Wherein the author explains why he begins with wherein

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site

When I read Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost for the first time, I was particularly intrigued by the way each chapter was introduced. For instance, Chapter 1 of Freckles begins, “Wherein Great Risks Are Taken And The Limberlost Guard Is Hired.” Chapter 1 of A Girl of the Limberlost begins, “Wherein Elnora Goes To High School And Learns Many Lessons Not Found In Her Books.” I thought these chapter descriptions were quaint and fun and whetted the readers appetite for what they were about to read.

girl_limberlost_bookFreckles and A Girl of the Limberlost were the only two novels in which Gene Stratton-Porter used this style of chapter heading, but she was not the only author to do so. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) used a similar technique in 1926 when he published The Land of Mist. In this book, Doyle’s chapter headings all begin with “In Which” or “Which” or “Where,” such as Chapter 13 — “In Which Professor Challenger Goes Forth To Battle.” This technique goes back even further in time. In Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, published in 1605, chapter headings are often even more lengthy and descriptive. Chapter XX — “Of the adventure, never before seen or heard of, achieved by the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, with less peril than any ever achieved by any famous knight in all the world.” Or Chapter XXIX — “Which deals with the pleasant device that was adopted to rescue our love-sick knight from the severe penance he had imposed upon himself.”

It is probably a good thing all books don’t have chapter headings which are this wordy. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading the chapter teases of Gene’s two most famous books. “Wherein” helped me get into the proper frame of mind to spend some time in the Limberlost at the beginning of the last century.

My use of “wherein” is a nod to Gene and an older style of writing. Books written long ago will, of course, have differences in style, word use and grammar. Gene calls a bicycle a “wheel,” and a car a “motor” and uses words such as “especial” or “espied” that we no longer use today. These differences contribute to the pleasure of reading older books and being transported back to bygone eras. Although it is hard sometimes (or most of the time) to understand what Shakespeare is saying in his works, there is never any doubt you are reading literature from a different time and place. So until next month — fare thee well in your travels and may by fate we will meet again! Forsooth!

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