Feel Mixed...

Green Mansions :A Romance of the Tropical Forest - W.H. Hudson

I feel ambivalent about this book. I did finish it, and on the whole I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I'd say I liked it--it holds on to three stars by its toe nails. It's considered a minor classic, and it was a favorite book of someone I knew in high school. How many classics are loved and read (unassigned) by teenagers? It was a favorite of novelist John Galsworthy as well, who provided the introduction in the Project Gutenberg edition I downloaded--he ranks Hudson with Tolstoy and called him his favorite living author (the book was published in 1904).

The "green mansions" of the title is the Venezuelan Amazon rainforest. And Hudson was not only a respected novelist in his day, but a naturalist--and it shows. His descriptions of the rainforest, his depiction of his heroine Rima, who embodies nature, was the most appealing side of the book. I wouldn't particularly call myself a nature lover--and certainly no environmentalist, but even I wasn't immune to how he painted everything from the canopy of trees to a moth or spider. Lyrical--vivid--it was all that. So was Rima--one of the most original and memorable heroines I've read in literature. She's described as "bird-like" and so mystically in tune with nature she gains her raiment from a spider's silk and can cuddle up to a coral snake with impunity. The area's tribe won't hunt in her domain, which is under her protection--they fear her as something supernatural. That's the good part of the book, and a big reason I kept turning the pages was to read more of Rima and find out what happened to her.

Then there's Abel. Abel is our narrator and hero--and boy, did I ever despise him. I'm far from politically correct--and I can make allowances for the times--remember, this was published in 1904. The problematic racial aspects of <i>Gone With the Wind</i> don't keep me from loving the book and film--ditto Kipling. So when I say Abel continually annoyed and repelled me with his attitude toward the indigenous inhabitants (which he called "savages") that says a lot. I'm not sure in the end if this really reflects Hudson's own attitudes or just how he depicted a character--because in the end I found Abel so despicable, so arrogant, I'm not so sure I <i>am</i> supposed to be on this side--although I think yes. In the end this is the first person narrator through which all the events are filtered, and he's framed as telling all this to his friend, who is flattering about his character. I can only tell you that if Rima is the reason I kept reading, Abel was the reason I was tempted to stop reading. If you can tolerate the character though, and some admittedly florid writing (1904 remember) as Abel goes into raptures about Rima's beauty--well, especially if you love nature, you might find yourself happy you took the journey.