Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Little House, Revisted

A couple of years ago Lee gave me a used set of all Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, and I reread them front to back.  This was before the furor over whether the author was politically incorrect, and I was actually surprised at how little racism they contain for being written by someone born just after the Civil War.  I was also surprised at how different some of the scenes look now that I am an adult rather than someone more the age of the Laura in the books.

Author Sarah Miller not only experienced that same surprise, but went a step farther.  She was intrigued by the rather shadowy figure of Laura's mother, Caroline.  Laura's favorite parent was clearly "Pa," but any adult reading the Little House books can see that Ma was the backbone of the family.  Ms. Miller made it her mission to learn more, and her novel Caroline is the result.

Caroline is the retelling of Little House on the Prairie from the viewpoint of Caroline Ingalls.  One of the striking differences between this book and the original is that, presumably to avoid offending anyone, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her book as if her younger sister Grace were present the entire time, when actually Caroline was pregnant when the trip to Indian Country started and Grace was not born until after their arrival.  This gave Caroline the chance, as her character says wryly, to vomit in the ditches of five states during the journey.

The limited omniscient viewpoint of Wilder's book is that of the child Laura, who is laconically matter-of-fact about many things that horrify her mother.  Perhaps the most terrifying incident was the one in which their neighbor Mr. Scott passes out at the bottom of the well they are digging due to bad air, and Charles Ingalls goes down to rescue him. Carolyn had to pull Charles back up despite the fact that she was about half his size and almost ready to give birth.  She somehow succeeded without passing out or miscarrying, which must have been a minor miracle.  Pioneer women were TOUGH.

Caroline : Little House, Revisited - by Sarah Miller (Hardcover)In an afterword to the book, Ms. Miller details all the research she conducted and things she did to try to get inside Caroline's actual experience - everything from learning how to churn butter to wearing a whalebone corset.  The result is a riveting, believable story that's much more interesting than any episode in the long-running Little House TV series.

"In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, 'Ma' in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books." ~Goodreads.com

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