wMar 29, 2009

A long time ago for Christmas, I received four 30-page books by William Anderson that were related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I reread the entire series every year from kindergarten through high school, and was quite obsessed with the Little House family. My mother and sister were also quite fond of the books. The only books I remember my mom reading to me were Dr. Seuss and Little House on the Prairie [I know she read me more books; I simply don't remember them].

So anyway, I know that I had flipped through these books many times in the past, but I only spent time looking at the pictures. When I was home recently, I picked them up off the shelf, remembering my desire for Little House meta, and was pretty delighted by what I found.

The Story of the Ingalls
I remembered most of this book as being familiar, because most of the people discussed in the book were characters I already knew from the LHotP books. As a child, these were the only people I really cared about. And while I remember reading almost all of the details before, it seemed so much more sad this time. Once Laura left home, she only saw her family once more: when Pa died. After that, the family was never together again. Everyone wrote letters, obviously, but it seems so sad considering how close they were.

Anyway, this book details when and where the Ingalls and the Quiners [Caroline's family] came to Wisconsin. It gives detailed accounts of the actual travel routes of the Ingalls family (they returned to Wisconsin after trying to live in Kansas, and they lived in Iowa for some time while a baby boy was born and died shortly after). There are detailed entries about life in DeSmet from the diaries of both Carrie and Grace, and there is a fair amount of information regarding what the family did in DeSmet after Laura moved away with Almanzo. It talks about the Wilders uprooting from Minnesota and moving to Louisiana after some hard-talking by Eliza Jane, only to lose their fortune there. But more on that in a minute!
Probably my favorite part of this book was the section on the end, about Laura and Almanzo in Missouri. It talks about their home and their farm and their daughter and what they did with the rest of their lives. They often went horse-riding and car-riding together, which I found adorable.

The Story of the Wilders
Pretty much just what it says. It details the large farm Almanzo's family had in Malone, New York as well as the new one they established in Spring Valley, Minnesota [which caused me to freak out, as I know someone from there]. This book includes more excerpts from Grace Ingalls's diary, specifically about Laura and Almanzo when they were recently married.

A Wilder in the West
To my great surprise, this book about Almanzo's sister Eliza Jane was the most interesting of the bunch. In Laura's books, she is a petty schoolteacher who treats Laura and her sister Carrie unfairly. Even in this book, there's a quote that Laura "never liked Eliza Jane much," and I found myself hating her when reading the Little House books.

But in this book by Anderson, I find her a fascinating figure. While teaching school in DeSmet, with Laura Ingalls being among her subjects, Eliza Jane held down her own homestead outside of town, just like Laura's Pa. The books contains the document submitted by her to the federal government after having lived on her land for five years, to prove that she really had done so, and to explain precisely what she had done with the land. It provides a huge glimpse into how she survived alone on the prairie, against the elements. [She missed out on the Long Winter by returning to Minnesota with her family for the winter. Thank God, because unless she had moved in with her brothers, she would have died!]

After her personal account of homesteading (she ended up selling the property soon after "proving up"), the book expands on her role as teacher in DeSmet, and her job working for the Department of the Interior in D.C. After getting married at the age of 44, Eliza Jane moved to Louisiana with her husband, and eventually convinced the rest of the family (except for brothers Almanzo and Royal) to join her there in the South. After investing the family fortune in rice farming, it was lost. Eliza's father soon died, and then so did her husband. Her husband's children from a previous marriage took everything from her, including her wedding ring, leaving her only with her four-year-old son. She survived anyway, and even had Laura's daughter Rose visit her for a year of high school (Rose's school didn't have high school, and she found her teachers so stupid that she stopped attending in Mansfield anyway). Both Rose and Eliza Jane were feminists and Socialists, and I know that Rose wrote a lot of novels I would quite like to read some day.

All three books do a nice job of referring to books in the series when discussing timelines (By the Shores of Silver Lake, etc.).

There are also lots of neat things: maps, original illustrations by Helen Sewell that were released in the first editions of the Little House books, copies of people's signatures, pictures of Mary's beadwork, pictures of houses, etc.

I'm looking forward to having access to scholarly journals once more. I think I'll look for papers, etc. written about Laura Ingalls Wilder and related people. For now, I still have the fourth book, one about Laura's daughter Rose, to read. Additionally, I kind of want to read all of these books, too. And possibly revisit Roger Lea McBride's Rose books, and see if they hold up, etc.

Shameful Confession: I kind of want an LJ icon that flashes between this picture and the words "Almanzo Wilder was a stud."

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scribbled mystickeeper at 8:45 PM

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