I picked up A Little House Traveler by chance on the juvenile biography shelf last week. Barbara at Stray Thoughts hosts a Laura Ingalls Wilder Challenge this month, and when I saw this title it looked interesting.
It was a very quick-moving read comprised of Laura’s letters and journals from three of her trips: from DeSmet to Missouri as a young married woman; to San Francisco as a middle-aged woman to visit her daughter Rose; and back to DeSmet with Almanzo (and Nero the dog) for a visit as an elderly woman.
It was interesting to see her world narrow over the course of these writings. The first journey was filled with keen observation and literate reading of the landscape. I was struck by how very smart Laura really was, with an intelligence well furnished with practical knowledge. She can read the crops, know the prices they bring, identify the vegetation, and describe the lay of the land and its health. This first journey was the most interesting to me. The second journey registers her interest in developing her writing, but other than that it was slow going for me, perhaps because it doesn’t carry the drama of the first journey. And the final trip to DeSmet was anticlimactic, even depressing. We get no sense of her emotional response to seeing her sisters for the first time in 40 years, and almost no description of Almanzo or his reactions, but we get lots of detail about the food and how Nero the dog is doing. (This is fascinating, considering that at this point she has written Little House in the Big Woods and is at the very beginning of a very fertile period as a writer.)
We get a sense of the grimness around the edges in Laura’s personality. She can be loving, but she’s often critical and searingly blunt. I liked seeing the affection Rose seemed to have for her, though I felt the picture we get of Rose, and of Rose and Laura’s relationship, is quite incomplete here. (Then again, any biography is highly selective.) Laura and Almanzo’s marriage shared a very deep bond, forged through shared hardship and determination, and both were very gifted people in their own right. But it’s always interesting to me how little she actually says about him among the many words she’s written. Maybe that can be regarded as an achievement: even though she achieved a level of fame, her marriage kept its privacy from the outside world, and its mystery.
My favorite book about Laura Ingalls Wilder is Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder by John E. Miller. I’ve read it twice, and reviewed it here. I also read The Wilder Life, which I liked less. This book falls somewhere in between. It was on the juvenile shelf, but none of the content was composed with children in mind. I can see how it would be useful for a school report, and it contains a few photos that would be of interest. I enjoyed reading it, especially the first section, and getting a glimpse of travel before the age of automobiles. I also liked being able to see Laura’s frame of mind as they traveled to Missouri in hopes of starting over after such a disastrous first few years.
I’ve written on Laura Ingalls Wilder in these posts, too:
- Random Thoughts on the Little House Books
- Socialization or Sufficiency?
- Caddie Woodlawn
- Books in the Atmosphere
- Me and the Rit
- Poetry Friday: The Man from Snowy River