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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book review: A Wilder Rose

A Wilder Rose
Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, 2013
Publication date:  10/1/13

For years I have enjoyed Susan Wittig Albert’s mysteries  – particularly the China Bayles series, set in a small town in central Texas.  When I received a review copy of her memoir Together, Alone I wrote to tell her how much I enjoyed it. That led to becoming Facebook Friends, and then to her request.  If she sent me an advance copy of her new novel would I review it?   Certainly!   

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In A Wilder Rose Susan Wittig Albert explores the conflicted relationship between Rose Wilder Lane and her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder. Albert acknowledges the significant role Rose had in the creation of the Little House series. 

Rose spent much of her adult life trying to absolve her guilt from a family tragedy in her early childhood. Her desire for independence took her from the Missouri Ozarks to San Francisco to post- WWI Albania. Her success as a journalist and then as a fiction writer enabled her to “help out” her parents with a new house and other assistance. She used her success to give her the authority to edit and “polish”Laura’s memoirs and her connections to get the books published. 

A Wilder Rose provides insights into Rose and Laura’s lives which will appeal to Little House fans. It raises points for further discussion. Do daughters have different obligations to their parents than sons? What do we owe our parents? How did the idea of “career woman” evolve in the early 20th century? What family stories do we prefer to hide and what do we disclose?  

The Little House books are firmly enshrined in the pantheon of American children’s literature. A Wilder Rose is a worthy complement to tell the rest of the story.  

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Note: The Ghost in the Little House is William Holtz’s 1993 biography of Rose. I recall that some people were outraged at the very suggestion that Rose rewrote Laura’s stories. That didn’t bother me at all. Susan acknowledges Bill’s scholarship as a significant source for her novel. (Bill Holtz was one of my professors in college, and his wife was in library school with me.)   

I was about 12 when I read Let the Hurricane Roar, Rose’s novel about pioneers named Charles and Caroline. I noted then that those were her grandparents’ names, and that parts of the story were very similar to the Little House books. (By that time I’d read all the LH books several times over so I was quite familiar with the chronology and the scenes.) A Wilder Rose provides the context in which Rose wrote LTHR.

Years later I acquired Rose’s book-and-pattern history of American needlework, a compilation of columns from Woman’s Day magazine. I never did make anything from any of the patterns, but I still have the book.
I think I'm like many LIW and RWL fans in that I didn't like the TV show.  It veered from the books pretty quickly and then spun into story lines that weren't true to the Ingalls' and Wilders' lives.  (And Michael Landon had way too much hair to be Pa. )  When I visited Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, in 1978 I asked the docent if she could tell the difference between visitors who came because of the books and visitors who only knew the TV show. She said yes, indeed, and she preferred the book people. (I also remember that the kitchen linoleum at Rocky Ridge was exactly like that in my apartment in Brenham, Texas.) 





1 comment:

  1. Nann, I think the questions you raise are both pertinent and important. I've often wondered how different Rose's life would have been if her brother had lived--although sons did not then (and still don't) have the same obligations imposed on them that daughters do. And there are many "secret" family stories in every family. Laura, for instance, wanted to conceal the Ingalls' poverty: it was not, she wrote once to Rose, part of the "picture" she wanted to create. But it haunted her, and it haunted Rose.

    Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book!


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