At Slate’s History Vault, Rebecca Onion introduces a letter from Rose Wilder Lane to Laura Ingalls Wilder, her mother and the author of the Little House series of books.
A lot of good books have addressed the question of authorship and co-authorship in the Little House books; see John Miller, Ann Romines, Anita Clair Fellman, and William Holtz’s biography of Lane, The Ghost in the Little House, for just a few of them.
Reading Wilder’s “Pioneer Girl” manuscript, the letters between the two women, and the books of both (including Wilder’s essays for farm publications) gives an entirely different perspective than simply reading the Little House series.
The letter at Slate does sound a little peremptory and irritable, but if you read Wilder’s letters in return or those excerpted in Holtz’s biography, you’ll see that in occasional impatience and irritability, Lane didn’t fall far from the maternal tree. In the letter, Lane scolds Wilder for writing that Laura threatened Cousin Charley (remember Charley? The boy who cried wolf, or rather bees?) with a knife when he tried to kiss her at age twelve: “Maybe you did it, but you can not do it in fiction.” Maybe you couldn’t put it in fiction, but that Laura, like the one who cut school to go roller-skating when she was in high school, would make an interesting and lively character in the real story of her life.
Lane was a major figure in her own right. An award-winning short story writer, a traveler, a working journalist, a novelist: she was the famous writer long before the Little House books put her forever in the shadows as Baby Rose of The First Four Years.
I’ve written about Wilder‘s Little House books, about Lane’s pioneer fiction, and about her biography of Jack London, but she’s a fascinating figure who deserves more attention.
In honor of Frederick Law Olmstead’s birthday (26 April 1822-28 August 1903), the Digital Public Library posted his plans for Central Park.
But as is well known, parks all across the country owe a debt to Olmstead and his ideas.
From “Olmstead Parks in Spokane” at HistoryLink:
“In 1907, the youthful Spokane was ripe for beautification. Aubrey L. White, the president of the city’s new Park Board, was filled with enthusiasm for the City Beautiful movement, and he also felt a sense of urgency. Because Spokane was growing so fast, he felt that the city had to act immediately if it were to acquire parkland cheaply and avoid the mistakes of the big cities back east.
He knew the Olmsteds were designing projects in Seattle and Portland, so he hired the firm to stop off in Spokane to prepare a report for the city.
Over several visits in 1907 and 1908, White accompanied John Charles Olmsted or his associate, James Frederick Dawson, all over the city — to the river gorge, to Manito Park, to Indian Canyon, to Corbin Park.”
Although these pictures show the more cultivated and less wild parts of one of Spokane’s many parks, the Olmstead influence is still alive and well — as is the Duncan Gardens Rose Garden shown above.
This article about the rediscovery of the wreck of the Chester, which sank in 1888 near the Golden Gate Bridge, calls to mind Jack London’s The Sea Wolf:
Here’s what happened: The City of Chester — a passenger steamer built in 1875, according to the California State Lands Commission’s shipwreck database — departed San Francisco in a dense fog on the morning of Aug. 22, 1888. The ship was heading for Eureka, Calif., a town about 270 miles up the state’s coast, when it collided with the Oceanic, a much larger steamer.
“Collided” may be too gentle a term for this, actually. The Chester “was rammed in mid-channel” by the Oceanic, a ship about twice as long as the Chester, according to Michael D. White’s book “Shipwrecks of the California Coast.”
“The City of Chester was cut almost into halves and reeled under the terrible blow,” The Day (of New London, Conn.) wrote in its evening edition the following day, noting that the Chester sunk in a matter of minutes.
From The Sea Wolf:
The vessels came together before I could follow his advice. We must have been struck squarely amidships, for I saw nothing, the strange steamboat having passed beyond my line of vision. The Martinez heeled over, sharply, and there was a crashing and rending of timber. I was thrown flat on the wet deck, and before I could scramble to my feet I heard the scream of the women. This it was, I am certain,—the most indescribable of blood-curdling sounds,—that threw me into a panic. I remembered the life-preservers stored in the cabin, but was met at the door and swept backward by a wild rush of men and women. What happened in the next few minutes I do not recollect, though I have a clear remembrance of pulling down life-preservers from the overhead racks, while the red-faced man fastened them about the bodies of an hysterical group of women. This memory is as distinct and sharp as that of any picture I have seen. It is a picture, and I can see it now,—the jagged edges of the hole in the side of the cabin, through which the grey fog swirled and eddied; the empty upholstered seats, littered with all the evidences of sudden flight, such as packages, hand satchels, umbrellas, and wraps; the stout gentleman who had been reading my essay, encased in cork and canvas, the magazine still in his hand, and asking me with monotonous insistence if I thought there was any danger; the red-faced man, stumping gallantly around on his artificial legs and buckling life-preservers on all comers; and finally, the screaming bedlam of women.
. . .
I descended to the lower deck. The Martinez was sinking fast, for the water was very near. Numbers of the passengers were leaping overboard. Others, in the water, were clamouring to be taken aboard again. No one heeded them. A cry arose that we were sinking. I was seized by the consequent panic, and went over the side in a surge of bodies. How I went over I do not know, though I did know, and instantly, why those in the water were so desirous of getting back on the steamer. The water was cold—so cold that it was painful. The pang, as I plunged into it, was as quick and sharp as that of fire. It bit to the marrow. It was like the grip of death. I gasped with the anguish and shock of it, filling my lungs before the life-preserver popped me to the surface. The taste of the salt was strong in my mouth, and I was strangling with the acrid stuff in my throat and lungs.
For our English 573, American Moderns, class today.
Preliminary Questions in Preparing a Dissertation or Book Proposal
1. In a sentence or two, what’s the overall argument of this project? What’s the main point that you’re trying to make? (Think about this: how would you describe what you’re doing if you were talking on an elevator with someone for about 2 minutes?)
2. What one author or idea does this project absolutely have to include, and why?
3. What’s the gap in the scholarship that you’re trying to fill by writing about it? What are you saying that others haven’t talked about yet?
4. Why is it important? (This is the “so what?” question that editors talk about.)
5. What other authors or topics are you planning to include, and why?
6. What’s the most exciting part of this project for you, or what fascinates you about this topic?
7. Is there anything you’ve written that can be incorporated into this project already?
8. Is there anything you’d like to include in this project but probably aren’t going to be able to include because of time, resources, etc.?
9. What theoretical framework(s) do you anticipate being most useful to you as you move forward with the project?
10. What critical works do you admire and might you consider as a model or template for your study?