Friday, February 12, 2021

Recently Read: The First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Laura Ingalls Wilder's The First Four Years was found in the late '60s as a first draft, unfinished, unvarnished. It was published not only after Wilder's death, but also the death of her daughter, Rose, who had collaborated with her mother on the series, giving the other "Little House" books a narrative flow and romantic sheen.

There's no romantic sheen here - just stark, brutal reality, and it's best read remembering that it's a first draft. Events are described, but rarely elaborated on for long before the next event. And many of those events in Laura and Almonzo's first four years of marriage were harsh: blight and debt and poverty, losing a child, their house burning down. Ma and Pa Ingalls are now far away, both geographically and emotionally, and barely make an appearance. There's virtually no mention of Laura's sisters. Almonzo is nearly unrecognizable. The smart, confident, well-planning fellow who literally saved his town's lives in The Long Hard Winter now seems emotionally distant, and a victim of the elements of nature, with physical problems, financial hardship and the sort of bad luck Pa Ingalls experienced for decades.

The First Four Years is, frankly, a hard book to digest in comparison to the rest of the series, though likely more emotionally truthful to the ways hardship ruled Laura's life at the time. I question Harper & Row's decision to package it with the rest of the series, marketed to children, as the tone is so extraordinarily different. I'm glad that it was published, though, as it gives insight into Wilder's life from a different perspective. Garth Williams' illustrations are as beautiful as ever - a good thing, since most of the shimmering poetry in earlier book's text is missing here.

Pin It

No comments: