Thursday, February 17, 2011

Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder

Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) is written in a more traditional biographical format. The other two books I read are based on Laura's writings and what can be drawn from reading them. In this book, the author still uses Laura's writings and historical documents, but puts them in a more traditional biographical style of writing.

One of the things I found helpful is the author creates a more structured timeline for Laura's life using historical documents, family letters, and other materials to trace Laura's life. He explains how and sometimes why Laura lumped events together in her books and why some items were left out, like the death of her younger brother. After I watched the biographical DVD of her life, I was confused about the timeline with her living in the Big Woods and in Indian Territory. The author explains the timeline and even some of the reasons for writing the story she wrote it.

The author also addresses the controversy of who wrote Laura's books. I really knew little of Rose Wilder when I read the books as a child. I learned that she was a well known writer long before her mother took pen to paper only as an adult. There are biographers of Rose Wilder who wish to push forth the case that Laura's books were in fact Rose's work. However, this author returns to sources. He uses letters between Laura and Rose discussing editing of the books to continue the argument that Rose and Laura did work together. Rose had more publishing experience and understood what would be published and how to edit. Her work on the books as an editor is clearly documented in Laura's letters to Rose and Rose's to Laura. One has to ask if Rose was writing the books, why would Laura need to be writing drafts for Rose to edit? The author makes a compelling case that Laura's farm style of writing is not vastly different from the story telling she does in her books. However, Rose's stories about pioneer life do not have the same flavor at all.

The author does not shy away from the challenging mother-daughter relationship. It was actually quite compelling and made Laura a more real person in my mind. There are many people in the world that can relate to a challenging mother-daughter relationship. Instead of making me think less of the woman, I found it easier to relate to her as a human being. What was interesting is that no matter how challenging the relationship they seemed compelled to keep trying. Rose continued to help her Mom with editing her work, even though as a writer she needed to focus on her own work to eat. Her parents also continued to reach out when they could. Laura and Almanzo put a note on their farm to bail Rose and her husband out and by all accounts never got the money back. While other biographers have focused on Rose as the victim/heroine in the relationship, I suspect there is a personal motive. I see neither as heroine or villain. The more I read about these two women, the more I get the impression of two strong women with very different ideals clashing.

I also did find out more about Mary. Mary did not marry, but her crafts did bring in some money to help support her parents during hard times. Laura mentions a hammock they took with them to Missouri that Mary made for them in one of her journal entries. After finishing her time at the school for the blind Mary stayed with her parents, continuing to live with her Mom after her father's death. After her Mom's death, she lived with both Grace and Carrie until she died in 1928.

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  1. This is super cute! Would be great as an American Doll outfit too!

  2. You are making my reading list grow. I love reading what you are learning about Laura Ingalls Wilder - I find it very interesting. Thank you for sharing!