Prairie Fires: Chapter 11

[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 11

(Tweet Link: Part 6) It's striking to me that Laura's writings are about hope and joy and beauty even in hard times, while Rose's writings are about grim unhappiness in relative wealth. (The Depression is happening and she never misses a meal; she's relatively rich.)

Rose joins the local men at foxhunting (further alienating the wives) looking for new story material to gather. She mocks their dialect to her literary friends. Similarities of scenes and turn of phase between Little House on the Prairie and Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Antonia are noted along with the fact that Rose was very familiar with Cather's work.

Oh shit.

[TW] Rose quarrels with John (the 15 year old boy) and tells him to leave, then asks him to stay. With unexpected royalties from Hurricane she takes him on a Florida vacation. She writes ecstatically of swimming nude in the Gulf of Mexico while saying John declined to "go nudist". Rose is the absolute worst person in the world.

Laura returns to her writing while Rose is away (and now that Little House on the Prairie has sold) and tentatively pens The First Three Years about her life with Almanzo. It's painful. She recounts a conversation with him about how she wants him to be a town worker rather than a farmer because farmers are forever poor and the life is hard and shitty. If she knew this, why did she keep advising people to become farmers?

While Laura writes about her youth and protects Rose from all blame (she steadfastly maintains Rose had nothing to do with burning their house down), Rose writes stories about her youth in which her expy rages at the motherly Laura expy. They're literally living in different houses on the same property, writing out their pasts in argument at each other. This is the most passive aggressive thing ever.

An exact line from Laura's manuscript finds its way into Rose's manuscript. "Who wrote it first?" the biographer asks. Well, given that Rose was reading-and-editing Laura's work but Laura was NOT reading-and-editing Rose's work...

Rose's career languishes; comparisons are drawn to her much more successful and famous peers (including women). Rose writes to Isabel Mary Bowler Paterson (famous novelist, famous columnist, and worshiped by Ayn Rand) to brag that Rose's grandfather "often" stopped at the Bloody Bender's house. THIS IS A TOTAL LIE.

My god, I am consumed with hatred for someone I barely knew existed before this book. It is a surreal feeling.

Chapter 11. The biographer teases there will be grasshoppers. 1934 brings the worst drought recorded in North American history, apparently. Dust storms pick up all the dry dust and deposit it elsewhere. Bugs eat all the crops. America languishes. On Black Sunday in 1935, 60-mile-per-hour winds in Oklahoma whipped up mile-high walls of dust that looked like tornadoes lying on their side.

...things were bad. Like, lots of deaths. I won't give details.

Basically: Climate change. Farmers didn't practice crop rotation or erosion control, so the country got fucked up. All of the country. This is a really informative chapter and hard to summarize so let me once more plug that this is a good book and you should buy it / check it out at the library / get your relatives to buy a Christmas copy.

Laura writes On the Banks of Plum Creek, deciding that Rose doesn't get to keep that name for herself and her awful Hurricane novel.


Oh shit, she left town just before her "Old Home Town" collection of stories was published--a collection which retold and mocked real-life happenings around her home town. Everyone in Mansfield hates her. "[The stories] might as well have been a scarlet letter pinned to the town square. "People knew exactly who she was talking about," Short says."

Rose is hired to write a nonfiction about Missouri and basically ignores people like Daniel Boone and Mark Twain to talk about herself. And, again, to regurgitate Mansfield stories. "Some names occur in both works." (Her short story collection and the Missouri nonfiction.)

Rose writes impassioned screeds about wanting to murder FDR. She predicts that, under FDR, a book of matches will cost $25,000. NARRATOR: They did not. ...I don't even know how to summarize her political stuff right now, it's utterly disconnected from reality. She's now hunting for communists at the university of Missouri.

Rose is deeply furious about government relief and New Deal programs. Which, I mean, she never even believed the depression or stock market crash happened, so. Rose briefly hears from her first "adopted" son (the Albanian boy) and he's engaged so she starts planning another Albanian palace and to "live in Islam". I'm pretty sure she's still flat broke.

Laura labors on Plum Creek. The biographer notes that it's striking that their editorial collaborative letters do not focus on the social impact of the 1870 drought and the fact that Pa was forced to rely on government aid to feed the family. Instead, Laura and Rose focus on things like "are vanity cakes the same as popovers" and "what kind of birthday cake did Nellie have". These two women are almost painfully opposed to introspection.

Me, reading this section.

Jessica Fletcher eats popcorn.

Okay, this is complicated. Rose takes a lover who is, thankfully, an adult man. She leaves to go live in hotels with him. Her two "sons" stay behind in the farmhouse and she hires a woman to look after them.

Laura is at her wits end with these "boys" who are young adults and constantly in trouble with the police. She begs and possibly even orders Rose to clear the fuck out of her farmhouse: get rid of the boys and their nurse. Rose brings one of them to live with her and sends the other to military school. Laura sends loving letters to Rose, but Rose only visits twice more and then never again.

(She even refuses to visit her apparently genuinely loving father, even when he offers to send money for the train fare. With the caveat that no one owes their parents their attention, Rose is terrible.)

Rose writes political articles, making up shit. She claims to have been present to witness the American Communist Party being founded. "I forget the precise locale of that historic scene, but I was there." Whoops, she said it happened in New York when it was really Chicago. Rose was "five hundred miles away, in Mansfield, Missouri, mocking the Bolsheviks in a letter that cast great doubt on her contention that she had once been an ardent fellow traveler."

"Even more troubling, she was beginning to embrace fascism."

I was... not expecting Nazis to enter the live-tweet.

Rose permanently relocates to the east coast and her parents reclaim the farmhouse. I presume an exorcism was done at some point.

 Arthur Chu‏Verified account  @arthur_affect  Who knew pedophilia and Nazis would be part of the Little House on the Prairie backstory

The sad thing is, I started this live-read to provide a break from fascists and abuse.

 C.M. Stone‏  @CeeEmStone  Me: This woman could not get worse.  Rose: Hold my beer, peasant.

This is THE MOST APT description of #PrairieFires.

Oh my god the shade in the first sentence of this section in Chapter 11. "In letters in 1937, the two women traded admiring remarks about Dewey Short's (an anti-New Deal politician) wisdom while plotting how to cheat on their taxes."

Kermit drinks tea.

Laura urges Rose to continue to claim a "head of household" exemption at Rocky Ridge despite not living there. "I'll burn your letter and you burn this," she writes. (Rose didn't, since we have the letter.)

"God knows the farm is not self supporting," Laura writes, before going back to urge people to start farms and screeding about the New Deal and government relief. I HOPE YOU BOTH DIE. THAT'S WHERE WE ARE NOW.

How the fuck do you even.



How do you openly admit that your farm cannot pay for itself--even with renters on the property!--and keep romanticizing farm life and railing against government aid? Laura has renters and multiple jobs and a massively unexpectedly good writing career and an only mildly disabled spouse and she still can't make ends meet. But she's gonna rail against government relief programs for the poor because they're just not trying hard enough? Then what are you doing, sis? YOUR head isn't above water, what's YOUR excuse?

Rose sends Laura new clothes and Laura decided to have Almanzo cut up the old clothes to braid rag rugs. She scorns the notion of giving the clothes to people, saying they're too lazy to appreciate her clothes. "She was 'fed up' with giving things to people, she said, not noticing the irony in her position."

Donna‏  @totallydonna  If only the church people who'd sent her a million Christmas barrels over the years had felt this way about their food and clothes.


Laura starts writing Silver Lake, minimizing her father's financial mistakes even as she criticizes those of his neighbors. LOL, of course she does. She rationalizes the way he skipped town on his debts.

She excuses Charles in one breath in her letters then castigates her own handyman. "If we had such opportunities [as he] when we were young we would have been rich. How they can keep from it I can't see, nor what they do with the money they can't prevent themselves from making. Bruce is always hard up... But I find my heart is getting harder. I can have no least sympathy for people any more... I wish they all might have the opportunities we had when I was young and no more. Wouldn't it be fun to watch 'em?"

I feel like every version of the books should come with copious warnings that Laura grew up to be actual Ebenezer Scrooge. Meanwhile, Carrie writes begging for clothes and Grace (and her husband) are on copious New Deal food and job assistance. Laura does apparently send some clothes along.

Laura starts editing her parents' history. "Neither they nor their neighbors begged for help. No other person, nor the government, owed them a living. [They paid their debts.]" ALL of that was untrue, lolsob.

It is interesting to me that Laura apparently felt at this stage under the YA/MG tension of 'do I tell the truth / most interesting story or do I tell an edifying one?' Like, this is a problem today's authors have.

Laura goes to a major book fair (she stays at the Statler hotel!) and I just really hate her? She talks up how independent her parents were, but they fucking stole everything they used in life. Stole indigenous peoples' houses, land, logs, fish, meat. And she knows that at this stage. Don't give me "but the recollections of a child!!!!!" She's done her research. She knows. She knows her parents thieved and stole and cheated and dealt falsely. She knows.

Oh gosh. On stage Laura goes off the rails and tells about the Bloody Benders and "Charles Ingalls's supposed participation in a vigilante posse that hunted them down. She even put herself into the tale... 'I saw Kate Bender...,' she said."


Like, we actually factually know this is false. What happened?? Did Rose gaslight her into a false memory? Persuade her through repetition that it must have happened? "Invoking the courtroom oath--'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'--she told a story that was embroidered, if not downright false." I'm honestly choosing to believe Rose bullied her into this tale she was obsessed with.

The biographer notes that Laura was able to have her cake and eat it too by writing "fiction" but having her publisher market them as "the True Story of an American Pioneer Family". "It was this ambiguous relationship to the truth that enabled Wilder to transform her family's lifelong struggles into a sterling portrait of indomitability, security, and success. Privately to friends and editors, she admitted these tales were fictional. But she increasingly stressed to children and the public that everything she wrote and said was factual."

Thus ends chapter 11. We'll pick up chapter 12 tomorrow. There are 14 chapters total and I'm... 50% of the way through the book. I have to assume the end matter is massive, ha.

I'm going back and reading Big Woods tonight as a palate cleanser and:
   (A) the writing is still good, even if it's a PACK OF LIES.
   (B) fuck, I need bacon now. And pumpkins and ribs and venison and ropes of onions and maple sugar and.

I wanted a pig's bladder balloon so badly as a child. It seemed so unfair that I never had one. And a tree house. And an attic full of bacon. And wolves. And a moon. And trees.


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