Sunday, December 30, 2012

Little House on the Prairie - Feminist Classics

Despite the endless cooking, sewing and childrearing, Laura Ingalls Wilder's stories of family life in the American wilderness strike a blow for female emancipation, discovers Lucy Ellmann in the Guardian.

From the piece...

They should have all stayed in Europe. Still, it's nice to believe, even wrongly, that the world is your oyster. Charles Ingalls, the father depicted in his daughter's novels, has a gift for keeping cheerful. Here's the deal: you kill, you cook, you eat, you sing songs, and you do it with a positive attitude or you're probably going to die. Optimism is not a sign of imbecility in such a situation, it's a necessity. Cynicism's a luxury. The poverty and deprivation are at times severe: Pa has to walk for hundreds of miles in worn-out boots, just to find enough work to keep the family alive. At one point, he more or less hibernates for three days in a snow hole, unable to find the house in a blizzard. Ever thought about a desk job? But during the Depression, when Wilder embarked on the series, a lot of people were in similar trouble.

Which is why we need these books now. In an era when the individual is dishonoured for failings in beauty, health, wealth and technological know-how, Wilder's worldview (reinforced by Garth Williams' memorable illustrations from the 1950s) seems strikingly humane, even socialist at times. America could not have come into being without collective effort. The Ingallses are tirelessly charitable towards everyone they meet (even tiresomely so – was it really necessary to make Laura give her rag doll to a spoiled brat?).

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