Prairie Fires: Chapter 10

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 10

(Tweet Link: Part 5) Part 5, in which the books are written and I assume everything goes horribly right.

Chapter 10 opens with Laura and Almanzo taking a road trip to De Smet (Charles' old town). They're horrified by the ruination of all the farm country (crop prices tanked due to over-growth) and everyone is losing their farm to taxes. I can kind of see why farmers would gravitate to anti-tax positions when they associate taxes with foreclosure and those taxes have never been used to properly safety net them. Sigh.

Laura's manuscript for Little House in the Big Woods is accepted, but Knopf folds because of the Depression before she can sign. (Sorry, to be clear, Knopf folds the children's arm of the publishing company, not the entire company itself.) Rose insists the Depression will be brief, nothing is wrong, people are just being cowards. She's $8,000 in debt.

Little House in the Big Woods is published and becomes a critical darling and a financial success. Laura starts Almanzo's story--Farmer Boy. Problem: Rose takes notice. "For in 1932, after the successful completion and publication of Wilder’s first book, Lane began competing with her mother over her material, first in secret and then openly, trying to put her own imprimatur on the family stories and sell them before her mother could."

(We should probably stop trying to diagnose Rose and Charles in my mentions, ya'll. I get it, but after 200+ tweets of "maybe they were [X]" it just sounds like we need a mental illness reason for people to be terrible. They can just be terrible. That's okay! Neurotypical / Non-mentally ill people can be garbage fires too!)

A month after Laura's book is published, Rose dives into an attempt to fictionalize Charles and Caroline's life by Plum Creek. She had material, but had never used it before because she didn't like "Pioneer America" tales. Rose writes a weird bastardization of Charles and Caroline's life on Plum Creek, but with details from Laura and Almanzo's early wedded life.


That is literally what is happening. This. Right here.

 Arthur Chu‏Verified account  @arthur_affect  Rose spent her whole adult life hiding from her backwoods past and now shamelessly comes rushing back to ransack the family memory attic when it turns out there’s money in it

I'm just stunned. She knows Laura intends to keep writing about her childhood, and Rose is running ahead to do it first, and doesn't tell her. They're living on the same property! They eat dinner together! How do you not tell your author mother that the new project you're working on is her life story?

LOL, never mind, I forgot that Rose specialized in stealing people's life stories.

Oh god, she hasn't yet told Laura that the stock market crash took all the money Laura had invested under Rose's urging.


In retrospect, the true source of Lane’s rancor was not Mrs. Poole. On the drive home from a visit to them, she grew furious with her mother when Wilder failed to sense her aversion to their lowbrow hosts: I remarked thoughtlessly that I had had a nice time. My mother brightened patheticly. “Did you really? You weren’t bored?” Before I could collect my idling mind she added, still brightly, “Seeing how the other half lives.” Suddenly I was profoundly, coldly angry. I could have killed. But my anger had no focus, no direction. It was not against her or anyone else. “What do you mean?” I said, icy. She looked at me. I could feel the murder in my eyes. Hers seemed expressionless. “Just common ordinary farmers,” she said, turning to the road ahead.

"Determined to undermine her mother, Lane ignored a request from the Saturday Evening Post for a nonfiction article about her parents’ pioneer days and instead pressed on with her fiction." tfw you hate your mother enough to pass up on paying work when you're deeply in debt.

Around this point, Rose takes out a $2,000 loan and puts up the Rocky Ridge farm as collateral. She doesn't own the farm, so Laura must have done this for her. LAURA, LEARN TO TELL YOUR DAUGHTER NO.

Rose edits Laura's manuscript for Farmer Boy, complaining the whole time that her work is basically "copying" and this is taking her away from her work. Rose's own manuscript ("Let the Hurricane Roar") is sold to the Saturday Evening Post (prestigious!) and she STILL has not told Laura she stole her life story. I hope Laura sues the stockings off her.

Rose uses the money from "Hurricane" not to settle her debts but to go on a roadtrip--  OH FUCK YOU, ROSE. FUCK YOU INTO THE SEA. She urges Laura to continue investing in the stock market, determined to believe that the depression is just a figment of everyone's imagination.

Oh god, Laura finds out about Rose's "project" when someone brings advance copies over.

In January 1933, Wilder found out what her daughter had been hiding, in the worst and most public way. Lane had received advance copies of advertisements for the story, scheduled for publication in book form by Longmans, Green and Company that February. She had deliberately hidden them from her mother. But Catherine Brody, unaware of the impact they would have, brought them out, in company, to show off the two full pages of publicity that would run in The Publishers’ Weekly. Lane dramatized the scene in her journal, describing her mother studying the ad with “an air of distaste.” Wilder interrupted Lane’s conversation with friends to question her sharply about it: “Why do they place it in the Dakotas?” I: “I don’t know.” She: “the names aren’t right.” I, alarmed: “What names?” She: “Caroline and Charles. They don’t belong in that place at that time. I don’t know—it’s all wrong. They’ve got it all wrong, somehow.” Effectively destroying the simple perfection of my pleasure.

"Lane could have adopted fictional names for her characters and disguised her borrowings with fresh invention and details. Yet she deliberately chose to trespass on her mother’s sacred ground, the reason why Wilder had begun writing in the first place."

The woodcut gives Charles A HAWT BUTT and the ad copy is about how triumphant and rosy everything is and locusts be damned. Laura is STRICKEN.

  HoosAMerryKitty‏  @MeAndHoo  I belatedly looked up that cover and it's practically the center of the composition. The eye is instinctively drawn thither. There is no way this is accidental. 

I can't breathe, I would straight-up murder Rose at this point. Like this would be some Biblical "I brought you into this world, I'm taking you out of it" fury. Like, this isn't just undercutting Laura's future writing, it's 100% making people doubt that anything Laura has or will write could even be true.

"Bestseller or no, Let the Hurricane Roar was not Lane’s best work. She had once stated that “a story too many times told is a dish without salt,” and Hurricane carried the unconvincing air of something heard secondhand. Compared to her mother’s writing about the same experiences, the characters were flat and the language overwrought, the stuff of commercial magazine fare. It suffered, however, from the fictional equivalent of overacting, its characters ginning up drama by raging, shaking, screaming, and sobbing. Jaws were clenched, and fists pounded on tables. Scholars later dubbed it “stale and formulaic.”"


Laura is pissed and the entire town learns just how pissed she is. There are rumors of a threatened lawsuit. GOOD. SUE HER.

[TW: Pets] Rose is a terrible dog owner (who is surprised?) and her dog dies. She lapses into constant crying fits and Laura doesn't toss her out on her ass.

Laura rewrites Farmer Boy and Rose embellishes it with Patriotism and Manifest Destiny. The book sells on the strength of its food descriptions.

The year is 1933. We're now going to have 10 years of drought and deadly "dust blizzards" because white people fucked up the climate. It took a thousand years for nature to deposit a layer of topsoil on the American west, and they plowed it all up into dust and desert.

Laura starts working on her Kansas book, which is a bit awkward because chronologically her life was:
- Wisconsin
- Kansas
- Wisconsin

and Little House in the Big Woods squashed the two Wisconsin periods together.

This book asserts powerfully that Laura wrote the thing and Rose's biographer (William Holtz) was LYING OR WRONG when he says Rose wrote it. In this thread, LAURA WROTE HER BOOKS. Rose is a hack. Drag her.

Laura is writing in the context of the dust bowl and it's... really important to her to show the prairies before white people ruined them? She puts in lavish details of the grasses and plants. Laura's first draft is kind of weirdly appropriative: she identifies with the indigenous people and imagines that she and her family are turning native from their sun-browned skin and Carrie's red birth skin. Laura, no. You're white.

She also emphasizes danger and vulnerability more: Ma's leg getting crushed, Pa breathing in bad gas, the sickness, the threats. Her original MS is raw and vulnerable; a lot of it gets edited out. (FUCK ROSE.) It's fascinating that Rose's editing makes Laura's book more sale-able but arguably worse from a craft perspective.

The biographer here (Fraser) thinks it's "astonishing" for Laura to identify with indigenous people (and for a woman of her time!, etc.) but really it's not astonishing at all. This was and is super common! Wanting to "be" native isn't the same thing as respecting native people. White people often want to "be" native, because it assuages our guilt and (correct) feeling that we have no claim to the land we're on. That doesn't mean we're respectful of people who are; quite the opposite, in fact.

[TW] The biographer here notes that Laura's depictions of indigenous people were stereotypical, racist, and murderously violent. (Regurgitating the phrase "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" three times in the novel.) So I mean. NOT RESPECTFUL.

I find it faintly weird that the biographer seems to see tension between Laura's racism and Laura's appropriation, as if those were two sides of the same white coin. Most racist people appropriate from the targets of their racism! It's a very rare racist who tries to avoid and eschew every element of the culture/people they hate. Those do exist, but in very very small numbers.

Laura and Rose "research" via very dubious methods, preferring to check with everyone except the family re: where Carrie was born. This is... odd. It's like Rose's animosity towards Laura is replicated in Laura's animosity towards her surviving family. Laura attempts to write in the Bloody Benders to placate Rose, then tears it all out. A lot of tension over how to fictionalize her past while remaining true to her memories.

Laura ends the book with The Government forcing them out, but this is a fiction: the government forced out the Osage people and sold the land to white squatters and settlers. Charles either didn't understand or (more likely) couldn't pay the bare minimum needed to stay.

Rose hates editing Farmer Boy. While Laura works on the next book, Rose "began planning a grandiose project, a series of ten novels to rival her mother’s. Hers would cover the entire continent, encompassing all classes, from farmers to financiers." MAY IT FAIL HORRIBLY.

a girl with blonde hair pulls down a ball cap that says "Petty" over her face

Rose has never been either a farmer or a financier, but I'm sure that's the sort of thing you can just make up and people will believe.

Emma Stone gives a thumbs-up gesture that is deliberately unconvincing.

Hey, Rose, why don't you write about living in Albania while servants wait on you hand and foot and men send you money in the hopes you'll marry them.

a woman nods with a faux innocent face.

tfw you're a retired thief pulled back in for One Big Job.

Arthur Chu‏Verified account  @arthur_affect  Having run out of individual stories to steal she’s going to try to steal everyone’s story all at once


Her sketch of the pioneer was hostile, at odds with the heroic image she had painted in Hurricane. The type was irresponsible, “of obscure or debased birth,” with little “moral stamina,” unable to rise from the lowly, lawless masses. She cast the heroic westward journey as escapism, or running away from debts. She credited settlers only with rendering American life “wholly chaotic.”

"Hmm, my mother is making a name for herself selling stories of good-hearted and strong-willing pioneers. How can I cash in on this? How about a story where every member of the lower class is NOT AS GOOD AS ME. Yes, perfect."

Rose talks wistfully about leaving Rocky Ridge. Laura is like "sure! whenever you want!" Rose mopes around and doesn't leave.

Oh no. A homeless 15 year old comes by begging for scraps and Rose takes him in as a pet.

"From the beginning, her relationship with John Turner was disturbingly intense. Only a few months after they met, she referred to it as “this mother-&-son love affair,” admitting that she had an “infatuation for the youngster.”"



I really really REALLY hope she's not abusing this kid??

What the FUCK.

no no no no no no no no no no no

From the beginning, her relationship with John Turner was disturbingly intense. Only a few months after they met, she referred to it as “this mother-&-son love affair,” admitting that she had an “infatuation for the youngster.”149 Soon she was borrowing more money, planning to renovate the farmhouse, even engaging the architect who had built the Rock House to draw up plans. She threw parties for local teens, and bought John a guitar, a basketball jacket, dance records, radio parts. Eventually, she built the boys their own little house, a clubhouse where they could play the phonograph and invite their friends over. Before long, dance parties were being held regularly, jitterbugging on Friday or Saturday nights. Lane began teaching French to the teenagers, regaling them with tales of how the king of Albania had proposed to her.

The "proposed to by the King of Albania" part is also a complete lie.

Laura is furious that Rose has taken this kid in, but for the wrong reasons. She thinks the poor people will "cut our throats". Christ, Laura, the ONLY reason you are alive today is because strangers fed your underage ass when Charles was poor as fuck.

I will also point out that despite being apparently the richest farm in town (which admittedly isn't saying much), the Wilder trees were marked with "hobo marks" saying that they were no good for begging because they "had dogs" and wouldn't give food. And, look, I'm not as good at charity as I'd like to be. I know that. But Laura. (a) People need to eat, and (b) you're only alive because people fed you when you were needy and hungry!

Jared Pechacek‏  @vandroidhelsing  I guess Laura would never bring poor little kids cakes and tin cups from Santa Claus.

NO, because the children would be PART OF A GANG that CUTS THROATS.

"Their antics fueled rumors in town about the goings-on, reflecting widespread social disapproval of Lane—a divorced woman living on her own, smoking and dancing with a coterie of unrelated teenage boys. ...townspeople ...spoke harshly of [Rose] as “brash” and “a black sheep." In an allusion to loose morals, one would say, “Rose didn’t seem that refined.”"

[TW] So literally the entire town thinks it is likely that she is sexually abusing these boys. (And no one takes it seriously because they're boys.) Lane starts sending out sheets to be washed daily, causing more rumors because you would only wash sheets daily if sex with men is happening.

Pardon me, there will be a slight break as I douse my brain in bleach.


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