Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by William Anderson (Editor)
Release Date: March 8th 2016
2016 Harper
Ebook ARC Edition; 395 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062419682
Genre: Nonfiction / Historical / Memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

This is a fresh look at the adult life of the author in her own words. Gathered from museums and archives and personal collections, the letters span over sixty years of Wilder’s life, from 1894–1956 and shed new light on Wilder’s day-to-day life. Here we see her as a businesswoman and author—including her beloved Little House books, her legendary editor, Ursula Nordstrom, and her readers—as a wife, and as a friend. In her letters, Wilder shares her philosophies, political opinions, and reminiscences of life as a frontier child. Also included are letters to her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, who filled a silent role as editor and collaborator while the famous Little House books were being written.

Wilder biographer William Anderson collected and researched references throughout these letters and the result is an invaluable historical collection, tracing Wilder’s life through the final days of covered wagon travel, her life as a farm woman, a country journalist, Depression-era author, and years of fame as the writer of the Little House books. This collection is a sequel to her beloved books, and a snapshot into twentieth-century living.

My Thoughts
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder was an interesting and absorbing collection of her personal letters to fans, family, friends, colleagues, and so on.  I will admit to being fascinated by the details they gave us about her later life, and couldn't get enough information about family and friends mentioned from the Little House books.  Having grown up on these books, to the point where they were so dog-eared I had to buy another set for my own children, I have always been fascinated by Laura's life.  I even got a chance to visit some of Carrie's old haunts while visiting Keystone several years ago, and often regret not stopping in De Smet while driving through South Dakota to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes Tour.  

What was nice about reading this collection was reconciling Laura as a child with Laura as a mother and author. You definitely got a much better understanding of the relationship between Laura and Rose as well as what Laura thought about a myriad of things, including simply the weather.  It was also nice, as an adult, to learn more about Laura's family and friends, and I definitely looked for those names I recognized from the novels, hoping for more information.  Unfortunately, as in a lot of families, including my own, so many things get thrown out over the years, including correspondence, and I am frankly amazed that so much was left from Laura's papers.  Although it was a shame that so much was destroyed, it is a reality; I didn't really take much interest in my own grandparents' letters and things although now I wish I had, especially as my grandmother tended to keep a lot of things.  In her letters, Laura seemed to live quite frugally and often commented on the materialism of young people, which I found quite interesting, and she found disturbing, often echoing the same thoughts going around today.

I thought Anderson did quite a good job putting together these letters and I imagine it wasn't very easy to do.  For the average person with little knowledge of Laura Ingalls, I don't think the collection will be very interesting, and some of the letters to fans were a bit repetitive, but to someone like me who adored the Little House books, I loved reading this collection.  It definitely gave you a new understanding of the adult Laura, some of her political and religious viewpoints, as well as what she thought of friends and neighbours. What I really liked was the writing process between Laura and Rose as she edited her books; I also liked learning about how the drawings were developed for the books as well, quite interesting. My only disappointment with the letters had to do with how little new information we learn about Almanzo, but it is possible many of those letters were lost over the years.  You do however, get a real appreciation for how attached she was to Manly and how much she adored him. 

The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder gives us a more in-depth understanding to Laura as an adult through letters written by her own hand.  I liked how Anderson laid out the book and gave little snippets of information in order to help understand the letters.  For anyone with an interest in the adult life of Laura Ingalls, I highly recommend this book; she was just as charming as the little girl we grew up with in her famous books.


  1. Excellent review. I also read those books growing up... I have no idea what became of the set I had.