Thursday, March 01, 2007

Still Trying to Keep an Open Mind, but it's Getting Harder

Last spring I started a book titled A Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz. It is a biography of Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As many of you know, I deeply admire Wilder's writing and my bookshelves are lined with numerous titles by and about Wilder and her family.

This book is controversial in that Holtz claims that Rose was the co-author of the now famous Little House series. I've forced myself to keep an open mind while reading it, because I doubt Holtz's claims. Being an editor, doesn't make you a co-author, in my mind.

The beginning was rough for me to get through because it painted a very different picture of Rose's parents than I was used to hearing. Everything I read up to that point spoke of how well liked Laura and Almanzo were. But these were the recollections of friends and neighbors, not the child who lived with them and who spent her adult life feeling like she was committed to taking care of her elderly parents.

I did manage to make it past that part of the timeline and move into Rose's travels, which I found very interesting. She had an amazing life from that perspective. But even in this, she was unhappy according to Holtz because she was forced to write articles to get cash, instead of working on something of substance. And, she always felt she must return to Mansfield, MO upon occasion to check on her parents.

I've now reached the point where Rose is living with friends in the old house at Rocky Ridge Farm. She had a new stone house built for her parents to live in and then she redecorated the old one to her tastes. By this time, Rose was in her early forties. The criticism of Laura begins again. Rose feels interrupted by her mother constantly. References to how harsh and selfish Laura was flow into the text. And once again, I find myself having a difficult time reading about my beloved author in this context.

I am a little over halfway through the book and I know I must read it until the end because I need to know how Holtz supports his idea that Rose should be credited as co-author. In the end, perhaps I will believe as he does. And I wonder what, if any, affect this will have on my opinion of Wilder's books and her abilities as an author. Will I end up regretting reading this book? Will I be thankful my eyes were opened?

I really can't say right now. But as I make it through to the end, I am determined to keep an open mind to the possibilites within.


Note: My first comments on The Ghost in the Little House appear in the May 2006 archives.

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Anonymous Judith Leger said...

I had heard about that book but I haven't read it yet. Now I wonder if I really want to read it.

You know that life on the inside of a family is never what is seen from the outside. That could explain the difference in how Rose sees her parents and how the public opinion sees Laura.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by Judy. I bought the book out of curiosity and now that I am over halfway through it is moving more quickly. I found the first one hundred pages or so boring, and like I mentioned it painted a picture of a misunderstood Rose who hated her horrible parents.

I am at the point now where Farmer Boy after Rose's revisions was accepted for publication. Holtz says that Rose worked on the manuscript for a month, "cutting her mother's clogging detail and softening the focus of individual chapters into idyllic scenes..." I think it's Holtz's choice of words and his dismissal of Laura's abilities that doesn't sit well with me.

I am struggling to be objective, but now that I've made it through over 240 pages, I want to see it through to the end.


11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheryl - I'm not sure what Holtz's credentials are but he sounds like a typical academic. He has some thesis that he wants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt so that he can get published. And let's face it, controversial books are more likely to catch the attention of somebody.

I'm reading LIW's biography by Miller right now and I find it pretty dull! But he does allude to the fact that Rose and her mother battled a lot. Let's face it, don't all mothers and daughters battle? And can you imagine the pressure of being an only child? Sure it's great to get all the attention but you also have all of the expectations too.

I will admit, when I started reading some LIW biographies this past summer I was horrified to find out that Rose was heavily involved in editing the books. Now it sort of makes sense to me, since Rose did encourage her mother's career. I think that I will probably read Holtz's text because I just like learning more about her and sifting through it in my mind.

Mary M-L

3:10 PM  
Anonymous lynn said...

I don't have any knowledge of this othere than I enjoyed the Little House books and of course hoped they were true and the family was happy. I know that all families have problems so maybe some of this is true, but I like to believe they had more happiness than friciton.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for the comments Mary and Lynn. It's not that Rose battled with her mother or that she resented her parents and the constant obligation she felt to care for them in their old age that gets to me. It's that Holtz seems to have gone out of his way to discredit Wilder's abilities and also make Rose's parents out to be so awful.

I'm sure they weren't the perfect parents we see on TV shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, or Little House on the Prairie. But what Holtz seems to have ignored is that this was the late 1800's and early 1900's, and raising children was handled very differently than it was when he wrote his book.

I'm sure my love of Wilder clouds my judgment at least a little, no matter how much I try to keep an open mind. But I would like to think the Wilders were not as evil as they appear in this book.

And Mary, I see you mentioned Miller. I believe you are talking about "Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder". I think a better title from him is "Laura Ingalls Wilder's Town: Where History and Literature Meet". I really liked this one and Miller did cite evidence against Holtz's claims. That's why I bought Holtz's book--because I needed to read it and decide for myself.

Thanks for stopping by ladies.


4:28 PM  

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