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Pioneer Girl on the Prairie
August 20, 2014 8:52 AM   Subscribe

This fall, the South Dakota Historical Society Press will publish Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder - apparently full of "not-safe-for-children tales includ[ing] stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey" (or, more academically put, "full of the everyday sorts of things that we don't care to think about when we think about history"). They've been blogging the process of research, annotation, and publication at The Pioneer Girl Project, as well as stories about crabs, a new letter from Pa, really useful books, as well as photos and a series of interviews with the researchers involved via.
posted by ChuraChura (30 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
Been waiting for this for years and years and years. Thanks for the post.
posted by Melismata at 8:53 AM on August 20


While looking around, I also found out about Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen, which I suspect will appeal to the same set of people that the original post does:
As a child, Lee Lien loved to imagine that her mother’s gold brooch originally belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and had been left behind in a Saigon cafe by Laura’s daughter, Rose, many years ago. Now unable to find a job after graduating with a Ph.D. in literature, Lee, the American-born daughter of Vietnamese immigrant parents, returns home to Chicago to help out with the family restaurant. This smart novel by American Book Award–winner Nguyen aptly conveys the anxieties connected to simultaneously trying to find one’s own way and live up to family expectations. When her brother Sam mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a cryptic note attached to the brooch, Lee begins looking into whether there’s any truth to her belief that the brooch’s original owner was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter. The question soon becomes an obsession, and she heads westward, eventually coming to San Francisco, searching for any small clue to the story behind the gold brooch. She must also deal with an irascible mother who believes that Lee’s Ph.D. is “a fake degree for a fake doctor,” and with returning to a life from which her degree was meant to free her. By acknowledging but not over-emphasizing how Lee’s identity has been shaped by her immigrant parents, Nguyen creates an insightful depiction of American life.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:59 AM on August 20 [9 favorites]


Awesome. I love it when it's August and I can already begin crossing people off my Christmas list.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:59 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Awesome!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:00 AM on August 20


Do the cover the part about Laura Ingalls Wilder's story being made out of whole cloth by her rabid libertarian daughter?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:00 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


"Made up out of whole cloth"? No. Was the truth embellished, or otherwise changed? Of course it was. But to claim that the entire thing was made up, and that there's no truth in any of it at all, is weird.
posted by palomar at 9:08 AM on August 20 [25 favorites]


Man, I can't wait to not tell my wife about this until I hand her a copy.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:09 AM on August 20 [8 favorites]


apparently full of "not-safe-for-children tales includ[ing] stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey" (or, more academically put, "full of the everyday sorts of things that we don't care to think about when we think about history").

This kind of stuff wasn't part of the book series, but in terms of the TV show, there were a few episodes that were pretty stark and creepy, almost nightmare making. I think we've talked about it before here, but I'm thinking specifically of the rapist episode; the one where Albert detoxes from drug addiction; and the one where Ma Ingalls had to use a kitchen knife to take care of a serious leg infection. I don't think I knew what was going on in any of those until I got older.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:14 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Rose fictionalized a lot of Laura's story, in part to smooth out the narrative but also in part to make it illustrative of her ideology (it must be said that Laura did this, too), but in no way were the books "made up out of whole cloth." (The TV show, though, is a different matter.)
posted by scody at 9:21 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


"full of the everyday sorts of things that we don't care to think about when we think about history"

But this is *exactly* the stuff I love to think about when I think about history. Way back when I thought that history was nothing but Important People and the Battles They Fought, I thought history was kill-me-now boring. Thanks to good books in the house and good luck with teachers, though, I found out that history is also what people ate and wore and where and how they lived, and what intoxicants they made and took, and the food they cooked, and a million other fascinating things. Then, unsurprisingly, important people who fought battles got less dull!
posted by rtha at 9:29 AM on August 20 [14 favorites]


" ... stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey"

If she hadn't become a novelist, she'd have made a fine country and western singer.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:48 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


"Made up out of whole cloth"? No. Was the truth embellished, or otherwise changed? Of course it was. But to claim that the entire thing was made up, and that there's no truth in any of it at all, is weird.

That was hyperbole in the service of indignation; obviously the stories have some basis in fact.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:54 AM on August 20


Wait, Laura Ingalls had a daughter who had rabies?

What is this, some kind of homesteading horror remake of Old Yeller?
posted by hippybear at 10:08 AM on August 20 [9 favorites]


full of the everyday sorts of things that we don't care to think about when we think about history

This does sound a little weird because quotidian details about life on the prairie is absolutely why I loved those books growing up-- windows in sod houses! Buying fabric! Calling cards! So even though this is a darker list :

stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey


it's basically not that far off from the books that also taught me about a lack of medicine, raids, grasshopper invasions, and immense poverty. (It's also not that far off from your basic Greek mythology/ancient Greek domestic life 101 intro, and those usually makes people more interested in history.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:19 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


If you've read Rose's full biography, "rabid" is mostly accurate.
posted by Melismata at 10:23 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Do the cover the part about Laura Ingalls Wilder's story being made out of whole cloth by her rabid libertarian daughter?

I think the most indepth examination of this theory that I've ever read was in Pamela Smith Hill's Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life. It makes a strong case for the amount of work Laura herself did, versus the editing and guidance provided by Rose. It was also published by the SD Historical Press (I bought my copy at the famous Wall Drug on a road trip!) and Smith Hill edited the annotated Pioneer Girl.

Once it became clear that the stories were better suited to a juvenile audience, they naturally had to be bowdlerized, in some cases extensively, but there's plenty of evidence to support the veracity of much of the novels. But Rose's politics certainly had an influence on the series' overarching theme of individualism and self-reliance, which necessitated leaving out a lot of true-life details about the family's reliance on others and on social programs (Mary's college, for example, was largely state-funded, while the books imply that the family simply scrimped and saved and suffered to make her education happen).
posted by padraigin at 10:26 AM on August 20 [13 favorites]


Whatever issues Wilder's daughter may have had, I take severe offense to the writer of leotrotsky's first article referring to it as: "suicidal depressions that she diagnosed as a “mental illness.”" Not cool. What does that have to do with her political views or how much she helped her mother write Little House on the Prairie?
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:49 AM on August 20


I'm so excited about this. I love the Little House books, and even still re-read them on occasion. A few years ago I tried to write a NaNoWriMo novel about Laura's cousin, Lena. It would have overlapped with the time that they were together in On the Shores of Silver Lake, but then continue on once the two families went their separate ways. Lena was a boisterous, swearing, wild teenage girl in comparison to the comparatively sedate Laura. I always wanted to read more about Lena, who wanted to marry a railroad man and keep going west as far as she could*. It would have been more of a gritty, adult novel than the sweet Little House books. Perhaps upon reading the new Autobiography, I'll be inspired to try it again.

*In real life, Lena married a farmer instead of a railroad man and settled down in Nebraska...but we can ignore that.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:51 AM on August 20 [8 favorites]




This kind of stuff wasn't part of the book series, but in terms of the TV show, there were a few episodes that were pretty stark and creepy, almost nightmare making.

The one where there was some sort of sexual assault and the assailant wore a burlap mask was pretty creepy. It's one of my only memories of that show. That, and Michael Landon's rich, luxuriant hair.
posted by Nevin at 11:39 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Elly Vortex, I would totally read that.
posted by Melismata at 11:43 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


I'm putting this on my wish list! I was a Little House fanatic when I was a kid - I even went so far as to make my own calling cards, and tried (and failed, alas) to sew a Laura-style dress.

I was discussing the series with a woman on another board, and we agreed that there was plenty of harrowing stuff in the books as they were. The scene in Silver Lake where Laura hears Big Jerry plotting against Pa and using "rough language" - Laura could have been raped, and there was a lot more than just shielding her from swearing and drinking that Ma had in mind when she forbade Laura to go near Big Jerry and his crew.

And by far one of the most harrowing episodes was when Laura, barely sixteen and a newly-minted schoolteacher, had to lodge in an isolated cabin with a crazy lady (Mrs. Bouchier, or Brewster as the books called her) who tried to stab her husband with a butcher knife in the middle of the night. Brr. Bowdlerized or not, I look back and think that Laura Ingalls and Sansa Stark could have traded notes about being trapped with scary people.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:44 AM on August 20 [13 favorites]


" . . . there was plenty of harrowing stuff in the books as they were."
And the family nearly starved in The Long Winter. Mary blindness is starkly referred to at the beginning of On The Shores of Silver Lake. The family is stricken with typhus in Little House on the Prairie. Laura loses a child, her house burns down, and her farm fails in The First Four Years. The series may be full of bootstrapy gumption, but there is plenty of loss, too.
posted by feste at 12:52 PM on August 20 [5 favorites]


I'm really interested to get a look at this book. A few years ago, I went through a thing where I read every Ingalls biography I could get my hands on at the library, trying to sort of...overlap the historical studies onto the novels, like I was trying to see between the lines and around the corners to get a fuller picture of the reality of it all. So this'll be another handy piece to the puzzle.

I always find it intriguing, to bring more historical facts back to each reconsideration of the novels. Like, in The Long Winter, when the family was snowed in and starving--sitting still all day around the stove, twisting hay into sticks, eating nothing but ground-up seed wheat--apparently, in reality there was another couple in there with them too, not related to them. And they apparently wouldn't help with any of the work, like the hay-twisting. Not very all-in-this-together pioneerish. I can't help but think that would have made me so enraged. It's like--we're all in this lifeboat together! You two don't get an option to wuss out on the hay sticks!!! (Or else, I know who we're eating first...)
posted by theatro at 1:12 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Theatro - the most recent blog entry ("New Characters" in Pioneer Girl) talks about that family (the Masters), and also has a picture of their kids.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:18 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Make your plans for Laurapalooza 2015 in Brookings, SD.
posted by apartment dweller at 2:27 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Whatever issues Wilder's daughter may have had, I take severe offense to the writer of leotrotsky's first article referring to it as: "suicidal depressions that she diagnosed as a “mental illness.”" Not cool. What does that have to do with her political views or how much she helped her mother write Little House on the Prairie?

On the one hand, I can see how mentioning Rose's depression can be seen as an attempt to invalidate or minimize her accomplishments; on the other hand, she kept extensive journals throughout her life and was always very candid about her depression and the role it played in her life (and in her relationship with Laura). I must admit some bias: as a person who also suffers from depression, I found Rose's writings about the topic extraordinarily resonant.

And while I can't condone Rose's politics, my favorite story from her biography is the one where a State Trooper shows up at her door to investigate her for subversive activities. She stands up tall, gives him an earful about the evils of socialism, then politely invites him inside for cookies.
posted by brookedel at 7:12 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Oh, awesome, ChuraChura, thanks! I look forward to actually being able to RTFlinks today--the website was blocked by my workplace filters (seriously), and I had to apply for an exemption. I guess I don't mind the Filtering Company Gnomes knowing about my need to read more about Laura Ingalls Wilder.
posted by theatro at 5:49 AM on August 21


in reality there was another couple in there with them too, not related to them. And they apparently wouldn't help with any of the work, like the hay-twisting.

They were there because the wife was prematurely pregnant, and their families wouldn't let them stay with them because of this. They had "nowhere else to go", and the Ingalls took them in. Good for them. (Although yeah, if I were Pa, I'd punch the husband in the face for not helping out more.)
posted by Melismata at 9:11 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


feste: "The family is stricken with typhus in Little House on the Prairie."

"Fever and ague" which I believe means malaria.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:18 PM on August 26


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