Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Ghost in the Little House - Final Comments

Part 5

I stayed up last night to read the final two chapters of The Ghost in the Little House. At the age of 78, Rose was contacted by the editor of Woman's Day and asked to make a trip to Vietnam. Chapter 20 of Holtz's book is dedicated to Rose's trip--what she discovered, her opinions on what was going on in Vietnam at the time, and the article she ended up writing. Rose told the story of "the Vietnamese people in their centuries-old effort to throw off a series of foreign oppressors." Rose was very concerned about the Communist threat in America and abroad, and it appears those concerns shaped her story on Vietnam. As a lover of history, I found this chapter particularly interesting.

Prior to her death in 1968, Rose planned another trip to Europe. She was to set sail from New York on November 9th. Some time earlier, Rose decided she was suffering from diabetes--as her mother had. Her fear of doctors caused her to create a new diet for the ailment which she had self-diagnosed. On October 29th, she died in her sleep in her Danbury, CT home. Roger Lea McBride, who had been in Rose's life for some time by this point, brought Rose's ashes back to Mansfield and laid them beside the burial place of Almanzo and Laura.

I've heard it said that most readers do not bother to look at prologues and epilogues, but to not read Holtz's epilogue would be to miss out on what happened after the deaths of the Wilders and their daughter. Laura's books continued to sell. McBride found Laura's manuscript "The First Three Years and a Year of Grace" and her letters to Almanzo in 1915 when she went to visit Rose in San Francisco and to see the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The first was published as The First Four Years by Harper and Row in 1971; and three years later, West from Home would be published. Then came Landon's televsion show Little House on the Prairie and a TV dramatization of Let the Hurricane Roar titled Young Pioneers.

Holtz goes on to discuss how he became involved in writing his biography of Rose and he claims that even at the time he was writing this book, "Rose is regarded with suspicion in Mansfield, where people tend to be protective of her mother's reputation." He talked about three other people--Rose Ann Moore, William Anderson, and Donald Zochert--who also investigated Rose's involvement in the writing of Laura's books. He goes so far as to claim that Zochert, "guessed privately at more than he could prove regarding Rose's hand in the books." Holtz says there is a "spell of the mythical Laura Ingalls Wilder, frontier heroine and untutored genuis of the Ozarks, which prevented an adequate assessment of the daughter's hand in the mother's work," further claiming that Rose had created a shield that no one could penetrate.

The author sums up his book with what he hopes to have accomplished and that it was a "happy task to set the record straight."

I have experienced many emotions while reading this biography of Rose Wilder Lane. I have at times been excited to learn more about Laura and Almanzo's only surviving child. But a sadness fills my heart to think of who Rose was, as portrayed in this book. She is someone who seems to have been ruled by her own emotions--taken over by bouts of depression and harboring a resentment towards her parents. Rose always desired to write something more substantial than the meaningless articles she penned to pay her bills.

I wish I could say I came to a conclusion now that the book is over, but I haven't. I know what it is like to have a good editor, but just because I accept her suggestions does that mean I should share the byline with her? Holtz seems to make a big deal out of the fact that Rose typed all the manuscripts up for Laura. Perhaps Laura felt she did not need a typewriter if Rose had one; especially if Rose was going to review her manuscripts anyway.*

While it has been my experience that being prolific in one aspect of writing does not mean you will do as well in other areas, it still shows that Laura had some skill with a pen and paper. And while Holtz paints Laura as being a dunce when it comes to fiction writing-- so ignorant that she couldn't even take instructions from Rose on how to edit her own manuscripts--he can't possibly explain away her ability to write thought provoking articles for the Missouri Ruralist.

I am disappointed that Holtz took the road of discrediting Laura to prove his theories. If his theories are correct, they should have been proven without attempting to destroy Laura's reputation. It appears he feels there is some big secret that he has been smart enough to uncover, which couldn't have been unearthed while Laura and Rose were alive.

Maybe he's right. Maybe Laura and Rose did work hard to keep the public in the dark about how much Rose contributed to Mama Bess's books. But I find it hard to believe that a child who wouldn't even help her elderly mother up when she fell down in public would feel obligated to keep such a secret, even after her mother's death.

So, while this book is ended, I still have lots more to do. As I mentioned earlier this week, I am going to review the Appendix at the end of Holtz's book which includes copies of passages from Laura's manuscripts and a version revised by Rose. I will compare these to my 1971 copies of the Little House books. And then I will see if I can get my hands on a copy of Free Land to see if the writing style is similiar. This might just serve to confuse me, however, because Holtz contends in his epilogue that, "Any acknowledgement of the mother-daughter relationship as writers [in Mansfield] casts Rose in the role of borrowing from her mother's work."

I hope you have enjoyed journeying through The Ghost in the Little House with me. I really liked reading this biography of Rose Wilder Lane when it spoke solely about Rose. She was an interesting but complex person. She got to travel to places I could only dream of seeing. And she made a name for herself in the world of writing, that seems after reading this biography, to be underrated.

I don't know if I will ever find the answers to my questions. I might never know what I feel about Rose's contributions to Laura's books. At some point, I might even enjoy living in blissful ignorance on what the truth really is. But I am glad I stuck with Holtz's book to the end, as it has renewed for me a desire to move forward with Laura Ingalls Wilder projects of my own.

*Author's note: I deleted a reference to Holtz not mentioning Laura's work for the Missouri Ruralist and her poetry because I later found a passage where he had spoken of them.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting article. I am a HUGE fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books are the reason I started writing myself. I'm a professional ghostwriter and adore writing fiction. I came across your blog by chance.

I've visited Almanzo's boyhood home and have read most everything I can on the Wilders. I would love to know more about Rose W. Lane as well, and will research it. Your comments on the book were excellent. I recently spoke to R. Foster Winans about this book and he loved this book. Being an avid reader of the "Little House" series, I cannot.

But, it is interesting to see the different perceptions that are out there.

Thanks for the pleasurable read.
Taryn Simpson

Cheryl said...

Thanks Taryn. I had to make sure I was ready to read this book before I actually did it. I knew about it for years, but since I love and admire Laura's work so much, I felt I couldn't be open-minded about Holtz's book right away.

I found the book successful in some aspects, lacking in others, but I still want to continue my research. I may never find the "real" answer, but at least I can say I tried.

Thanks for stopping by.