Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography, Pioneer Girl, in the early 1930s. The book was deemed unsuitable for publication, but Wilder reworked her story into the successful Little House on the Prairie series for children.
Now the South Dakota Historical Society is publishing an annotated version of Pioneer Girl, which includes stories from Wilder's childhood that didn't make it into the kids' books. And for good reason.
It contains stories omitted from her novels, tales that Wilder herself felt "would not be appropriate" for children, such as her family's sojourn in the town of Burr Oak, where she once saw a man became so drunk that, when he lit a cigar, the whisky fumes on his breath ignited and killed him instantly. In another recollection, a shopkeeper drags his wife around by her hair, pours kerosene on the floor of his house, and sets their bedroom on fire.
Wilder's memoir also paints a different picture of her father, Charles Ingalls, known in the novels as Pa. Although the real man's character is essentially the same as the version in the novels - affectionate, musical and restless to move on through America's frontier - he is, said the book's publisher, the South Dakota Historical Society Press, clearly "romanticised and idealised". In Wilder's autobiography, he is described sneaking his family out of town in the middle of the night after failing to negotiate the rent with the landlord, justifying the flit by calling the man a "rich old skinflint".
Earlier this year, there was an open casting call for the role of Laura in a new movie version of Little House on the Prairie. Maybe the drunken self-immolation will make it into this one!
Over at McSweeney's, Gary Almeter reimagines episodes of the Little House on the Prairie TV show to reflect the presence of a Starbucks in Walnut Grove.
Charles inherits the entire estate of a wealthy uncle. Within 24 hours, the Ingallses, who are seemingly rich, suddenly become Harriet Oleson's best pals. They are pressured to make various contributions throughout the community, and they even receive newspaper article offers to chronicle this tremendous change in their lives. Things get even worse when this newfound fortune threatens the family's relationships with their real friends. Meanwhile, Nellie Oleson, to avenge a barista who broke Nellie's doll, replaces the cinnamon at the Starbucks condiments bar with cayenne pepper while Mr. Edwards finally accepts the idea that coffee can be iced.
As a kid, I read many of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books so I was interested to read that Laura's daughter Rose may have co-authored them.
Wilder scholarship is a flourishing industry, particularly at universities in the Midwest, and much of it seeks to sift fiction from history. The best book among many good, if more pedestrian, ones, "The Ghost in the Little House," by William Holtz, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Missouri, explores a controversy that first arose after Wilder bequeathed her original manuscripts to libraries in Detroit and California. It is the work of a fastidious stylist, and, in its way, a minor masterpiece of insight and research. Holtz's subject, however, isn't Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is her daughter and, he argues, her unacknowledged "ghost," Rose Wilder Lane.
Rose was an interesting character; she escaped the prairie life of her parents and transformed into a "a stylish cosmopolite who acquired several languages, enjoyed smoking and fornication, and dined at La Rotonde when she wasn't motoring around Europe in her Model T".