Monday, August 25, 2008

Turning the Little House Books into Classics

I recently came across a research paper by Anita Clair Fellman, on the relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Lane. Fellner paints Laura's childhood in different strokes than Laura herself did, describing it as unstable due to their frequent moves, and filled with demanding responsibilities. As a devoted Little House fan, I must have read Big Woods through Golden Years at least a half dozen times, and never would have used Rose's words, "a hard, narrow, relentless life," to describe the journey.

When Rose, an established writer, convinced her mother to write stories based on her childhood, Laura produced "Pioneer Girl." First-person and written on a more adult level, it languished with publishers. As Rose worked the manuscript, complaining to her diary that her mother wanted, "prestige rather than money," she at last found a publisher interested in seeing one part of the manuscript expanded. This eventually became Little House in the Big Woods, but not without plenty of writer-editor, mother-daughter tension. At one point, Rose wrote to her mother, "you must listen to me…If you don't do what I tell you to, you must at least have good hard reasons for not doing it." Good advice from an editor, but the daughter continues, "Just because I was once three years old, you honestly oughtn't to think that I'm never going to know anything more than a three-year-old."

Fellner notes that through the books, Laura recast her family and her childhood with a "golden glow" that never really existed. Meanwhile, Rose, without whom the books might not have taken shape, never could take credit for work which became more celebrated than anything she produced under her own name.

--cross posted to Under the Covers...

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