- Laura Ingalls Wilder and The American Frontier: Five Perspectives
Originally presented at a 1998 conference on "Laura Ingalls Wilder and the American Frontier" hosted by the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, the essays in this collection examine "Wilder's vision of the American frontier, and her legacy in the more liminal frontiers of cultural exchange and collective memory" (1). The presenters included John E. Miller, Ann Romines, Anita Clair Fellman, Elizabeth Jameson, Ann Weller Dahl, and moderator William T. Anderson. Much of the material included in this volume has been published or presented [End Page 125] before. However, for the developing scholar and other readers, Laura Ingalls Wilder and The American Frontier: Five Perspectives could be a valuable resource, not only because of the essays' caliber, but also in light of Jameson's cogent overview of Wilder studies in her introduction, Dwight Miller's essay on the acquisition of the Wilder and Lane Collections at the Hoover Library, and the annotated bibliography at the end of the volume.
Elizabeth Jameson's introduction introduces the participants and traces the series' critical heritage. Some issues related to the series are biographical: for example, scholars continue to examine discrepancies between the fictional family narrative and the verifiable details of the Ingalls family's actual experiences. They also continue to study the nature of the series' collaborative authorship. Contemporary Wilder studies are not solely biographical, however; as Jameson explains, they also include historical, new historical, and "New Western History" approaches, feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives, and cultural studies, among others. The essays in this volume deftly practice many of these approaches, and they are unified, as Jameson explains, by their collective interest in "themes of authorship, historical truth, audience, and memory" (7).
John E. Miller, author of Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder (1998), contributes "Approaching Laura Ingalls Wilder: Challenges and Opportunities for the Biographer." After describing the archival resources available to scholars interested in the work of Wilder and Lane, he identifies the focus of his biography: how the woman who contributed to the local newspaper under the name "Mrs. A. J. Wilder" eventually became an author widely celebrated as "Laura Ingalls Wilder." Miller identifies the areas of Wilder's life that he found particularly interesting: her practice of religion, her involvement with political institutions, her celebration of individualism, and, paradoxically, her commitment to community (in the form of family, business and professional organizations, masonic organizations, and a wide variety of clubs). Miller briefly but perceptively considers the way that Wilder shaped and was shaped by her era and her setting.
Ann Romines contributes "The Frontier of the Little House," an abstract of her award-winning Constructing the Little House: Gender, Culture, and Laura Ingalls Wilder (1997). Essentially, Romines provides an overview of the chapters of her book. First, she traces the way that the early Wilder books, Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, were based on the stories and experiences of Wilder's father and husband, and yet challenged these "patriarchal principles" in subtle ways (35). Next, she studies the way that Little House on the Prairie considers "the collision of cultures that is a classic component of frontier experience" and touches briefly on the later interactions of race and culture in the series (36). Another chapter focuses on buying: the celebration of stoves and sewing machines, Christmas furs, and name cards. As Romines affirms, "The marketplace is another of the Little House frontiers" (40). Another of Romines' chapters was inspired by a letter from Wilder to Lane in 1938 in which she wondered, "where is the plot in Hard Winter?" In The Long Winter, Romines argues, "Wilder and Lane at last decided to foreground the world of Caroline Ingalls and her daughters, waiting in one room in confined intimacy and anxiety knowing only fragments of the male stories taking place outside the Little House" (41). Finally, she alludes to the way that the final books in the Little House series explore the nature of young womanhood. Romines concludes, "[O]ne of the...