Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) scholar Anderson (River Boy: The Story of Mark Twain, 2003, etc.) presents a collection of her heretofore unpublished personal and business letters.
This collection is by no means exhaustive, and in his introduction, editor Anderson laments that many of Wilder’s letters were lost. Still, the letters written to her daughter Rose Wilder Lane during the production of the Little House series open a window into the author’s writing process and her apparent collaboration with her daughter on the series. The anthology is often uneven, especially the first few chapters, in which many of the letters are edited in a manner that leaves their contents unclear and others are short postcards that convey no relevant information. Anderson provides some brief context, but only readers intensely interested in the minutiae of Wilder’s life—for instance, what kind of melons she sent to her husband—will find these engaging. Anderson warns that passages that “contain redundant information” will be replaced throughout the book with either ellipses or italicized summaries of the contents, but in these early chapters, the ellipses are ubiquitous, and it is rarely clear what redundancies have been edited. Eventually, though, the collection becomes delightful as Wilder begins work on her famous book series. Letters sent to her daughter, editor, agent, and fans all demonstrate intriguing aspects of her childhood, home life, and writing process. It’s unfortunate that the collection contains so few of the letters written to Wilder by others. One of the pleasures of reading correspondence is the feeling of intimacy conferred by seeing a relationship unfold. With only one side of the many relationships portrayed here, some of that intimacy is lost.
As with many volumes of selected letters, this one is studded with interesting material but patchy overall.