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05/31/2015

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Can't wait to read this!

I can't believe that it's Grumpy writing about the children's books and not me.

AMDG

"Laura is describing what her subjective ‘world’ was actually like to her, as a child; she is describing how she perceived her childhood world, not describing the ‘objective’ world of the statistician."

Funny, but a couple of friends and I were talking about this exact same thing last night in relation to Ray Bradbury's excellent Dandelion Wine. People who complain about the "nostalgia" or "sentimentality" seem to completely miss the point.

a novel always presents a life world not the world as it looks through the lens of empirical science! If I wrote a novel about my Greenwich village childhood our store would be the center of the Village and it would just dominate Greenwich Avenue. Then some biographer could go and see that the shop was tiny! 'Little House in the Big Woods' is a good novel precisely because it captures the child's eye view!

I have to admit though, that I have wondered at the difference between the 'primitive' conditions Laura describes living in in the 1870s and how others in Europe and the east Coast of the USA were living at the same time. In a sense, it is not unimportant to realize that Laura is giving a child's eye view of her childhood, not the 'real world'. Even in the Wisconsin of her time there was a logging industry.

I had similar thoughts when reading Lonesome Dove recently. It's set in the 1870s or so, in the American West, and things are extremely primitive. It would have been a very different world from say Boston of the same period.

By the way Grumpy should have said that Pa went back East to find work!

". . . I’ve learned a fair amount about how ‘objective history’ relates to the gospel lives of Jesus from thinking about how the ‘real’ Laura of the biographers relates to the ‘Laura’ of the biographical book series. So I did not leave the books behind in my childhood after all. . . ." Cool insight.

That's two children's books that had a spiritual effect on you. I have to say that that never happened to me when I was a child, although I was going to church in Catholic schools so I was so immersed in the Church that noticing a prayer in a book would be like a fish noticing water in the water.

My parents' didn't really buy us books except that we were in a children's book-of-the-month club, and I don't remember them ever reading to us, although I think Mother read to me when I was quite small. However, I was blessed enough to have a second grade teacher who read the Little House books to the class--probably the first three. And then they built a library within walking distance from my house when I was about 8 and I read those books and practically everything else in the children's section.

Then, I read the Little House books aloud to my kids twice, and maybe 3 times. I remember that when I was reading them to my youngest, who was about 5, I found that my 12 year old son was lying on the floor behind the couch listening.

I loved that dugout house. I really, really wanted one, but my parents never got me stuff like that. ;-) I wanted to do so many of the things they did. I loved the description of how Ma made butter and had a special mold for it, and, of course, I wanted my father to butcher hogs so I could roast the pig's tail and inflate it's bladder like a balloon.

Well, I have to go rent a car now, but I'll write more than you want to read later.

AMDG

Beautiful piece. Thank you.

Took me back to when my daughter was young and in love with both the books and the TV show. The TV show came first because I didn’t even know about the books. The show was really very well done, as I remember, and it's almost impossible to imagine it being done today. One episode about the children being caught up and lost in a snowstorm still sticks in my mind. And they were fascinating, as Grumpy points out about the books, in showing the family making their possessions -- Ma sewing their clothes and Pa building their houses.

I was telling Maclin about the descriptions of the food making - like Janet says, with the special butter maker with the rose leaf on it - and he could not see that descriptions of food prep and dress making could be interesting :)

Janet you know, at the time I was at PS41 in NYC, and my parents were not church goers. There was not *no* Christianity in my home - at least one one occasion when we were bad our father made us write out the ten commandments hundreds of times. He made me learn Psalm 23, and another Psalm which I hated so much I could not memorize it - about hanging up the harps by the waters of Babylon. I kept on and on being punished because I would not memorize that Psalm. But I could not. That was about the full extent of our contact with Scripture. The one other thing was in about 3rd Grade I was looking for readers in a closet at PS41 and I pulled out a strange coloured one, maybe orange, not like the ones we used. I didn't know, but I'd pulled out a reader for Jewish kids. There were stories about a girl who wanted there to be more girls in the Bible, and her parents told her about Deborah. And there was a story which ended 'I lift up my eyes to the hills whence cometh my help'. So I came in contact with the Bible in these random ways. I had no way of knowing that Judaism and Christianity were different. I also saw Catholic school kids going to school in their uniforms. To me Catholics were kids who went to school in school uniforms.

I went to England just a few months before I started boarding school. I stayed with my grandparents and I went to the village school in England. I was just after my 10th birthday. They all stood up and said a prayer at the beginning of the school day - all British schools would have done that in 1970. I would pretend to be saying it at first because I didn't know the words. By the end of my months there I knew the words. Then I went to my boarding school. I was really surprised because they said the same prayer and I knew it. I had no way of knowing it was quite common. It was the Lord's Prayer.

I do think having no school prayer cuts kids off from a basic chance to learn *something* about Christianity.

Well I am doing Stuart Little/Charlotte's Web eventually and there won't be anything about a spiritual influence there.

The only mention I can remember of Catholicism before the age of 14 or 15: a new girl came to our school, and one of the other girls said "She's Catholic. They don't go to church. They go to Mass instead." I'm sure that wasn't my only encounter with the word, but it's the first one I remember.

As has often been remarked, public schools in those days (up until the early '60s or so) were essentially Protestant schools, especially in a place where there were few or no Catholics.

I think the Catholic girl disappeared fairly soon. I don't know if it was a poor family that moved around a lot (many of my schoolmates were quite poor) or if her parents managed to get her into a Catholic school. There was probably one in a town about 20 miles away.

"...he could not see that descriptions of food prep and dress making could be interesting."

I do make an effort to enter the mind of the Other, but it doesn't always work. Food prep--at a stretch, maybe. Especially if hunting counted as part of the prep. Dress making, never.

Pa comes across a bear carrying a pig, shoots them booth and takes them home to eat?

I just wrote part of a long comment, hit some key or other, and lost the comment. Hopefully, I'll get back later.

AMDG

I read maybe two of those books as a boy. As an adult, I have read all of them several times--mostly out loud to my children, but not only that.

The parts about the dresses I still find hard to read word-for-word. It's usually better to just let my eyes go blurry and skip along 'til something interesting happens, such as Pa cleaning his gun.

I have come to admire greatly the high degree of narrative control. It's partly what Grumpy says: when Laura is eight, we see things as an eight-year-old would see them; when she's fifteen, as a fifteen-year-old would see them. (Reread the scene in *Plum Creek* when Pa scolds them for rolling down the straw stack!) It's also that almost nothing happens that Laura doesn't see with her own eyes--if something happens off-camera, so to speak, the reader learns of it only because someone tells Laura, or speaks of it in her presence. As narratives, these books are really well crafted.

One of the things I find most fascinating is just how unbelievably competent these people were. Look at all the stuff Ma can do! Look at all the stuff Pa can do! It's amazing how skillful and hard-working they are. Most modern people are inept slackers in comparison with them. (To be sure, they were probably among the best homesteaders--after all, they didn't quit or die. But even so.)

Grumpy, I was so pleased to see you single out one of my favorite passages too, namely, the one when Mary and Laura discuss human depravity and divine grace.

Thanks!

MG, yes, the description of the crafts is just very fascinating, even to an utterly 'un-crafty' person like me.

I agree,the way she always shows the scene through Laura's eyes is brilliant. It's what makes the books so empathetic.

My mother was a fashion designer. It's not the same as a seam stress, but still, to design the 'original' of each 'line' she would stand working on a model for days with pins here and there and bits of cloth tucked back and forth. That's part of the interest of the dress making bits for me. You have to realize I can barely thread a needle. Late in life, my mother was shocked to discover that I take all my mending and alteration to the dry cleaner for them to do it. There were always the workers on the sewing floor to do it for me when I was a child! After I came to America I tried to sew on a button or take up a hem or something by myself, at home, and my mother had to coax me to get the needle through the thread over the phone, transatlantic. 'Try bringing the needle toward the thread', she said down the phone line. So one does not have to be much of a seamstress to appreciate those passages in the Little House books! I wish I did understand better some things they were doing, like how the little girls are making those quilts. Other things I think I did grasp a little better than most, from having seen a lot of sewing done.

MG: It's also that almost nothing happens that Laura doesn't see with her own eyes--if something happens off-camera, so to speak, the reader learns of it only because someone tells Laura, or speaks of it in her presence. As narratives, these books are really well crafted.

Another book that's written that way is the old testament. Its probably the most important influence on Laura's literary skills, given that the big old family Bible is one of the few books that is always there.

Do you remember when it's very hot and a Sunday and Laura can't bear the thought of the land of milk and honey - wading in all that milk and honey?

Yes, Janet, the pig and the bear would definitely have been interesting.

I sewed on a button a year or two ago. I looked up how to do it on the internet.

I remember watching my maternal grandmother churn butter, and actually it was interesting, although I can imagine it would not have been very interesting to read about. She let me help, or more likely "help". And I'm thinking she had one of those molds with a design on it. At any rate I know I've seen one, though I may be mixing up my memories. Also "help"ed my grandfather milk a few times. I remember that very distinctively--the way it felt and the sound it made. They had had a dairy farm, and sold it before I was born, but still kept a cow in a shed near the house, though they lived in "town"--a very tiny town, really more a village. This would have been in the 1950s.

I've never understood the view that because these are books from a girl's perspective, they are specifically "books for girls".

My paternal grandmother used to make butter by putting the cream in a mason jar with a marble and shaking it until the butter came. She must have had amazing arm muscles.

AMDG

What I was trying to say earlier when the computer stole my comment was this.

The Long Winter is very hard to read. They had 7 months of almost unremitting blizzards and they were dreadfully short of fuel and food. You feel like you are living through this with them.

The main impact of the book for me, though, was that it really illustrates the difference between rugged individualism and Christian community. The people in the town basically all lived on one street and while some were in danger of losing their lives, others had what they needed. If, for instance, the hotel owner had let a couple of families stay with him, they could have used the same amount of fuel to keep more people warm, but no, everyone stayed at home, and I suppose it's possible that some of them froze to death. Pa had to ride out to their farm and bring back loads of grass in the brief intervals between the blizzards. Then they spent all their time twisting the grass into sticks to burn.

AMDG

Yes, she must have, Janet.

Paul, when I describe a book as being for girls (or women), I just mean that girls are likely to enjoy it more than boys. It has more to do with the subject and treatment than whether the point of view is male or female. I haven't read the Little House books but from what people are saying about them I don't think I would have liked them all that much if I'd read them as a boy.

Has anyone read any of the Ernest Thompson Seton books? I *really* liked those.

No, but they look interesting.

Paul, I think it's just hard to get boys to read books that they perceive as girl-y. Girls will read anything. For instance, all the girls I knew loved the Hardy Boys, but no boys would read Nancy Drew.

AMDG

I suppose I was lucky that nobody told me it was "girly". Reading them with no social context, I no more thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder as a girly author than I did Rosemary Sutcliff.

I wasn't having a go at anything anyone has said here, but I have heard them described as "books for girls", and found it baffling. I enjoyed them tremendously when I was a boy (I don't remember anything about dressmaking though – I might have skimmed that bit).

I have a series that is a kind of Catholic LIW. I'm thinking about writing a post about that author.

AMDG

I read the Nancy Drew books and enjoyed them greatly, although I liked the Hardy Boys better. It's true that boys will avoid anything girly, but I didn't think of ND that way. Certainly the fact that the protagonist was female didn't bother me at all. But from what everyone is saying about the Wilder books, I don't think I would have been very keen on them.

I don't remember my friends reading anything at all except comic books.

I think I enjoyed the Hardy Boys better, too, once I got a hold of them, but by then I was getting too old for those books.

I guess my friends read ND because I borrowed them. I realize now that I probably read more than other people, though, and I had time for comics,too.

AMDG

I read the Hardy Boys and enjoyed them. I dont think I ever read Nancy Drew

Re Rugged Individualism vs. Christian Community

The business about Almanzo and Cap Garland going to get the grain during the 'Long Winter' is a bit rum.

What happens is this. The townsfolk are on their uppers. They are close to salvation. They are running out of any kind of flour with which to make bread.

Pa goes into the house shared by Almanzo and his older brother. He has noticed that the outside of the house is wider than the inside. In fact, in the wall of the house, Almanzo is storing his 'seed grain' for the next year. But one can eat that. Pa forces Almanzo to sell him half a sack of it. He can barely carry it across the street because he's so tired and hungry.

At this point, Almanzo could have given or sold all of his 'seed grain' to the other people in the 'Little Town'. But he wants it to plant his crop in the spring. He will do anything to preserve that 'seed grain'.

He and Cap Garland discover that a homesteader way out in the boonies, a long way from town, has a large store of this 'seed grain'. They go out with two horses and a sled and persuade the homesteader to sell and bring back enough sacks of that grain to keep the townsfolk from starving. Their journey is quite terrifying, and utterly exhausting. Each time one of the horses falls into a snow drift the horse must be dug out of it. It is nearly dark when they return from a twelve hour journey.

The author of the more recent biography which I read shows how hard Laura worked to put this journey to get the 'seed corn' for the townsfolk at the centre of the book. For her, Almanzo is the always the hero who saved the townsfolk by getting them that grain.

But you can see why it's all kind of odd to me, a 20th century town mouse. He could have sold his own 'seed grain' to the townsfolk.

they are not close to salvation. They are close to starvation!

I agree with Paul in theory but I cannot imagine any of my three brothers reading the Laura books.

To "eat one's seed corn" is traditionally a metaphor for consuming one's substance, to cope with a crisis by insuring disaster later on. But I see what you mean about it being odd that Almanzo would have bought somebody else's seed rather than sell his own. I do wonder if there was some other factor--the guy in the country had much more, or something?

I wonder about the rugged individualism vs. community factor, too. Would people in a medieval village have behaved differently?

I've tried to interest my daughters in them, but they don't want to read "Wild West stories".

It was the hotel owner that paid for the grain that Almanzo went to get, and then he was going to charge the townspeople for the grain--more, I think, than it was worth. This is one of the things I'm talking about.

If Almanzo had given the townsfolk his seed, and he would have had to give it, he wouldn't have been able to buy more in the spring. It's interesting that his family was very prosperous, but I seem to remember that he never did do very well.

AMDG

One of the reason was farm machinery. The farmers always had hard times, but when they got loans for the new machinery, they lost control of their farms to the banks.

AMDG

It's illuminating to read Little House and Grapes of Wrath back to back.

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