Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Ghost in the Little House - Book Review Part 4

If I sat down to write this entry a few days ago this message would have had a very different tone. I came across some of Holtz's comments that infuriated me. I almost abandoned the book on the spot, after spending numerous hours on it and being less than one hundred pages away from the end.

It started around page 292 when Holtz said it took Rose "more than a year of intermittent work to bring By the Shores of Silver Lake to publishable form." He claims that Laura's letters to her agent George Bye were written with instructions from Rose and that the two women were in cahoots to keep Bye in the dark about them working on the books together.

Then we move to the discussion of "The Hard Winter" manuscript which starts on page 302. Holtz says we can find, "mammoth and defining evidence of Rose's hand in converting her mother's primitive narrative into a lively and publishable manuscript" and he claims she rewrote the entire thing. He goes on to say that Rose did similiar work to all the other books too, but at this point Rose "seems to have abandoned any pretense at instructing her mother." The word "primitive" above is bolded by me because it really irked me when I read it, just like the next passage I will mention.

On page 306, Holtz has moved on to Wilder's next manuscript Little House on the Prairie which he once again says is mostly written by Rose. He cites as an example the chapter entitled "Fourth of July". This is what he had to say: "Nowhere does the story leap more clearly to the eye with Rose's ideological imprimatur than in what she accomplished with Mama Bess's rudimentary chapter "Fourth of July"...the passage (where Pa begins to sing My Country 'tis of Thee and the entire town joins in) is wholly Rose's creation, and in it she has made her mother not merely a romantic but also an ideological heroine." Once again, I have bolded the one word that stuck in my craw.

By this time in Rose's personal life, she was against big government and was more into the writing and sharing of political theory than fiction writing. Holtz says during this time, Rose barely worked on anything of her own, but instead concentrated on rewriting her mother's books. The passage he mentions from "Fourth of July", as well as other passages in Mama Bess's books, he claims shows Rose trying to weave her ideological beliefs into her mother's stories.

Rose's work on Laura's books then takes a back seat to Rose's life--being investigated by the FBI because of a postcard she sent to radio commentator Samuel Grafton which they thought was subversive, her refusals of rationing cards during WWII, her attempts to avoid income tax by making as little money as possible, and how her ideological beliefs further developed after WWII and into the Cold War.

The most interesting chapter so far is the one entitled "Mother Remembered." Mama Bess has died and Rose finds herself more prosperous than she had been in years thanks to the royalties from her mother's books. Holtz has copied a letter from Laura to Rose which was written five years before her death which Laura signed as Mama Bess with Laura Ingalls Wilder in parenthesis. Holtz claims this is Wilder's last assertion of her independent status as a writer.

The chapter makes a mention of how Rose had to adjust to life without her mother, which seemed very odd to me, unless it was meant to say Rose was finally free of the burden of caring for her elderly parents (Almanzo had died in October of 1949 at the age of 92.)

But the one thing that really sticks out to me is that Rose seems to want to continue the supposed ruse that Laura wrote her famous books all by herself. On pages 349 and 350 we learn that Rose now possessed her mother's manuscripts that had been left at Rocky Ridge Farm. They were discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Litchy who were working to make Rocky Ridge a memorial to their most famous resident. Rose returns the published manuscripts to the Litchys for use at the museum with a letter "cautioning them with the old fiction that they were early drafts not representing her mother's final intentions." Rose even went on to defend her mother when an article sought to claim that Laura "knew she could achieve a more artistic effect by altering the true facts occasionally." She wrote a letter to the author, Louise H. Mortenson in which Rose insists that Laura wrote the literal truth. Rose supposedly even took William T. Anderson to task when a copy of his booklet about the Ingalls family suggested that the Ingalls family had neighbors their first year in De Smet. She wrote, "This is a formal protest against your proposal to publish a statement that my mother was a liar." Holtz claims that Anderson corrected his copy to make it agree with Laura's books.

One has to wonder why Rose would go through all the trouble to protect the memory of a woman she seemed to dislike. If she and her mother battled so much, why would Rose insist on keeping their lie alive? Wouldn't it have made Rose even more famous if she came clean about all the work she did on her mother's books? Could revealing this hidden fact not have been Rose's chance to exact justice for her years of mistreatment?

I have only two chapters left to go and my mind is awash in suppostions. At the end of the book I found an appendix which shows samples of Laura's manuscripts versus what Rose wrote, so I know my research isn't done. I will pull out my 1971 Harper and Row Little House books and maybe even purchase Rose's Let the Hurricane Roar and Free Land to compare them.

Should I do this? Will it further confuse me? Or will it make things crystal clear and leave me wishing I left the whole thing alone? I don't know. I guess I'll have to think on it while. One thing is certain, that Holtz's book when he sticks solely to Rose's life and not to discrediting Laura, is a real page turner. I should know, I've been staying up too late every night to read it.

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