Rose Wilder Lane … Who Knew?

Well, we did. But apparently, now that the venerable New Yorker has run an article about Rose and Laura–containing no new information, and just a lot of commentary based on recycled sources–cyberspace is whirling with debate about Rose’s politics, the expressed values in the Little House series, and even Christian doctrine as expressed in the books.

The original piece, written by Judith Thurman, focuses on material most of us already know: Rose was an early Libertarian who influenced the early conservative movement; Rose heavily edited the Little House books before they went to print; the relationship between Rose and Laura was both tense and symbiotic; and Rose led well-traveled, cosmopolitan life. Thurman cites William Holtz’s Ghost in the Little House as ” the work of a fastidious stylist, and, in its way, a minor masterpiece of insight and research.”

She also calls the rest of the available scholarly research about the Wilders “pedestrian,” scoffs at the themes of self-reliance in the books, applauds herself for being liberal, and pooh-poohs the idea and practice of rugged individualism.

For someone who’s merely recycling others’ research, Thurman is remarkably arrogant in her assumptions about the Midwest and Wilder enthusiasts.

For Thurman does not offer any new information about Rose and Laura. The only thing this article does is to bring this story to an elite East Coast literary audience, in effect raising the issue of Rose’s influence on national politics to national debate. In that, she has succeeded.

Just in the last two days, response to the Thurman piece has run the gamut from enthusiastic praise to righteous fury, and everything in between. The conservative take comes from a blog called “Reason” and from “Right Wing News.” Pastor Chris Brauns chooses to discuss Christian doctrine in the books in his blog. And weighs in with a gush about the fact that the Wilder women are getting recognition at all.

But my favorite take on the subject comes from Kate Harding at As a newcomer to understanding the enthusiasm for the Wilder women, Harding writes an enthusiastic piece praising Rose Wilder Lane, and calling for a general interest biography of her story. She writes: “Rose Wilder Lane, please come back from the dead and be my BFF.”

My sentiments exactly, Kate.

Posted in Cultural Impact, Research, Rose Wilder Lane Tagged with:
8 comments on “Rose Wilder Lane … Who Knew?
  1. Tracy says:

    Amy – thanks so much for compiling all the info on the response to this piece. I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more. Well said!

  2. Eve says:

    What frustrates me the most about some of these recent pieces is the desire to pit Laura and Rose against one another, as though we have to choose which one we admire and who led the most interesting life. We all know Laura and Rose were both strong individuals and sometimes clashed, but why can we not admire the qualities of each? Why does one have to be ‘better’ than the other? I have never loved Rose as I do Laura, but she was a fascinating, flawed individual. Perhaps people are just looking for a new angle?
    In addition, some of the comments on these recent pieces are chock full of errors about Laura and her family. Very frustrating!

  3. Check out Thurman’s question/answer live chat session from earlier today.

  4. Dr Laura says:

    There’s your next book Dr. Lauters.

  5. Elliemae says:

    Well said, Amy!

    (Frankly, I was rather annoyed after reading the New Yorker article…)

  6. Lauri says:

    You said just what I was thinking – “East Coast Elitism”, but expressed it much better.

  7. Connie says:

    The East Coast bent is rampant in the Thurman article, but what better way than to have Laura and Rose re-introduced to new readers than through the “venerable” New Yorker?!
    I was pleased to see that she recognized the amount of current research that is conducted even today, 50+ years after Laura’s life.

  8. Laura says:

    I have lots of opinions that would be too long to list! I just want to say that the New Yorker article really annoyed me. It’s as if the trend now is to dig up dirt in the Ingalls/Wilder/Lane family.
    I read some of the comments and was especially amused by one. Can’t remember where, but maybe after the New Yorker article. Not exact wording, but a reader who said something about Rose having to have written the Little House books because they were in the same style as her (she was thinking – Rose’s) book, The First Four Years. Hmm, interesting…

    And, I would be very interested to read a well-written biography of Rose. Amy?

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