Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Ghost in the Little House - Book Review Part 3

Since my last post about approaching this book with an open mind I have gone from loving the book to being disappointed. I have never experienced such joy and sorrow over learning something new.

This is the only biography of Rose Wilder Lane that I am aware of. From what I've read she certainly had an interesting life full of travels and writing. While I had heard about Let the Hurricane Roar and Free Land, I did not know they were written with her Ingalls grandparents and her father respectively as the inspiration behind these two stories. I am overjoyed to learn this much about my favorite family.

I am at a point where Laura's writing career is well underway. She has written and published Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, and On the Banks of Plum Creek. But the success of these novels is all attributed to Rose in Holtz's book. He gives Laura little, if no credit, in the writing of them. Where earlier Rose complained over the clogging details her mother included, now she says Laura has not included enough details. And while Holtz does mention Laura's writing for the local newspaper, he credits Rose with getting Laura published in the field of fiction because of her connections.*

It would be difficult to prove his point--Rose is the co-author of the Little House series--if he did not discredit Wilder in some way, but there is one comment that turned me off entirely.

Free Land--which was a great success for Rose--gained her fame and fortune like she had never known. It was an eight-installment series which ran in the Saturday Evening Post over a two-month period. The hero of this series, David Beaton, "pits his courage, skill, and endurance against the Dakota plains in the effort to make a farm for his wife and children." We already know that this story is based upon her father's life. During the writing of Free Land, Rose--who now lived in New York City-- corresponded with her father, asking him all types of questions so that she could authenticate the narrative.

One page 281 of Holtz's book it states, "...Rose had gone to some lengths to avoid a facile optimism. Young David's early marriage, a cliche of romance, turns out to be a mistake of the heart, but one he resigns himself to live with." As a reader who already knows this if the life of Almanzo Wilder, this portion of the text infers Almanzo saw marrying Laura as a mistake.

If I had no prior knowledge of the Wilders this comment would have elicited no response--except perhaps pity. But I have been studying the Wilders and their families for years. Through Laura's own books as well as those written about her, I have learned that while life was never easy for the Wilders, they stuck it out and eventually lived more comfortably. Farming life was hard, especially after Almanzo's stroke; and they suffered the loss of a child, a home, and most of their personal belongings in the early years of their marriage. But this comment seems to add one more loss to all the hardships they endured together.

Perhaps it is the hopeless romantic in me which sees them as madly in love with each other or the glossed over version of their life which I watched as a child every Monday night on Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie which clouds my judgment. All marriages weren't happy--even back then.

I've tossed it around in my head several times since reading this passage the other night and I can't get away from the feeling that this comment is only there to further substantiate the claims that Laura was not a very nice person. I felt it an unneccessary dig at an icon of children's literature whose abilities have continually been called into question by the author.

Yet still, I have to admire a piece of work which challenges me to think differently about a topic which I am familiar with. Not that I am ready to say I believe Holtz's claims that Rose should be credited as co-author of the Little House books. I am no closer to thinking that than I was when I first started. But I still have over 180 pages left to convince me. I have to admit I can't wait to sit down and read it every night so I can learn more about Rose and her writing career. I can relate to her bouts of insecurity and desire to write something more of substance than articles for Country Gentleman or editing her "mother's damn juvenille" as she often called it. And isn't that what all writers strive for--to keep their readers interested and get them to relate to their characters? I am willing to call Holtz's book a success from that perspective.

*Author's note: This paragraph has been corrected. I had originally stated that Holtz never mentioned Laura's work for the newspaper, but while researching a passage for another entry, I did stumble across Holtz's paragraphs about Laura's writing and posted a follow-up entry. Now that I am reposting this review here, I felt it appropriate to correct the original text.

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