I am listening to Mazurka by Tchaikovsky, an interesting rendition on the Vibraphone, and Alexander Glasunov's (Mazurka Oberek).
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those of us who have fond memories of reading the Little House on the Prairie books to ourselves and later to our children, Pioneer Girl is a heavily annotated book that provides the original manuscript Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote with every page filled with background comments by the editor.
Some reviews stated they found the annotations to be cumbersome reading but I thought the notes were what made the book worth reading at all.
In the 1920's, after the death of Wilder's mother and a few years later of her sister, Mary, Laura may have developed a sense of her own mortality since by that time she was in her sixties. With the encouragement of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Wilder began writing down all her memories and putting them in book form. The work was non-fiction and she was scrupulous about making sure her facts about names and places were accurate. She later remarked that she wished she had not used real names so she wouldn't be beholden to keeping facts straight.
Even with the combined research of Rose and Laura, there were certain discrepancies which the notes point out. Hill's notes show that she researched all available records in available newspapers, census bureaus, and town obituaries, marriages and land ownership. She points out when she could not find any record of people Laura mentions in her book or if she got her dates wrong. A lot of the early passages, Laura was simply too young to remember and had to rely on family stories and tradition.
The book begins with a long introduction which traces the inspiration for the book and how it came to be written. It also offers insight into the character of Laura Ingalls and her daughter Rose.
There has been speculation that Rose had a heavy hand in writing the Little House books but after reading Pioneer Girl I conclude that, while Rose served as a valuable editor, she ultimately did not write the stories. She was not above, however, plagiarizing her mother's work.
Rose Wilder Lane was already a successful writer and it was through her contacts that Laura was able to find a publisher. However, gaining access to her mother's writings, Lane rewrote the stories and had them published under her own name in various magazines.
When Laura discovered this, she was not pleased, but Rose made it clear that she saw nothing wrong in what she did and furthermore would do as she pleased. This led Laura to concede defeat but also to getting Rose to agree to allow Laura to collaborate with her on developing the stories.
Laura finally finished her own version of her stories and Rose enthusiastically promoted it, taking her mother to different publishers. They submitted a variety of versions but could not generate interest in the book.
One publisher told Laura that she should rewrite the book as a collection of children stories, told in the third person, rather than first person non fiction as Pioneer Girl was written. As we all know, this is what Laura did and the rest is history.
Pioneer Girl is the original manuscript, and after reading it, it is easy to see why it never succeeded. It's like a very long Christmas letter and wholly lacks the charm and enchanting innocence of the Little House books.
Some of Laura's true character is exposed and not always favorably. In reality she seems to have been rather bossy and judgmental, often describing people or events as "stupid". Nevertheless, she valued hard work and was severe on people she saw as lazy and leaches on society. Her strong work ethic caused her to judge hard drinking because she saw the cause and effect between alcoholism and shiftlessness.
It seems alcoholism was a real problem on the frontier. The first building set up in the towns was invariably a saloon which brought in all sorts of problems: domestic violence, unemployment and crime. Laura describes how alcohol abuse turned frontier towns into unsafe environments. When looking at it in that context, one sees why Temperance societies sprang up.
Laura was rather harsh on a variety of people. While the Little House books describe her family as practicing the Christian religion and going to church, when a church was available, the real Laura does not strike me as having been particularly religious. I could be wrong because she makes no explicit statement but she does demonstrate her contempt for preachers and Sunday School teachers by providing several examples that put them in a negative light.
Perhaps these are real and vivid memories for her, but was every Christian she met greedy, selfish and dishonest? Especially when we arrive at the conclusion that Laura was not overly honest herself.
In her "non fiction" record she includes a story where her father encounters the Bender family and joins a group of vigilantes who capture and administer "justice" to this serial-killing family. Hill notes in the side bar that by looking at the dates the Bender family lived in Kansas, the Ingalls family lived nowhere near the area.
It is speculated that Rose and Laura were hoping to include a notorious crime legend like the Bender family, so it would add spice to the story and increase sales. It is unfortunate that Laura read her stories at a book fair and declared that every word she wrote was "absolutely true."
Those negatives aside, and they are minor negatives in my opinion, what makes the book worth reading is the background and biographical information that Hill provides as well as the many photographs of the Ingalls family and also many of the characters in the book.
For those of us who love the Little House books, this book will give a richer dimension, even if we learn "our Laura" was as human as the rest of us.
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