Finally: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s hand-written autobiography

Finally: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s hand-written autobiography

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography offers Wilder’s complete first draft of her own story, enhanced by scrupulous and wide-ranging new research. Wilder’s heretofore unpublished memoir has been edited by Pamela Smith Hill, the author of a 2007 Wilder biography, who explores the overlap and the differences between various versions of the manuscript, the later novels, and Wilder’s own life. …

It’s true that Pioneer Girl includes stories of domestic abuse, vicious revenge, and of the town drunk looming over young Laura’s bed and telling her to “lie down and be still.” (She scares him off.) In another scene, a drunk man lights a cigar too soon after swallowing a slug of whiskey; “He breathed the flame into his lungs burning them and died almost at once.”

And even in cases where Wilder smooths things over, Hill’s generous annotations provide the juicy backstory: Aunt Docia’s divorce, a neighbor’s illegitimate pregnancy, and the tragic fate of Cap Garland, to name just a few. The real Clarence Brewster, whom fans will remember as a naughty schoolboy in Laura’s first classroom as a teacher, was later convicted of manslaughter. …

Despite flashes of the risqué, however, Pioneer Girl is ultimately a very gentle story, and not a radical departure from the children’s books it inspired. … The Pa of Pioneer Girl is still a selfless provider, Ma is a skilled homemaker, Mary a prim playmate, and Laura a good-hearted tomboy. …

Most of all, Pioneer Girl is a welcome reminder of the power, even the genius, of the Little House books.

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