I just finished reading Bachelor Girl, the last of the series of books about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose and I am sorry to say that I felt disappointed as I closed the last page of the book. But I want to backtrack a bit before I get to why that is to explain my feelings about the extended Little House series.
One of my cousins passed down to me a box set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books when I was younger. They became a treasured part of my library, maybe not read and re-read quite as frequently as some other books in my collection, but always loved. This past summer I picked them up and rediscovered a delightful series that I eagerly anticipate sharing with Isabella when she gets a little older. I just gave my nieces (5 and 6) a copy of Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the series.
When I first encountered the extended Little House books (those written by third parties about Laura’s relatives) a few years ago in a used bookstore I dismissed them offhand. How could anyone else intrude on that world or do it justice? I didn’t really even pause to see what they were about; I had a confused idea but didn’t realize they were historical novels based on Laura’s matrilineal ancestors. But even if I had taken the time to find out their premise, I doubt they’d have appealed to me at that time.
It wasn’t until years later that I stumbled on Melissa Wiley’s little corner of the internet in my homeschool blog wanderings. And I’d been reading her blog for a while time before I became curious about the books she’d written and discovered what they were about. I was still a little skeptical about someone writing fictionalizations about Laura’s great grandmother; but I liked Melissa’s other writing and that made me willing ot give them a try. So I borrowed a few of the Martha books from the library and was charmed.
I was still a bit dubious, though, about the other series that weren’t by Melissa; but was willing to give them a try. I had to push my way through the first Caroline books because they felt wooden—I could hear the research notes pushing through the story. But after the second one they picked up and I’ve really enjoyed the rest of them as far as I’ve read. (I think I’m still missing the final two.)
The Rose books about Laura’s only daughter, were initially satisfying, beginning where Laura’s autobiographical novels left off. But as they went on, I became increasingly dissatisfied with them, though I have had a hard time pinpointing the source of my discomfort. In this final book, though, it was much easier to see what was bothering me.
WARNING: What follows is going to necessarily contain spoilers for the books, so if you want to be surprised by the plot, please read no further.
As a biographical and historical narrative, I am sure that the books closely follow the life of Rose Wilder Lane. What I found disturbing is that Rose fails to be the kind of role model for young women that I’ve found in the other series in the franchise. Especially in the last book, she lacks many of the qualities that attracted me to her mother, Laura.
This final book finds 17 year old Rose rebelling against the family-centered agrarian lifestyle of her parents and grandparents in favor of fast living in the big city as a single, unchaperoned woman. She’s a proto-feminist, a socialist sympathizer, who seems thoroughly disconnected from her past. She moves to San Francisco to be a telegraph operator, hoping to earn enough money to convince her childhood sweetheart, Paul, who is also a telegraph operator, to take the matrimonial plunge. Instead, Rose is swept up in a Gatsby-esque decadent lifestyle of all-night drinking and dancing, fast cars and slang talking. In the end of the novel she breaks off her engagement and leaves her job to run off and sell real estate with a man she barely knows whom she met in a dance hall.
While Bachelor Girl gives one a good sense of the feeling of the times, the changing social climate and all the technological changes, for me it lacks something of the sweetness and charm of the original Little House books and introduces many elements that might be more problematic for younger readers.