Green Mansions is an exotic and tragic romance about a young man who travels to Venezuela. He lives there with an Indian tribe, but his new-found life is shaken when he meets the "magical" forest-dweller, Rima. He is moved by her story and travels through the jungle with her and her grandfather to find the answers she doesn't have about her past. But the presence of the young man has changed the Indian tribe forever, with vast and tragic consequences.
Green Mansions is one of the few novels ever to become an undisputed classic during the author's lifetime. It is a book I found to be truly enthralling and full of romantic magic making it a great read.
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 Gone With the Wind 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 am 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.
Green Mansions is the story of Abel and his love affair with Rima the bird girl. Leaving political chaos behind in Caracas, Abel travels into the savage interior of Guayana province. He eventually comes to spend some little time with a village of natives. There is a nearby wood which they warn him against. They will not hunt there nor even enter, believing it to be under the protection of an evil spirit they call 'the daughter of the Didi'. Such ignorant superstitions hold no water with Abel, an educated man, and he begins exploring the wood. Once inside his 'green mansions' he is enchanted by the song of no bird he can name. Over the course of weeks the songstress leads him on merry chases, shows him some of the wonders of the woods, and ultimately saves his life. They fall in love, of course, but Rima does not understand her feelings. She lives with her 'grandfather' and wants to find her mother's people so they can explain what is happening to her.
The three undertake a trip to find Rima's lost people with no success. She returns alone to her wood. I won't finish the tale in case you want to read it.
Green Mansions was originally published in 1916. The author is W. H. Hudson. I have never seen another book of his but this one has always stuck with me. I have a 1944 edition which includes charming, primitive illustrations. This is the kind of book you cannot help but love - it is so well written and the tale is very compelling. If you can, look it up.
Abel, in order to illuminate the mystery of Mr. Abel's identity and the discovery, on his death, of a closed room in his house containing a decorated funerary urn.
As a young man, Mr. Abel had participated in an failed coup d'etat in Venezuela. Fleeing into the wilderness of Western Guayana, he takes up residence in a remote Indian village where he hopes to find peace in communing with nature.
The Indians warn Abel that the pristine woodland area he has discovered is a dangerous place haunted by a daughter of the
Didi. Scoffing at their superstitions, Abel continues to frequent the forest and becomes intrigued by a warbling sound which follows him and seems almost to communicate with him. One day he chances upon a young girl playing with a bird. Her iridescent other-world like appearance enchants him.
When one of the Indians discovers that Abel has seen the girl, he is delighted and offers his sister as a wife in return for the
death of the dread daughter of the Didi who has thwarted the Indians' hunting in the forest. Abel is appalled at the suggestion of any violence touching the pristine apparition he has seen. He continues to haunt the forest and is teased by the warbling voice, but he does not catch sight of the girl again until she stops him from killing a deadly coral snake.
Abel is so enthralled with her presence that he forgets about the snake, which bites him when he treads upon it. While trying to
return to the Indian village for help, Abel loses consciousness. When he awakes, he is in the hut of an old man named Nuflo, who says that he and his granddaughter, Rima, had brought Abel to the hut. Abel finds it hard to believe that the demure girl speaking Spanish is the same creature who warbled him through the forest. But as he recovers, she joins him in his rambles in the forest, where she again becomes the elusive warbler. Nuflo
finally reveals to Abel that Rima is not actually his granddaughter but was given into his care by her dying mother.
Although Rima appears and disappears at whim, she spends more time with Abel, and a bond between them begins to grow. Finally she asks him what is beyond the land that is visible
from the top of the mountain, Ytaioa. In an improvised geography lesson, Abel mentions the Riolama mountain range on the border
of Guayana. The name brings immediate recognition to Rima: "Riolama! Riolama!...That is the place I am seeking! There was
my mother found--there are her people and mine! Therefore I was called Riolama--that is my name!" She is determined to go to
Riolama and convinces Abel and Nuflo to accompany her on the long and difficult journey.
When they reach the spot where Nuflo had found Rima's mother, it becomes apparent to Abel that she must have been the lone survivor of a disaster. He convinces Rima to return to the
forest and live with him. She agrees, but insists on going ahead of the slow-journeying men to ready a place for them.
When Abel and Nuflo finally return, they find that his hut has been destroyed. Searching for Rima in the forest, Abel finds
an Indian hunting and returns with him to the Indian village to find out what has happened to Rima. Kua-ko' tells him that the daughter of the Didi had returned to the forest and found them hunting there. When she climbed to the top of a tree to frighten them, Runi ordered the tribe to set fire to the tree and Rima was killed.
Bent on revenge, Abel flees to Managa's village and subsequently leads the enemy tribe in a raid on Runi's village.All in the village are killed. His revulsion and horror at what
he has done leaves Abel half-mad and scrabbling in the forest for mere survival. Among the ashes of the burnt tree, he finds
Rima's charred bones and gathers them together. His last act of devotion to Rima is to make a pot, decorated with forest
motifs, in which to carry her remains back to civilization.
After a delirious journey, he finally reaches the coastal Georgetown; there Abel finally reaches some peace with himself and with the spirit of Rima.
As an allegory, GREEN MANSIONS explores humanity's search for meaning in relationship with the natural world. Abel, as
everyman, flees from civilization into the wilderness where he encounters both the idealized and brutal aspects of the natural
life. Rima, who communicates with the animals and will allow none to be harmed, represents an Edenic harmony between humankind
and nature. The Indians, on the other hand, exist in a fallen nature from which they must violently wrest the means for survival. Abel yearns to join with the golden-age vision
represented by Rima, but he cannot communicate on her level, and the relationship is doomed. When he loses his vision, Abel regresses to the brutal level of the Indians and further to the level of an animal hunting for grubs to eat. It is only when he gathers up Rima's ashes and remains, that he begins his long road
back to a human consciousness. He must absolve and forgive himself in order to regain the grace offered by Rima.
Beyond the allegorical aspects of GREEN MANSIONS, Hudson's strong naturalism and evocative descriptions of the landscapes
and wildlife of the South American forests underline a contrast between the pristine wildernesses encountered by Abel and the
Europeanized civilization from which he originally fled. The Indians seem to fall somewhere in the middle -- they are by no
means idealized savages, and the civilized Abel finds them brutal and degraded. The only human connection he makes in the Indian village is with the old woman, Clacla, whom he patronizes and humors. But these Indians too have been touched by the intrusion of the Europeans. There is a subtle warning implicit in Abel's rhapsodizings on the scenery; he senses the ongoing and impending destruction of the wilderness. That which is about to be lost is most precious.
W.H. Hudson considered himself not a novelist but a "field naturalist who writes down what he sees." Born in Argentina of American parents, he was from his earliest days fascinated by nature. His expertise in the local flora and fauna led to a contract with the Smithsonian Institution to collect bird skins and to correspondence with Zoological Society of London which published his letters on the birds of Argentina in the Society's
”Proceedings." In 1874 he moved to England hoping to support himself by writing about nature. Finding it difficult to obtain work as a naturalist in England, he turned to writing novels. His first, THE PURPLE LAND THAT ENGLAND LOST(1885, relates the adventures of a ”gaucho" on the Argentine pampas. A CRYSTAL AGE(1887) chronicles the difficulties of a modern man coming into contact with a utopian society which lives in harmony with
nature. Although both novels were unfavorably received initially,each anticipates some of the themes of GREEN MANSIONS.
Turning back to naturalistic writing, Hudson successfully published a number of essay collections including: ”The Naturalist
in La Plata" (1892), ”Birds in a Village" (1893), ”Idle Days in Patagonia" (1893), ”Argentine Ornithology" ( 2 volumes, 1888-89) and ”Birds and Man" (1901).
GREEN MANSIONS was published in England in
1904 to critical acclaim but no popular success. Not until its publication in 1916 in the United States did Hudson achieve
financial success. Hudson transports the reader into the great South American forests that even in his lifetime were fast disappearing before the inroads of civilization. Undoubtedly the exotic
locale is one of the enduring attractions of the novel. The elusive character of Rima, while reminiscent of European woodland
sprites, also evokes the fragile purity of nature untouched by human incursions. The romantic appeal a lure to earlier generations of readers, is, however, underpinned by a strong ecological consciousness in the novel. Hudson's adventure story is a tale prophetic of the ongoing dangerous incursions into the South American wildernesses.
Rima's fiery death anticipates the fiery clearing of the South American forest land for development. The elegiac tone of the novel underlines not only Abel's failure to attain union with the pure animistic spirit of Rima, but also the failure of modern humanity to comprehend the crucial role that nature plays in the survival of humankind itself.
His background as a naturalist is evident throughout Green Mansions, as he describes the terrain and flora of his jungle setting, as well as its birds and wildlife.
The story revolves around the wanderings of Abel de Argensola, a Venezuelan. When a plot against the government, of which he is a part, is thwarted, he slips into the jungle, ostensibly to document the flora and fauna, as well as the culture of the Indians, but really to avoid retribution. Travelling alone, Abel meets Indians, wins their trust, and is soon sharing life with them. He learns that a particular area of the jungle is strictly avoided by the Indians because it home to and guarded by "the daughter of Didi," a mystical girl who speaks to the birds and animals in a lilting, musical voice. Two Indians, hunting together in that jungle, saw this creature, and one shot a poison dart at her. It hit his companion, killing him. The shooter swore the creature caught the dart and threw it back at the hunters. Hence, the Indians fear her powers and stay clear of "her turf."
Abel, of course, ventures boldly into that jungle, hears and sees the creature and is enchanted. Before too long, he actually meets her, learns her name—Rima—and meets her "grandfather," an elderly, white-bearded Venezuelan named Nuflo. The time Abel spends in Rima's forest riles the Indians, who now distrust him.
Rima speaks repeatedly of her mother and the region where she died. To win her favor, Abel persuades Nuflo to lead him and Rima back to the mountain where he rescued the pregnant mother. After the rescue, Nuflo had carried her to a village with a priest, where Rima was born. The mother, who is never named, cares for her daughter and teaches her to communicate with the birds and beasts. Ultimately, she fades and dies. Nuflo and Rima travel to the area in which Abel has found them. With Nuflo persuaded, the arduous trek is made. In their absence, the Indians discover they can hunt with impunity in the forbidden forest.
And it's downhill from there.
Green Mansions is very much a book of its time—1904. The patient pace, the flowery descriptions, the slow, drawn out dialogue. To me, it started slowly, built up some momentum, than tailed deliberately to a conclusion. I read it a long time ago (like 50 years) and got caught up in the mystical Rima. To an old coot, Rima doesn't have the same appeal. I still liked it, but… Give it three.
I very much enjoyed the lush, evocative writing, but I found the outdated attitude about the indigenous people grating. Fortunately, the language and plot were enough to carry me through to the end.