- Little House in AlbaniaRose Wilder Lane and the Transnational Home
"Change the beginning of the story if you want," a weary Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote to her daughter late in 1937. "Do anything you please with the damn stuff if you will fix it up" (qtd. in Holtz, Ghost in the Little House 279). The "stuff" to which Wilder referred was the manuscript of By the Shores of Silver Lake, the latest in the increasingly successful series of "Little House" books for children that Wilder had written based on her prairie childhood, and her correspondent was not simply her daughter but Rose Wilder Lane, an acclaimed journalist and novelist in her own right. As her mother's fame came to eclipse her own, Lane became best known for being her mother's daughter, the "baby Rose" of Wilder's The First Four Years and the unseen presence behind the success of the Little House books. But in 1937 it was Lane, not Wilder, who was an established literary figure. In her early career as a journalist for the San Francisco Bulletin Lane covered events such as the construction of the Hetch-Hetchy Dam, and for Sunset and other publications she wrote biographies of notable figures such as Charlie Chaplin, Jack London, Herbert Hoover, and Henry Ford. During World War I Lane moved to London to write a series on English women's relief efforts, and after the war she traveled widely in Albania, Syria, Georgia, Turkey, and Egypt, including a 500-mile automobile trip from Damascus to Baghdad for which the only road was a set of tire tracks (Holtz, The Ghost in the Little House 137). During her travels in Albania in 1921–22 Lane decided that it was the perfect place to live, and, after driving from Paris to Tirana, she and her companion Helen Boylston lived there from 1926 to 1928.1 Although she continued to travel, after her Albanian sojourn she made her [End Page 205] parents' home, Rocky Ridge Farm, her home base, supporting herself and offering to support them with serials for Country Gentleman, Harper's, and The Saturday Evening Post. Her story "Innocence" was an O. Henry Award-winning story in 1922 and was widely taught in schools, and a New York Times editorial proposed a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Lane's novel Free Land in 1938. Despite such critical regard, Lane was stigmatized in later decades as a woman writer whose middlebrow fiction, like her mother's juvenile novels, catered to public nostalgia for a home-centered pioneering past.
Seen in the context of her other work, Peaks of Shala, a 1923 travel memoir based on her Albanian journeys of 1921–22, reveals Lane's resistance to a simple vision of home and nation, one that challenged the sanitized dream of "home" promised by domestic and nationalist ideologies in the mid-twentieth century and by the popularity of pioneer novels of the 1920s such as those by Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, and Bess Streeter Aldrich. On an individual level, home represented the domestic sphere and conventional limitations on women's work from which Lane and her New Woman compatriots escaped into war work, travel, and newly professionalized careers. As a signifier of social community, the concept of home further pits groups of women affiliated through political ideology or, more simply, affectional ties against the vision of stultifying small-town life that precipitated the so-called revolt from the village. On a third level, as a physical entity—a house to be built, shaped, destroyed, and rebuilt within a specific environment—the home signifies American pioneer individualism and the 1920s impetus toward model communities, a transition exemplified in the Garden Cities and Country Life movements.2
Given the boundary shifting abroad following World War I and the debates over immigration in the United States during this period, the idea of home as a political entity—homeland or patria—complicated the conflicting definitions and claims of such concepts as ethnic and native, ownership and appropriation, cultural assimilation and cultural preservation, and settlement and displacement. In Nation and Narration, Homi K. Bhabha suggests that the discourses that signify nationhood are necessarily...