Capable Girl Books

A recent book by Elaine Showalter has an interesting mention of Laura in a section called Story Belongs to the People.

“One cultural contribution of the 1930s was the radio soap opera; daytime radio offered a rich choice of serial dramas about women, stories to brighten the lives of lonely housewives. Their shared theme, one historian notes, was women’s strength in the face of male weakness. “The men in their lives were handsome, but unreliable. They had affairs… they failed in business… or they were left helpless by blindness, amnesia, or some crippling trauma.” Women had to step into the breach, save the family, and take over as breadwinners. These drastic solutions to female fantasies were deplored by male writers, as they had in the days of Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall. James Thurber complained that ‘the man in the wheelchair’ has come to bet he standard Soapland symbol.” and William Faulkner described the era in Hollywood soap and weepie movies as ‘the Kotex age.’

The popular fiction of the thirties and even children’s literature by women also provided resourceful women characters to overcome the anxieties of the decade, or told stories of survival in hard times. Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) began in 1932 to publish her fictionalized memoirs of homesteading as a girl with her beloved family in the woods of Wisconsin and the Dakota Indian Territory. Little House in the Big Woods (1932) and its sequels became favorites with children, teachers, and librarians.”

(pp. 356-357)

Showalter, Elaine. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. New York: Knopf, 2008. Print.

When I was growing up, I read a lot of my grandmother’s books from when she was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. I loved not only Nancy Drew and the related series the Dana girls, but also “Helen in the Editor’s Chair” and the “Dorothy Dixon Earns Her Wings” series. These were all stories with active girls. I got so disgusted with the popular “girls” books of when I was growing up because all these girls seemed to do was worry about how to get a boy or to scheme against each other. The girl heroines of my grandmother’s old books were active, had goals, had plans and did things. They solved mysteries, righted wrongs, flew planes, and ran newspapers. I loved them. Like Laura’s books they provided resourceful women characters to model myself on. It never occurred to me that Laura’s resourcefulness was part of a literary trend in the 1930s, but it certainly is an interesting angle.

Like these other capable girls, Laura did things. She got scared, faced her fears and persevered. I hope in reading these books I learned to do the same.

Sarah Uthoff

Posted in Cultural Impact, Random Little House Sightings, Research Tagged with: , , , ,
One comment on “Capable Girl Books
  1. Kathryn Sanderson says:

    Not to mention the long-running Sue Barton nurse series by Helen Dore “Troub” Boylston, Rose’s friend and guest at Rocky Ridge.