Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town: Where History and Literature Meet

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town: Where History and Literature Meet

by John E. Miller
     
 

"I understand that in my own life, I represented a whole period of American history."

As Laura Ingalls Wilder realized they would, her widely loved stories of her prairie childhood have become much more than a nostalgic blend of myth, memories, and autobiography. Historically, John Miller reveals, they have much to tell us about the realities of day-to-day

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Overview

"I understand that in my own life, I represented a whole period of American history."

As Laura Ingalls Wilder realized they would, her widely loved stories of her prairie childhood have become much more than a nostalgic blend of myth, memories, and autobiography. Historically, John Miller reveals, they have much to tell us about the realities of day-to-day living and attitudes in the nineteenth century.

History and literature are closely intertwined, Miller contends, and in this book he illustrates how Wilder's novels enhance our understanding of history and how, simultaneously, a historical perspective framed Wilder's fiction. Wilder, he shows, interwove content and form to produce a sentimental and compelling, yet nuanced and believable, picture of family life on the agricultural frontier.

Focusing on Wilder's novels set in and around De Smet, South Dakota, which include By the Shores of Silver Lake and Little Town on the Prairie, Miller compares her fictional world to history recorded in census figures, newspaper accounts, county records, maps, and photographs. He illustrates that, although Wilder sacrificed some historical details for simplicity and drama, she preserved a general accuracy of people, places, events, and customs and depicted many facets of late nineteenth-century life, from food and entertainment to work ethics and education.

Miller also addresses the controversy over the authorship of the eight novels attributed to Wilder—was she the true author or were they ghostwritten by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane? He contends that while Lane's editorial contribution was of great value, the voice in the book belongs to Wilder. The books are filled with her interpretations of the truth as influenced by the time period in which she grew up and the culture—the institutions, gossip, informal community pressure, media, stories, songs, roles, and stereotypes—that surrounded her.

Providing a glimpse of prairie life through the eyes of a young girl, Wilder's novels are as historically valid as their nonfiction cousins, Miller argues. Hers is a lived history—a sometimes romantic, sometimes observational account of the joys and frustrations of life on the prairie and a reflection of the westward movement in its prime.

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Editorial Reviews

Lincoln Journal-Star
This book will give a deeper understanding of the 'Little House' novels, and a greater appreciaton for them.
Library Journal
Grounded in painstaking research of the Dakotas of the 1880s. . . . Will appeal to historians of the American frontier.
Wichita Eagle
Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels are acknowledged classics in American children's literature. Miller demonstrates that they are also respectable social history.
Booknews
Miller (history, South Dakota State U.) illustrates how Wilder's novels enhance her readers' understanding of history and how a historical perspective framed Wilder's fiction, while chronicling Rose Wilder Lane's efforts to publish and promote her mother's sentimental yet believable tales of family life on the frontier. Miller examines Wilder's environment, particularly the town of De Smet, South Dakota, the setting of four of the novels. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700607136
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
03/28/1995
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
709,449
Product dimensions:
8.72(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.01(d)

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