Friday, 23 February 2018

These Happy Golden Years


Least said, soonest mended.' Ma Ingalls

Since reading Caroline Fraser’s brilliant biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder over Christmas I’ve been racing through the Little House books which I didn’t read as a child, although I did see the television series which I now know is very different to the books. It’s interesting that the first books are clearly written for children but when you get to the fifth book The Long Hard Winter and Laura reaches adolescence they take on a more sophisticated tone, unlike, say The Little Women books which become sentimental after Good Wives.

These Happy Golden Years is the last of the original six books and Laura is now teaching school aged 15(!) in order to pay for her sister Mary to study at a college for the blind in Iowa. Although not fond of teaching she acquits herself very well and controls the naughtiest boy in the class when he pins a girl’s braid to the desk. The twelve mile journey to the school across the snow-covered prairie in below freezing temperatures is tempered by Almanzo Wilder who has taken a shine to Laura and drives her in his sleigh and takes her home at weekends so she doesn’t have to stay with the troubled Brewster family. 

Ma finally puts her foot down when Pa gets restless and suggests moving on again. The poor woman has travelled in a covered wagon - often pregnant - from Wisconsin through Minnesota and endured the hard Dakota winters. Charming though Pa is I suspect it was really Ma who held the family together. When Almanzo proposes to Laura, Ma helps Laura to make her wedding trousseau and advises her to include a black cashmere dress ‘Every woman should have one nice black dress.' When the wedding has to be bought forward there is no time to make a wedding dress and Laura marries in the black cashmere.

 Married at eighteen, Laura’s childhood is over. She lived through a unique period of American history and never forgot it, but it is Laura’s character, her bravery, kindness and pioneer spirit which makes the books so charming.

10 comments:

Lark said...

I LOVE these books! And I still reread them, especially the last three. Laura feels like part of my family I've read her words so often. :D

Anbolyn said...

I haven't ever read the Little House books, though I did love the TV series as a child. I do love pioneer and settler stories so I really should get to them one day!

Penny O'Neill said...

I have loved and read these books over and over again and have even visited a few of the sites. Most winters, in the middle of a snowstorm, I re-read The Long Winter.

Vintage Reading said...

Lark, I still have By the Shores of Silver Lake to read because my bookshop couldn't get hold of it. So glad there is still more Laura to come!

Anbolyn, I think you would enjoy them, they read very well from an adult perspective, too, particularly the last three books.

Penny, The Long Winter is extraordinary isn't it? Ma's resourcefulness in making a button lamp and an 'apple pie' from green pumpkins when the blizzard's rage outside the cabin.

Buried In Print said...

I didn't read this one as a girl either; I wasn't interested in stories about courtship and marriage at all at that time (whereas I loved The Long Winter, as others have commented too). In rereading the series a couple of years ago, there was much that surprised me (not all good surprises either), and I was particularly struck by how much responsibility all the girls had, at remarkably young ages: impressive!

Amy said...

I loved these books as a child and need to re-read them and the biography.

Alice said...

I remember loving the TV show when I was younger, I had no idea the books were quite different. I think I'll have to add the first to my wishlist! You've converted me :)

Nadia A said...

I've never read the books, just watched the TV show - I actually watched it the other night. Reading your posts makes me want to pick up the books and read them - especially as I love the show so much. Should be interesting considering the books are so different to the show :)

Vintage Reading said...

Buried in Print, yes I think our concept of childhood is completely different to the nineteenth century concept of childhood! And of course, they didn't all thrive like Laura, Mary went blind following German measles and Carrie was always frail and undernourished.

Amy, they do work well reading them from an adult perspective, particularly the last three.

Alice, well worth a re-read. (I had a bit of a crush on Michael Landon who played Pa in the TV series).

Nadia, you must re-read the books. Melissa Gilbert was a very good Laura though!

sensibilia said...

I've read all the books, and have read them to my daughters as bedtime stories as well. I think I can remember my mother reading them to me, but as that would have been more than 60 years ago, I may be wrong about that. At college, they were re-discovered again with house-mates who hadn't encountered the books before. So, three, four times read? I'm always moved to tears, the descriptions of family life, the practical difficulties of pioneering life.

I'm wondering whether the biography you refer to in your next post adds any insights to those already gathered from the stories?

One thing I did wonder, was whether Laura developed her fabulous story-telling skills from the fact that her sister Mary was blind. So she would have noticed every detail of things to tell Mary.