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Essay Reviews 171 “WESTERN WOMEN WRITING”* Since feminism has become fashionable, more and more readers have come to recognize the value of non-fiction writing by women. In particular, those of us interested in Western literature have discovered the worth of books written by women about their experiences as they helped to settle the American West. These first-person accounts, in many ways, tell us more about the real spirit of the West— the strike-it-rich optimism mingled with the haunting spectre of failure — than we can learn from more tra­ ditional sources. Many presses currently are publishing such accounts, but among the best are those from the University of Nebraska Press. A sampling of their offerings reveals both a panoramic coverage and a pattern of commitment. The first Bison book, chronologically, is Sarah Royce’s A Frontier Lady, which documents her 1849 trek to California by covered wagon. Written more than thirty years later for her son, Harvard philosopher-historian Josiah Royce, A Frontier Lady recounts both physical hardships and abiding faith. The Royces started late, dissension marred their journey, inexperience caused mistakes, and even their maps were faulty. Yet Mrs. Royce was able to maintain a positive outlook because she saw natural phenomena as signs of God’s presence along the way. Scenery, as symbol, kept her going. The latter part of the book finds the journey completed and the Royces living temporarily in various northern California mining camps and cities. Although Mrs. Royce’s moral vision sometimes intrudes when she finds herself in more civilized surroundings, she remains observant of all that she sees. Her description of Sacramento under flood waters is as gripping as the narra­ tion of her first encounter with a tarantula. Part of the value of the book, too, comes with the editing. Excerpts from Josiah Royce’s writings are matched throughout with comparable observations of his mother’s, so that *The books reviewed in this essay include: A Bride Goes West. By Nannie T. Alderson and Helena Huntington Smith. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. 273 pages, $3.25 paperback.) A Frontier Lady: Recollections of the Gold Rush and Early California. By Sarah Royce. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. 144 pages, $8.95 cloth, $2.45 paperback.) Home Below Hell’s Canyon. By Grace Jordan. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962. 243 pages, $11.95 cloth, $2.95 paperback.) A Lady’s Experiences in the Wild West in 1883. By Rose Prender. (Lincoln: Uni­ versity of Nebraska Press, 1978. 134 pages, $8.50 cloth.) Letters of a Woman Homesteader. By Elinore Pruitt Stewart. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961. 282 pages, $2.45 paperback.) Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866. By Mollie Dorsey Sanford. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976. 199 pages, $2.95 paperback.) No Life For A Lady. By Agnes Morley Cleaveland. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. 356 pages, $3.95 paperback.) 172 Western American Literature anyone interested in the son can see the genesis of many of his ideas. A Frontier Lady is indeed more than a simple tale of forty-niner days; rather, it is a somewhat philosophical, always vivid, look into the life of a courageous and cultivated pioneer. Mollie, The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colo­ rado Territories, 1857-1866 differs from Mrs. Royce’s book in both tone and content. Originally composed as a private diary, then recopied in 1895 for her grandson, Mollie reveals the hopes and fears, the expectations and disappointments of a young woman who first settled in Nebraska with her parents and then journeyed to Colorado as a bride. Mollie’s life was filled with such hardships as crop failure and misdirected business ventures, but her enthusiasm carries her over all the rough spots. Her frontier vision, with its optimism and willingness to try anything new that might spell suc­ cess, sees her through storms, floods, loneliness, and lost causes. The very titles A Frontier Lady and Mollie are a clue to the essential difference between these two Bison books. Mollie’s experiences sound more earthy and less ethereal than Mrs. Royce’srecollections in tranquility. Mollie sees...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 171-174
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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