Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pouring rain here this morning, and I am glad because we have had such a dry winter. Slowly the snow piles are melting away. The brown weeds are tinged with green. Coltsfoot and crocuses are blooming, though today, in this cold rain, they will fold in on themselves, barely visible, like a clutch of sleeping partridges. The chickens are the ones who love this weather. They run through the wet leaves, scratching up grubs, jumping on earthworms. That cliché "madder than a wet hen" has nothing to do with anything. "Busier than a wet hen" would be more like it.

Yesterday I read several articles in the New York Review of Books about fiction that I have no interest in reading. Sometimes periodicals are a real waste of time. On the bright side, however, I did pick up Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, which Paul had just reread for the 50th time. And it's good; it's really good. If you can eradicate the poisonous memory of the Little House on the Prairie TV show, you should take a look at this series with a fresh eye. The writing is plain and strong, and the portrait of the family always moves me. Moreover, it is full of information about how to do things: how to sew a sheet, how to make a pie from green pumpkin, how to fill a hay wagon, how to smoke a pig. Wilder doesn't purvey this information nostalgically or condescendingly, not even quite in a how-to kind of way, but weaves it into the pattern of her narrative. She makes it clear that the task, whatever it might be at the moment, just happens to be what life is.

They all sat waiting in the tidy shanty. Mary was busily knitting to finish warm stockings for Carrie before the cold weather. Laura was sewing two long breadths of muslin together to make a sheet. She pinned the edges together carefully and fastened them with a pin to her dress at the knee. Carefully holding the edges even, she whipped them together with even, tiny stitches.

The stitches must be close and small and firm and they must be deep enough but not too deep, for the sheet must lie smooth, with not the tiniest ridge down its middle. And all the stitches must be so exactly alike that you could not tell them apart, because that was the way to sew.

Mary had liked such work, but now she was blind and could not do it. Sewing made Laura feel like flying to pieces. She wanted to scream. The back of her neck ached and the thread twisted and knotted. She had to pick out almost as many stitches as she put in.


Scott said...

I always liked the 'Little House' books, but disliked how Laura was portrayed: fidgety, forgetful, childish, etc. The other two girls were angels, and rarely did anything bad.

Dawn Potter said...

I suspect that her character was the result of the author's own self-questioning. Laura is the "boyish" one of the group; she likes to do men's work rather than sew and clean. But she's also the only girl who got married and left home. So I imagine she has some perplexities.

Ruth said...

When you read about her more "grown-up" life, Laura is the one who could control the big boys when she taught, liked the daring feats and she is the one who had to run the farm after Almanzo couldn't. I'd say she knew herself well. She is the most human of the characters.

Lucy Barber said...

It might or might not be interesting to know that the current debate is about how much Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the LHOP books or whether her daughter did (who was born after any "success" of Laura and Almanzo was NOT achieved). In other words, Rose Wilder might have made her "mother" flightly partly because she knew that the "strong traits" actually did not carry through to success or because Rose was actually more boyish than her mother and raised on a diet of fiction from a later period featuring more independent heroines. Wikipedia discusses some of this, but the facts are not likely to emerge because interested parties had much access to the records.

Dawn Potter said...

I've heard that theory as well; but having read some of Rose Wilder Lane's fiction, I have my doubts. Her own writing is not nearly as good. Still, she certainly could have tweaked her mother's books, even if she didn't write them in entirety.