Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Some quiet reflection on Laura, the Little House books and the daughter who may have penned them.

At eleven years old I fell truly, madly and deeply in love with the Little House books. They are a series of eight books about Laura Ingalls and her family who lived a travelling life in the colonial years of America. Starting in Pepin, Wisconsin and concluding in Det Smet, South Dakota, we follow the Ingalls around on their trek to 'the West'. It's idealistic, fun and a tale of an almost completely self sufficient family. As a main character, Laura is a lot of fun and has a great sense of humour.

Like almost every girl who has read the Little House books, to me Laura is a true friend. On some of my most important occasions, including my first eisteddfod, my wedding, my first year of marriage, the day before I started teaching and even when trying survive a heat wave (I thought 'The Long Winter' would help me cool down), I have reread Laura's words and found a companion I will never meet but truly know. Laura's world is not one I can relate to in any way. She has three sisters by the conclusion of the series, she is very clever and noble and she is an excellent seamstress. She is also American, and though one of my biographies include a map of the places Laura lived, I am still quite poor at American geography. Why love Laura though? I guess if you haven't done so, you should read the books.

Laura's books are Little House books is as historically accurate as possible, with Laura researching the Native Americans (Osage) who lived near her family because she wanted to give historically accurate information to her young readers. The books don't touch on the 'lost years', including the death of Laura's brother Freddie, and the fact that the Ingalls family was  working for murderous innkeepers. After all, these are stories written for children, the former would not be addressed in books written in the early 20th century; while the latter who not be written about now, regardless. Laura's own chronological story also changes, making herself older the the first few books, but then skipping 'the lost years' meant she caught up in the age gap.
what is known as 'historical fiction'. Essentially this broad genre captures the essence of a time and place, it may be based on fact, but there are elements within the text which make it fictional. I have read that much of the

From some of my own research, I have done much reading about the contested authorship of the Little House books. Here is some basic information you may find interesting. I know I did.

Pioneer Girl
The Little House books began when Laura produced 'Pioneer Girl', a serial to be published in newspapers or magazines about her life growing up on the prairie. This was never picked up, and instead her daughter Rose helped shape the idea of a book series.

Laura's Literary Career
Laura didn't finish high school, and this fact often opens the argument as to whether Laura would be able to write this books without creative assistance. In These Happy Golden Years, Laura's teacher is distraught by the fact that he held Laura back so she could graduate with her classmates at the same time, which points to the fact that she would have finished school, had she been permitted to attend after she was married, or if her teacher let her graduate without the other students.

Laura had written columns for her local newspapers under such titles as 'How the farm woman thinks'. She was no stranger to writing and had kept journals, wrote frequent letters and loved to read. To me the argument that Laura could not have written her novels is invalid based solely on this point. I do concede that she had assistance in her writing, perhaps from her daughter Rose.

Rose - journalist and author
First things first. I really dislike Rose. She was kind of a jerk.

Rose was a journalist who travelled oversea for a range of assignments. She was considered a bit of a hack in writing circles. She wrote novels including Let the Hurricane Roar, which is essentially a plot based on her knowledge of the Little House books. She allegedly did not get along with her parents very well, but built them a stone house on their own property which she had wired and expected them to live in, while she herself remodelled their former home. Laura and Almanzo never liked it and lived their very briefly before returning to their house. Rose had written Forewords and Afterwards in On the Way Home (when the Wilders moved to the Ozarks) and I found her writing condescending and rough at best. I didn't like it. Also, I probably never forgave Rose for setting Laura and Almanzo's house on fire when she was very little.

All those things aside, there is plenty of proof that Rose did have a hand in editing the Little House books. Correspondence between mother and daughter suggest that books were penned by Laura, then edited and typed by Rose. Some scholars have suggested that Laura gave the stories and plot, Rose gave it style. It seems that it was rather seamless in the way this has been done, until you look at The First Four Years.

The First Four Years
It depends where you believe the canon books end, but this one is the eighth book in the series. Many prefer to see These Happy Golden Years being the conclusion to the canon as Laura and Almanzo ride off into the sunset together - literally.

This book was published after the deaths of Laura and Rose, and an introduction states this was an unpublished first draft. Much shorter than the other books, this one outlines the first few years of marriage from Laura's point of view. In my opinion, very few things go right for our favourite heroine. The newly wedded Wilders faced failing crops, huge debts, a bout of diphtheria which  left Almanzo permanently unable to walk unassisted. Laura gave birth to a healthy daughter, Rose, but family friends the Boasts propositioned to buy her from the Wilders as Mrs Boast could never have children. Even trusty Shep, Almanzo's sheepdog, runs off in a huff. Typically Lauraesque, the book finished on an optimistic note, but in reality the Wilders faced quite a few more difficult years after these first four.

This book, while a good read, is stylistically different to the others in the series. There is less about the fashion, less dialogue and less detail about almost everything. When compared to the way Laura describes her first house in These Happy Golden Years (swoon - if only every new bride could have a house like that), there is a remarkable difference between the two. However, we must remember that is was a draft, and a project which Laura has lost interest in having published. If you use it for the argument that Rose styled a lot of the writing, this is most likely correct.

The big question still remains - who wrote the books?
Laura, of course.
Bur Rose helped along the way, and was never acknowledged for her assistance, at least not within the books the same way other authors may do now.
We will probably never know, though I have read that it is probably 70% Laura's work and 30% Rose's. But it is still Laura's story.

I love you Laura.