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The First Four Years (1953)
di Laura Ingalls Wilder
Favorite Childhood Books (133)
» 10 altro
Female Protagonist (149)
Female Author (225)
Ambleside Books (151)
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Historical Fiction (875)
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This book is very different from the others in the series. It was found and published after Wilder's death. I'm glad I read it to learn about Laura's life after marriage, but it had none of the warm, hopeful feelings as the first 8 books. There is all of the descriptions of the incredibly difficult pioneer life, but without the steady and wise influence of ma and pa. It is very spare. I found myself really disliking Manly because of many of the financial decisions he made. There was no hopeful resolution, just resignation in the end. ( )
Well, the series ends in true Little House on the Prairie form, by which I mean this very slender volume has far more misery and disaster that feels entirely fair. It starts with the usual foibles of early married life, like Laura making a pie for a luncheon but forgetting to put sugar in it, but before long it is diphtheria, a paralysed husband, failing crops, blizzards, their first son dying in infancy, their daughter nearly drowning, and their entire house burning to the ground with all their possessions in it. And Manly feels very like Pa, with his 'oh, we'll just buy something on credit and try for another year, it will come good soon...'
In this novel I feel like I’m reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pure voice for the first time. This book, as is well known, was never edited by her daughter Rose Wilder Lane and is very different from the other Little House books. The language is more plain, but the book feels more honest.
Rose Wilder Lane wanted to tell a story of self-reliant and successful pioneers, so one thing she did was to take out certain events, like the death of Laura’s baby brother, Charles Frederick. (Events that she wanted to take out but Wilder insisted on keeping include Mary’s blindness and the laborers’ riot near the Silver Lake settlement). By contrast, in “The First Four Years” we get a succession of setbacks and tragedies: the Wilder crop is destroyed repeatedly, their house burns down, and their infant son dies. All this is reported without sentimentality or overt drama – and certainly without uplifting lessons. There are hardly any episodes even of fun and laughter.
It’s not that Laura and Almanzo are made to seem dour here, but their life is revealed as harsh and uncertain, with little-to-no payback or progress.
It’s an unfinished work, of course, and merely a first draft. We can never know what Wilder herself would have done with future drafts.
But her voice is heavily reportorial, and intensely descriptive. Much of the gift for storytelling that you see in the other books remains in this one, such as when Almanzo gets lost in a blizzard merely on his way from the barn to the house. But there’s no overarching lesson of self-reliance that shapes this book. It’s hard to see any overarching lesson at all, actually. At the very end Laura does recommit to the life of a farming family and to the persistence that it requires, but it feels like she’s embracing this commitment not because it’s an overarching faith but simply because she can hardly do anything else except go on working and living.
This is very different from the other Little House books, and maybe this novel doesn’t come up to my favorites, but I deeply appreciate its simple honesty.
Not what I expected, tho after finishing Laura and Almanzo’s love story, and knowing the themes of the series, I might have expected different. The love between the newlyweds seems taken for granted, it’s never really talked about. Their interactions are practical, tho certainly caring. Their love is shown in how hard they work for each other and how they are motivated for the other.
The story is more of Laura coming to terms with living on the farm, which is made plain at the beginning to be not her preference in the least. But she gives Manly 3 years to be successful, and then a 4th year of grace. Through it all her story is told of how hard the work of a woman on the prairie is, but how she just doesn’t have any other options, and it is her job to do, no matter what. She proves herself to be her mother’s daughter, hard working and indomitable.
It is the quintessential story of prairie settlers, either they love the wildness and freedom, or the harshness and difficulty beats them down. Laura teeters on the edge of these two things for a time - as a younger girl, she loved the prairie’s wildness and did not want to be settled in one place, always feeling the call Westward like her Pa. As a new wife she shoulders the burden of caring for the land and dealing with the weather and challenges of farming life. She knows it’s not easy and doesn’t particularly want to, but she’s joined Manly’s team and needs to let him try his hand at it. She feels every bit of every challenge, and in the end decides that someway, somehow it will be alright, and that the struggle will be worth it, some day. I get the feeling she will constantly struggle with hating farm life, but having a man she loves and a family to care for will help tie her heart to that homestead and make it worthwhile for her in the end.
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Little House novels, chronological order (book 24)
Appartiene alle Collane Editoriali
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Wikipedia in inglese (1)
During their first four years of marriage, Laura and Almanzo Wilder have a child and fight a losing battle in their attempts to succeed at farming on the South Dakota prairie.
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Sistema Decimale Melvil (DDC)813.52 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1900-1944
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