Abstract

Abstract:

Caroline Fraser's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder has won a great deal of praise from reviewers for its extensive research, wide-ranging interpretation of Wilder's life and writings, and for its felicitous writing style. At 515 pages of text and 85 pages of notes, the book is twice as long as any other book on the subject. Prairie Fires adds to our knowledge and develops more fully a number of important themes and issues related to Wilder. Many of Fraser's speculations are fruitful; others invite skepticism. Fraser develops a nuanced description of the collaborative writing process that occurred between Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, in the construction of the Little House novels. The major burden of the book is to show how the writing team mythologized and glorified the frontier experience by creating a false narrative of the Ingalls family's life in the Midwest and by making the settlement process seem much more successful than it actually was. In this, Wilder and Lane resembled other writers of "national biography," who, in the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson, purveyed a positive, success-oriented narrative of national progress that belied the actual difficulties, missteps, and failures that characterized Americans' lives. Two assertions stand out in the argument: first, that Wilder's childhood was dismal, unhappy, and literally "hellish"; second, that row-crop farming of the kind the Ingalls family practiced should never have been taken out onto the Dakota prairies. Neither of these hypotheses stands up to historical scrutiny.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2372-5672
Print ISSN
2372-5664
Pages
pp. 1-36
Launched on MUSE
2019-10-26
Open Access
No
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