in his later years. Abel is open with this person except for one part of his past, of which he will not speak. Finally the two have a little argument and Abel tells this story.

Abel is on the wrong side of the government when agitators take over, so he flees into the jungle. The man has some very prejudiced views about the native inhabitants and definitely believes in the superiority of the white man. Those types of attitudes, including the racism, are all throughout the book, and this made it a little difficult for me to read. However, it is a product of its time.

Eventually Abel, about out of things to trade with the natives, settles with one tribe. He takes a walk through a forest that the natives will not visit because it is haunted by the Daughter of Didi, whom they claim is an evil spirit.

Abel doesn't believe in such things, and he enjoys the forest. However, he soon learns he is not alone there. A young girl who speaks in bird-like language follows him around; he seldom sees her. Eventually they meet and Abel is bitten by a poisonous snake. She takes him to her grandfather's hut in the forest, and Abel lives. He stays with them and soon decides he is in love with the strange girl.

Rimi, the girl, is the last of a people who no longer exist, vegetarians who commune with nature and speak to all the animals. Rimi grew up in a Spanish-speaking community, though, and so could speak that language, too. Abel learned her mother had fled to a new land when the people vanished through whatever befell them (the book was not clear about that). She longed to find her mother's land, though, to see if there were others who lived who might understand her. The old grandfather, a con man of sorts, had found the woman and taken her to the nearest village because she was with child. When the woman died, the old man adopted Rimi, and took her to the mountains to live because the town life made her ill.

Abel and the grandfather finally agree to take Rimi to Riolama, the land were he found Rimi's mother. But once there, they find nothing and Abel tells Rimi that she never will, that the people have vanished. Rimi faints and Abel fears she has died; she comes back around, they kiss, Rimi leaves to head back to their old home.

Abel and the grandfather follow, but due to bad weather and other circumstances do not get back to the hut very quickly. They find the hut has been burned to the ground by the natives and Rimi is missing.

After some time Abel discovers what happened to Rimi, and he suffers terribly because of her tragic death.

That's pretty much the basic story. To be honest, I do not know why this book appealed to my mother, but then, she probably read it as a young teenager in the 1950s and found it very romantic. Attitudes were different then and I imagine some of the discussions about race, etc., in the book were more acceptable.

I don't know that I would have finished this story without the ghost of my mother peering over my shoulder, mostly because of the racism and the superiority attitudes. The language was flowery, descriptive, and passionate. The book was well-written and I can understand why it was successful in its time. According to Wikipedia, Audrey Hepburn starred in a movie adaptation of the book. The movie was a flop.

3 comments:

  1. how neat to read a book that your mother loved so much and i like the idea of her looking over your shoulder reading along with you ;)

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  2. Considerably remodelled and with a happy ending, there's a film starring Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Mansions_(film)

    Sadly, Venezuela is still divided on racial lines. The middle class (who control most of the media) are mostly white and generally contemptuous of the ordinary working people, who are mostly native. Western attitudes to the country reflect this, I believe.

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  3. This book was among a bunch recently given to me by a friend. Have never read it before, or seen the movie.

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