'Little House' author's autobiography shows harder times on the prairie


Do you think you know Laura Ingalls Wilder? A soon-to-be-published memoir written by Wilder, the author of the beloved "Little House" series of books that chronicled her family's life on the frontier in the late 1800s, will reveal a grittier, less romanticized version of life on the prairie, the Associated Press reports.

"Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" is due out in mid-November from the South Dakota State Historical Society. It's an unedited draft of Wilder's autobiography, which includes scenes with more mature content such as domestic abuse, alcoholism and adultery involving friends and neighbors of the Ingalls family.

The autobiography has never been published, despite Wilder's efforts to do so in the 1930s, according to the Associated Press. The original rough draft has been stored for decades at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.

A Wilder biographer, Pamela Smith Hill, wrote a proposal to the South Dakota State Historical Society in 2011 that it be published, arguing that it was an important piece of Wilder's legacy.

"Wilder wrote her autobiography for adult readers in a voice distinctly different from the one she developed for her novels. This adult voice illustrates her versatility as a writer, her ability to pitch her stories to different audiences. It also reveals Wilder's understanding of the conventions of different genres: “Pioneer Girl” is adult nonfiction; the “Little House” books are middle-grade and Young Adult historical fiction. Publication of the autobiography in a scholarly, annotated edition would provide an ideal environment in which to present these ideas, and, at last, the manuscript would reach Wilder's intended primary audience—adults, not children."

The children's series left out or fictionalized scenes that Wilder deemed unsuitable for kids, including much of the time the family spent in Burr Oak, Iowa, and Walnut Grove, Minnesota, according to Hill.

One incident that Wilder describes occurred when she lived in Burr Oak, when a drunken neighbor poured kerosene in his home, set it on fire and drags his wife around by her hair before Wilder's father helps her, said the AP.

"That first version was blunt," Amy Lauters, an associate professor of mass media at Minnesota State University, Mankato, told the AP. "It's certainly not the fantasized version we saw on 'Little House on the Prairie' the television show."

The book to be published preserves Wilder's original rough draft, but includes other material such as manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources which provide more context and illustrate Wilder's growth as a writer, according to Hill, the editor.

"In some ways, I came to think of the annotations in 'Pioneer Girl' as almost an encyclopedia about Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and work," Hill told the Associated Press.

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