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The children's book author is revealed, but not enough about Laura
on February 17, 2011
This is, I think, the fifth Laura Ingalls Wilder biography I've read, and I'm still not totally satisfied that everything that could be written about her has been written.
A WRITER'S LIFE is by no means a bad biography - but... I did feel that the author was somewhat harsh in her judgments about Rose Wilder Lane, and about the quality of Rose Wilder Lane's writing. This biography of Laura reveals that RWL was a deeply conflicted woman (conflicted in her feelings about her parents, and about her childhood)-and what did Laura's (and Almanzo's) parenting methods have to do with that? It's an interesting question that is, obviously, not to be fully explored in a biography of Laura - but it bothered me that the author was uniformly tough on RWL's writings in the interests of praising Laura's writing to the hilt (although she does give RWL kudos for her fine editorial work on the Little House series). Her view of RWL, both as a person and as a writer, lacked objectivity, I thought.
But it must be said this biography is very fine in its research and its discussion of Laura's growth as a writer, and exploring the creation of the Little House books.
What it lacks, for me, is what all biographies of Laura seem to lack - the "real" Laura. I don't want, really, to read again how she used her childhood experiences in the Little House series, what she left out and what she changed. I don't want to read any more about her dealings with publishers, her fans, and her adorable little-old-lady behavior at library and literary functions. I don't want to hear her praised (although as a writer she is worthy of it, I'm just tired of biographers who ladle it on). I want to know why she and Almanzo only had two children and these early in their marriage, and why they slept in separate beds. What was their married life REALLY like? Did she have a bad temper, and was Almanzo "whipped"? What was the dynamic in the marriage - was it Laura who wore the pants, and if so, is there anything to tell us how she felt about that? Is there really NO information to be gleaned about Laura's emotional life from any of the sources that are available? And in connection with that, why was Rose such an unhappy woman in HER personal life, and what part did her upbringing by Laura and Almanzo have to do with that? Were they emotionally cold as parents, and why did Rose strike out on her own so early? Was it really all due to the lack of opportunity in Mansfield and Rose's wanting to lead a city, not a country, life? And what was Laura's relationship with her sisters following her marriage - are there letters or diaries that could be quoted that would give the reader some inkling of the depth of their feelings for each other (or lack thereof)? What about Laura's relationship with HER mother? They lived in different states for 30 years, surely there are letters between them, which would give the reader some knowledge of their feelings toward each other? Why doesn't some publisher publish a collection of the letters between the family members, if enough of such letters exist - I feel confident there is a market of readers who would snap up Ingalls-Wilder family letters.)
These are just some samples of the kind of intimate detail I want in a biography of Laura, which this biography (for all its fine qualities) does not provide - but then, neither does any other, to date. The ones I've read, including this one, explore the writer of the Little House series very thoroughly, but they lose something when it comes to exploring the woman behind the writer. I wonder if it's because Laura was a children's book author that her biographers can't take a hard look at her and see her (and reveal her) as she truly was, warts and all.