With apologies, rather than write a brand-new post I’m going to revisit Eliza Jane. With such insightful, sophisticated comments, it seems a shame not to.
Is it possible that it was just true? That she was annoying and meddling? Maybe they didn’t see it as defamation because maybe (who knows) they used to talk about that horrible school experience and heck, maybe Eliza Jane would say, “I know, I was AWFUL!”
This is possible. When I translate that to real life, though, it makes me think that if I were friendly enough with a family member that we could all jokingly admit how awful she was, isn’t it safe to assume we’re in a better place now? And why not redeem her and make her a more likable character? Although, yes, as has been pointed out, it’s fiction–with all the characteristics of good fiction. Yet I keep coming back to Farmer Boy, which at the time was a standalone book, just like Big Woods was meant to be. At this juncture, the EJ she presented as a character was annoying, yes, but in a big-sisterly way. And you ended up warming to her by the end of the book (especially after Mother Wilder dressed her down about the sipping from the teacup).
Ah well. We can just go round and round, can’t we?
Then Kim and Wendy, and later Dr. Laura, point out the story arc about Eliza Jane and how it worked better in the story to have “Eliza Jane stay Eliza Jane,” especially as Nellie was added into the mix to complicate matters. (Hey! Maybe Laura manufactured this whole EJ thing because the only real-life conflict she had to draw on to make a good story was the “child bride” angle–the fact that Almanzo was a man in his twenties going after a teenager! Ya think? … OK, just kidding. Sort of.)
I particularly enjoyed so much of what Wendy said; lots of viewpoints I hadn’t considered are in her comment.
Tracy, thanks for reminding us about Free Land. I’ll have to go revisit that and remind myself of the EJ character there as well.
Dr. Laura also brings up Rose’s misery in Crowley and the fact that she was embarrassed by her circumstances—which (this is me talking here) she never did quite get over and seemed to carry a love-hate relationship with her whole life. Interesting to consider as well.
The most fascinating comment to me was Diana Birchall’s. She brought up some issues I had not considered at all. For example:
Laura the writer actually shows some moments of sympathy for Eliza: remember how young Laura felt in her first term of teaching school, when the recognition came to her that this was how Miss Wilder, who failed to teach the school in De Smet, felt. And she determines not to let that happen; it’s a maturing moment. Eliza actually taught Laura by bad example.
Thanks for reminding me of these moments of sympathy; I hadn’t thought of them.
Heck, I’ll just bring two entire paragraphs of Diana’s comment to the forefront. She digs in here so well her comment could be a full blog post on its own:
If your question, then, is why did Laura send Rose for education to a woman she disliked so much, there may have been some good reasons. Rose at that age was, I gather, an almost unprecedented handful. She writes she was experimenting with sex at an early age. She ate up all the learning available to her in a stunningly short time. She was wild. She was headstrong. Laura, who had been brought up by Ma and learned how to curb herself, how to behave, how to conform, how to be a lady, and Almanzo, who probably left the “hen” department to his wife, doubtless were at their wits’ end knowing what to do with this out-of-control girl. And they had few options. Rose was bursting to get off the farm and out into the world. She was an uncontrollable force. They had no money. What to do with her? It’s not a stretch that they might have thought, “Send her to Eliza. Eliza is strong-minded enough to deal with her, plus she can offer her more education than we can. Let her try.” I would imagine Eliza was used as a kind of desperate, “tough love” school. After all, Laura knew that Eliza would be a decent teacher (”She is a good scholar. She knows what is in the books”), and might, at best, provide an educational opportunity and some discipline for Rose. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re beside yourself with a problem child who’s too much for you!
And Laura herself actually learned a lot from Eliza, even if it was only by negative example. (”If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek…”) Maybe she wanted Rose to get a dose of that, to show her what could happen when a strong minded woman didn’t have good judgement. Laura may have seen Eliza all over again in Rose, and wanted to show her the dangers – consciously or unconsciously. But I bet she knew what she was doing, all right.
Laura and Almanzo at their wits’ end: “Send her to Eliza. Let her try.” I love it! I also love the idea of Eliza as a valuable negative example, both to Laura the character, and with the real-life (possibly) hope that Rose would see the dangers of being strong-minded without good judgment.
And Eliza Jane as Rose’s reform school! What a unique way to look at it. Thank you, Diana—so much food for thought.
I have another issue to bring up about On The Way Home and some problems have with Rose, but mercy! I think it will have to wait until next time. Who knew I’d have so many comments on the comments. Thanks to everyone for such a lively discussion!