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B o o k R e v ie w s 2 2 5 Overall, this is not a major contribution to Manfred criticism, but Manfred scholars will certainly want to be aware of it. Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman behind the Legend. By John E. Miller. Colum bia: University of Missouri Press, 1998. 306 pages, $29.95. Reviewed by Diane D. Quantic W ichita State University John E. Miller’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a welcome addition to the growing body ofWilder scholarship. Wilder’s persistently popular eight-vol­ ume autobiography of her peripatetic childhood on the Great Plains, while intended for children, has become an integral part of the myth of the American West. By carrying Wilder’s story into adulthood in Missouri, Miller presents a comprehensive account of the Ingalls and Wilder families. A biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder presents some unique challenges. First, the “Little House” books are so well known that the reader is likely to anticipate the story the biographer is telling. To augment Wilder’s own story, Miller uses an unpublished autobiographical manuscript, family records, a vari­ ety of social histories of the frontier and local records from the various com­ munities where the family lived. He includes an account of the difficult years after they left Kansas that were omitted from the Little House series, especially the death of Charles and Caroline Wilder’s infant son. The reader will probably be most interested in Miller’s account of Wilder’s adult life in the Ozarks at Rocky Ridge, a farm just outside of Mansfield, Missouri. Here again, Miller draws upon local newspapers and early histories of the region to create a context for the story of Wilder’s multifaceted life as a farm wife, club woman, loan officer, and, finally, author. The biographer’s second challenge comes in describing Wilder’s develop­ ment as a writer. Miller acknowledges the important role Rose Wilder Lane played in the development ofher mother’s writing career. For a number of years, Wilder’s writing consisted of a column in the Missouri Ruralist and occasional stories and essays that appeared in periodicals with national circulation such as McCalls and Country Gentleman. At Rose’s urging, she began work on an auto­ biography that eventually grew into the Little House series. Unfortunately, the most complete sources available to Wilder’s biographer for the years when Wilder was developing her craft are Lane’s journals and the correspondence between mother and daughter. With few other documents to draw on, Miller must tell the story from the daughter’s point of view. By her own account, Rose was often morbidly depressed and just as often caught up in a kind of inarticu­ late power struggle with her mother. Miller is careful to qualify Rose’s accounts of their collaboration and to balance her account with the limited but signifi­ cant evidence of Wilder’s own stubborn authorial sensibilities. His analysis of 2 2 6 WAL 3 5 .1 SUMMER 2 0 0 0 Laura Ingalls Wilder as a gifted and self-confident girl and woman is convinc­ ing. As a result, the reader gains an appreciation of the woman Laura Ingalls Wilder and the serendipitous nature of the events that resulted in Wilder’s writ­ ing life. Miller has a tendency to include information that is not especially rele­ vant to Wilder’s biography. Nevertheless, this volume adds important infor­ mation to our knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her well-deserved place in western American literature. FIN A L C A LL for Nominations for “ N ot-to-be-M issed C ontem p orary Fiction of the A m erican W e st” Write us to nominate a notable novel published since Jan. 1, 1990. We’d like you to name those books that you think notable enough to rec­ ommend to a friend looking for a good read in fiction of the American West and/or to a colleague looking for just the right contemporary novel to add to a syllabus. Predict what works of fiction from the last decade of the twentieth century will be studied by scholars in the upcoming years. Works...


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pp. 225-226
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