Lately, I have been on a book reading binge. A purposeful one.
I have been reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I want to know, I need to know, if it was her writing in those legendary books. Or was it a collaboration between herself and her daughter, Rose.Or was it all Rose.
Call me crazy, call me obsessed, call me a fan of the TV show and books that started back in the 1970s. But there is a part of me that loves these books and hates seeing an author besmirched, especially when it is Laura who inspired so many childhood adventures and dreams. I might not have taken it to the extremes that Wendy McClure did but her book, The Wilder Life:My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. But McClure gave me the idea to someday camp at the South Dakota homestead in a Conestoga wagon.
I want to believe that Laura was the sole writer. After all, she did write a farming column for years. You try writing 500 words every week and see how easy it is not. Remember, too, she was an excellent student and a lover of poetry. I still remember when she accidentally found the book of Tennyson poetry, meant to be her Christmas gift in one of the later books. She loved that book.
I am willing to concede that Rose helped Laura with structure and plotting. I know from various sources that they discusses the books intensely. I know that Rose typed the books for her mother. I would not be surprised if she constantly edited whether it was needed or not. In Pamela Smith Hill’s biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, Hill discusses what both women talked about through the remains of letters and papers. But as time went on Laura relied on Rose less and less.
Which is why the last option really rankles me. After reading Susan Wittig Albert’s fictionalized account, A Wilder Rose, about the writing of the Little House books from Rose’s perspective, I wondered how far Albert had crawled up RWL’s ass. Her dismissive attitude towards Laura stood out from the first page. Norma Lee Browning was depicted as a simpering follower wanting nothing more than to fawn over Rose’s words of wisdom. Laura turns out to be a passive aggressive manipulator who is either constantly harping on her daughter and her choice of friends or interrupting Rose once she finally gets down to work. In the notes at the end of the book, Albert made sure to besmirch Manly as well as Laura. Did Albert only read Rose’s diaries and papers to get her story?
After reading this and other biographies, I truly believe that Rose should have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder. Her world truly stopped six inches from her nose. Rose builds a dream house for her parents without consulting them and demands they live there while she lives in the farmhouse they built for themselves – perfectly suited for their size and needs. Did it ever occur to her that all the little sniping was because Mom wanted to live in the house she built for herself? A gift is no gift when gratitude is demanded.
Adding insult to injury, Rose writes a book (Let the Hurricane Roar,1932) based on her mother’s stories that had been collected in Pioneer Girl, using the same names as her grandparents, hides the notices from her mother (documented in her own diary) and then wonders why her mother is angry. Really? I think I would have taken a switch to that girl despite the fact she was over 40 years old at the time. I kept thinking “Get over yourself, Rose. Yes, you grew up poor and didn’t have a silver spoon. But people reached out to you and gave you opportunities. And stop blaming your mother for everything.”
Now, as to who wrote what. After reading Let the Hurricane Roar/Young Pioneers, I doubt Rose’s ability to write in a lyrical manner. Her prose is very straight forward, utilitarian. Why, like that of a journalist. Which is exactly what Rose did for a living for many decades. She might have edited, it is easy to edit some one else’s work to make it sing, much harder to write the flowery descriptions from scratch. And their letters back and forth show more collaboration than out-and-out work by Rose alone.
Am I angry over this book? Damm straight. You want to show that Laura Ingalls Wilder did not write those books then you had better come up with better proof than only the daughter’s diary and a fake conversation with a woman who died in 2001 and cannot be contacted for verification. This book might be fiction but its overly smug attitude towards LIW reminds me of what was said about Shakespeare. How can a person with so little education write so good of a book?
Nor could I deal calmly with her attitude about the royalties, how the library had to sue in order to get what was willed to them. That if it wasn’t for Roger MacBride allowing the rights to be sold to the TV show, there would not have been over $800,000. Well, there would have been no tv shows if Laura had not written the books. But why should a tiny, leaky library in a podunk town get the money that was willed to them?
To me, that is simply another example of Rose being a jerk. Her mother knew the importance of helping a community. Laura was one of the community members who helped create that library. Apparently, Rose could not understand that sometimes you have to help the community be better by giving them access to a broader range of information. Her method seemed to involve a permanent sneer and running away with the middle finger raised high.
I am awaiting the new Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill. Will it give a balanced story? Will it satisfy my LIW Hunger without destroying her image? I don’t know. But I would rather know she was a woman who tried than one who had to have her way by hook or by crook, even if it destroyed her daughter.
Has a book ever angered you so much you are willing to slap not only the author but the subject of the book as well?