The Woman Behind the Legend
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A biography of the author of The Little House on the Prairie series that comes to life only in the recounting of the stormy relationship between Wilder and her daughter. Those fictionalized accounts of Wilder’s turn-of-the-century girlhood on the rural frontier are accurate both in spirit and largely in fact. The first part of this biography reruns those years in numbing detail, but Miller (History/South Dakota State Univ.) picks up the pace when he begins to examine the controversy about who really wrote the series, Wilder or her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose Lane was an established writer and editor living in San Francisco when she began to encourage her mother to write. Wilder and her husband were then eking out a living on a Missouri farm, and Rose saw her mother’s writing as a potential source of income. Wilder began with a series of columns for a local newspaper and finally a manuscript of reminiscence. By then, Rose was living on the Missouri farm and worked closely with her mother to get the book in shape. Rose continued to manage and guide both Wilder’s career and subsequent manuscripts’so closely, some critics have said, that they were really Rose’s books. Drawing on correspondence between mother and daughter and other sources, Miller concludes that Wilder was a talented writer in her own right and that her daughter acted as a skilled editor and writing coach, although rewriting limited sections of her mother’s work. Wilder was 65 years old when her first book was published in 1932, 90 when she died, already a favorite of several generations of children. Her daughter died a few years later. Rose emerges as a conflicted and intriguing character, but this biography remains best suited for historians and adults who are still hard-core Wilder fans. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8262-1167-4
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998