Prairie Fires: Chapter 9

[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 9

(Tweet Link: Part 4) Rose Wilder has invested all her money into the stock market and is planning a palace with servants and guns to keep out the riff-raff.

[TW: Self Harm] When you're being Dramatic Online: [Rose's article] appeared under a sensational title: “I, Rose Wilder Lane, Am the Only Truly HAPPY Person I Know and I Discovered the Secret of Happiness on the Day I Tried to Kill Myself.”

Oh my god, I cannot summarize this article of hers. I am screaming. It is the most dramatic childish thing ever. It is 100% the slow-faint-on-the-stairs-lady gif.

gif of a lady on a fancy staircase, pretending to faint in dramatic slow motion

[TW: Suicide attempt] It is about how her life was SO MUCH WORSE than the starving-to-death orphans in Europe because she was a smart quiet child and her parents tried to be cheerful when bad things happen but SHE knew the truth.

The article captured the self-dramatizing tendency of her adult years. One morning, she said, at a difficult moment in her marriage, she attempted suicide by soaking a rag with chloroform and burying her face in it.119 She woke later with nothing more than a bad headache. This brush with death, she said, inspired lasting happiness, the joy of being alive. “It is now fifteen years since I began to enjoy living,” she claimed, “and I enjoy it more every day.” (That assertion of optimism was no more reliable than the rest of her reporting; her diary around this time recorded such reflections as “the leprosy of death, which attacks everyone at about 40.”) Perhaps it is no wonder that Lane had left for Europe before the article appeared. Like so many of her exaggerations, it must have been profoundly disturbing and embarrassing to her parents. According to Wilder’s account, her daughter had had nothing to do with the fire. And even if she had tried to add fuel to the stove, Rose was not yet three when the house on the tree claim burned, and no child of that age can be held responsible for such an accident. What made her fabricate that responsibility? Was it something her mother said? Or was Lane, as an adult, acting out a need to assume the central role, casting herself as a tiny angel of destruction?

Rose retreats to Albania, rents a house, and hires servants to wait upon her. PEAK WHITE WOMAN. Rose laments "lost opportunities in Europe, where she felt she had been “exploited,” financially and emotionally, by her travel companions." All I can think about is the MEAGER PITTANCE she paid her Albanian guards/guides and how she exploited them financially and emotionally.

"Over the next few months, [Rose] spent around two thousand on renovations to property she did not own. It recalled her grandfather’s fateful decision to build on Kansas land that did not belong to him, and like that decision, it would not end well." She couldn't buy the property because they wouldn't sell to a foreigner, so (like Charles) she just ignored that inconvenient fact.

This is just straight-up white privilege. I know people keep trying to diagnose her, but to a certain extent this is just what white people are like. See a thing, take a thing.

Rose churns out pulp novels to pay the bills, decides she hates all men and is done with romance (though it seems more likely that romance is done with her), and despises her servants in letters to her friends. She compares her servants to animals and despises her contemporary writers. She decides to appropriate Islam and peppers her letters randomly with "Inshallah!" and "Oh Allah!" She becomes hugely anti-Semitic and racist in her letters.

Rose Wilder is basically the worst.

"Servants brought them tea and cakes as their gardens were planted and tended, their clothes cleaned and ironed, their meals prepared, and mud cleaned off their shoes. “There is nothing wrong with America but the servant problem,” she [said] as if she were to the manor born." REMINDER THAT THIS IS THE WOMAN WHO EDITED THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE BOOKS.

She wrote stridently against Jewish people being allowed to buy housing, and against interracial marriage between whites and black people.

Laura calls on Rose to come home, saying Almanzo has been diagnosed with skin cancer. Rose leaves the house and servants and goes back to Rocky Ridge. Thus ends Chapter 8 and we move on to Chapter 9. There was also a whole thing with a dog and an orphan which I can't begin to summarize. Rose is akjhdakjsdhajh.

The year is 1926 and we're experiencing an identical land-rush to the west as the boom and bust of 1880. People are buying houses on credit. Sears Roebuck is selling "house kits" delivered by rail and put up on property.

Rose moves back home and decides to oust her parents from their beloved farmhouse into a "house kit" she wants to build on the back forty. The Wilders are not thrilled by this plan.

Rose manages to turn a $1500 house kit into an $11,000 project. She forces the workers to redo their work numerous times to weird-but-exacting specifications. Meanwhile, she decides to renovate their own/old house, again spending thousands to "improve" a house she doesn't own herself.

At this point I'm just angry people keep giving her money? Stop enabling rich people who waste money! I'm angry with Laura and Almanzo for never once telling this perpetual toddler the word "NO". Like. These stories about rich people failing upwards always has then going deep into debt (because credit!) and borrowing heavily from other rich friends.

Mid-renovations, Rose lapses into a depression and basically burns all her friendships down, castigating her friends for marrying/re-marrying people. After ruining all her relationships and friendships, Rose collapses when Black Friday hits and ruins all her investments.

Laura soldiers on, picking up a pen to write when her daughter can't. Laura presents Rose with a manuscript of her life, and Rose immediately starts trying to add lurid fictional details that clash with the tone. Like a prairie version of Jack the Ripper (the Bloody Benders), who Charles ~supposedly~ met and led a posse to execute. [Ana's Note: This is highly unlikely and the book repeatedly points out that Rose fabricated this story. It will... recur over the live-read.]

They shop the manuscript around and a middle grade / young adult (MG/YA) lady at Knopf pounces on the work, asking them to write for an 8-12yo audience and flesh out the material. Jack the Ripper is discarded.

Laura does include grim details of her childhood, but everything that seems sad or smacks of "backwoods poverty" is cut--unclear whether Rose did so or the publisher. (I'm guessing the publisher.)

They send the manuscript off to Knopf and Rose hides her influence on the work, not wanting to be sullied as a "juvenile" writer. Thus ends Part 2 and Chapter 9.

How the hell am I only at 41% of this book.


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