Sunday, 24 December 2017

Prairie Fires - The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls learned from her parents how to appreciate the simple pleasures in life 'a song, a carpet of wildflowers, a floor swept clean.'  Caroline and Charles Ingalls were among the pioneers of the late 1800s who travelled the plains and prairies with their three children Mary, Laura and Carrie looking for land to farm.

It wasn't until she was in her late fifties after the loss of her mother that Laura Ingalls Wilder was able to reflect back on her childhood and find the words to write The Little House on the Prairie which of course became a best-selling children's book and one of the icons of prairie literature.

And what a childhood she had!  Moving ever westwards amidst wolves, plagues of grasshoppers, dust storms and sub-zero temperatures with never enough food or money.  One of the blizzards they lived through was so bad her father had to shovel snow off of her bed in the morning.  One wonders at times why her father put his family through it but the pioneers were a tough breed and Laura adored him.

By twenty-seven she had married Almanzo and finally settled in Missouri.  Her daughter Rose became a renowned journalist and biographer, editing her mother's books.  She comes across as quite a little madam, too!  Laura never forgot her childhood love of the pioneer life and landscape and this is a recurring motif in this superb biography:

Laura Ingalls came to consciousness gazing through the keyhole opening in the cinched canvas covering her family's wagon, swaying over an expanse of prairie grasses as they launched slowly southwest from Missouri to Kansas.

Caroline Fraser has produced a highly readable and enjoyable biography.  I now want to re-read Willa Cather's My Antonia, another classic of prairie literature.

Happy Christmas!


Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I grew up reading the Little House books and being absolutely appalled at the things Pa seemed to put his family through - I was so happy to have a nice, stable father who didn't want to go chasing dreams with seemingly no forethought or preparation! But I love imagining what pioneer life was like. Laura was so good at the cosy details and making the scary things seem thrilling rather than horrifying.

Lark said...

I'm such a fan of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; I've read them more times than I can count. I will DEFINITELY have to read this book next year. It sounds great. Thanks for the rec! :)

A Bookish Way of Life said...

I've never read the Little House books, but I've seen the TV show based on the books and absolutely loved it. I've been meaning to read the books as a result, but still haven't picked them up. After reading about this book, your post has me wanting to pick them ASAP. I need this book and the set of Little House ones :)

Vintage Reading said...

Claire, yes, I've just finished reading the books. I was totally absorbed in their lives and I can see why LIW is a cult figure in America.

Lark, the only one my bookshop could not get is By the Shores of Silver Lake so I still have one left to read. I do admire the pioneer spirit and their lives were really tough.

Nadia yes, I think the TV show glamourised the calico dresses, sunbonnets, nine-patch quilts etc and didn't show the true reality of the pioneer life, but Laura and Mary were beautifully portrayed in the show. Now I've read the books I'd like to see the series again to compare it. Hope you get time to read the series!

sensibilia said...

I've read every one of the "Little House" series, up to the one describing the years after the wedding, "The First Four Years" in which Laura burns the house down by accident, so difficult is the life of a pioneer wife and new mother. It made me realise just how amazing and resourceful Laura's mother was.