Thursday, February 07, 2008
The First Four Years
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. 1971. The First Four Years.
The stars hung luminous and low over the prairie.
The First Four Years was published several decades after the death of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was published after the death of Laura and Almanzo's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. It is based on three hand-written notebooks. The story is believed to have been written in the mid to late forties. It is also believed to have been shelved by Laura Ingalls Wilder after the death of Almanzo. She never went back to work on it again. She never polished it up. She never sent it to the publishers. It is what it is, a first draft.
It has a completely different feel than the other Little House books. It doesn't have chapters, for one thing. But more than that there is an emotional undertone of sadness and regret that makes it pointedly different than its predecessors. It is just very melancholy. Yes, it captures all the horrible things that happened next. Yes, it's probably accurate enough to assume that most if not all farmers experienced this many brutal hardships. The other Little House books often dealt with hard issues as well. But I suppose they felt more balanced. I think she injected enough hope and light to lift them up.
Personally, I'd rather have the "happily ever after" ending of These Happy Golden Years than the brutal hardships of The First Four Years. Not that I'm promoting the unrealistic fairy-tale ending where marriage is problem-free. But to read of all the hardships with the farm, the land, the money problems, the debt, the worries, the health problems, the weather/environment problems, etc. It's just so hard, so brutal, so depressing.