Laura Ingalls Wilder Continues to Struggle to Get Her Book Farmer Boy Published – A Discussion of the Literary Quality of Farmer Boy

As I have pointed out in a previous post, Laura Ingalls Wilder had written a type of memoir for adults, and she named it Pioneer Girl. After that, she altered the text so that Pioneer Girl became a manuscript for junior readers. The first book of Wilder’s books to be published, however, was Little House in the Big Woods.  You might want to read about Wilder’s struggles to get Big Woods published Here.

Daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Ingalls Lane

Wilder’s daughter, Rose Ingalls Lane, was a successful journalist and author, and there is little doubt that Lane was very helpful in getting her mother’s first book published, and she did that during the Great Depression when it was difficult for a writer to get anything published. Lane edited Wilder’s writing and typed her manuscripts, and she pitched them to potential agents and publishers. The irony is that Lane’s writing career began to plummet, and Lane did something rather devious. She took excerpts from Wilder’s Pioneer Girl and submitted them as her own writing, and Lane’s plagiarized piece was published at the same time that Wilder was trying and failing to get her next book Farmer Boy published.

Watch the following videos by Pamela Smith Hill, author of Laura Ingalls Wilder, A Writer’s Life. [You can register for Hill’s course Laura Ingalls Wilder Here.]These videos help us understand the rivalry that developed between mother and daughter and Wilder’s continued struggle to get Farmer Boy published.

Hill also has the following to say about the quality of Wilder’s book Farmer Boy and how it compares to her book Little House in the Big Woods:

I am afraid that my opinion of the literary quality of Farmer Boy is not as high as that of Hill. In the following video, Hill says that Wilder had created the main character of Farmer Boy from the outside – in; and before I even watched these videos, I had formed essentially the same opinion:

After I had read the first two chapters of Farmer Boy, I thought that it would have the same power of descriptive writing as Big House and would, therefore, be that the writing for Farmer Boy would be as fresh as that for Big Woods was. I believe that her writing about the teacher’s defending himself with the black snake whip is absolutely stunning.

However, I have read fourteen more chapters now, and I do not believe that Wilder continues to write as well throughout those subsequent chapters, and I believe that the book becomes less alive and more preacherly than Big Woods.

I rather believe that this happens because Laura Ingalls Wilder did not  actually live the stories that she attempts to tell in Farmer’s Boy. At best, she may have heard those stories second-hand, but because she was not actually there and because she had not experienced what she wrote, I do not believe that she had the internal reservoir to fill the writing of the entire book Farmer Boy as she did the stories in the other books– those that she did experience.

Her most vivid writing in Farmer Boy is at the very beginning of the book when she describes the brutal New England winters and when she describes the massive Wilder farm. I have studied writing enough to know that writers should “show” and not “tell,” and I believe that as Wilder writes about the children’s walking to school through the brutal snow and as she allowed us to hear the black snake whip crack and watch it curl, she was writing illustratively.  I did not think that the entire book was as vivid as these early chapters.

By the time that I had reached the chapter about Independence Day, I felt that there was too much preaching and moralizing and “telling,” and not enough “showing.” The chapter about the County Fair exhausted me. In fact, Almanzo says something to the effect that he was glad that the Country Fair was over, and I chuckled. That is the way that I felt about that entire chapter.

I believe that the nougat of truth in understanding the difference in Wilder’s writing is that another person can never really completely tell someone else’s tales. I essentially have masters degrees both in painting and writing, and I am of the conviction that much which evolves in the creative process come from a person’s subconsciousness and that the best of the work is delivered through our intuitions. This only fully works for first-person observations and experiences, however. Our intuitions do not know what is in another person’s intuitiive bank. In my opinion, Farmer Boy is important, but I do not believe that it has the same vitality as Big Woods.

©Jacki Kellum July 7, 2016


2 thoughts on “Laura Ingalls Wilder Continues to Struggle to Get Her Book Farmer Boy Published – A Discussion of the Literary Quality of Farmer Boy

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