WEST FROM HOME
Letters Of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915
In 1915 Laura Ingalls Wilder was 48 and the publication of the first Little House book was seventeen years in the future; in a sense the well loved chronicler of pioneer childhood had not yet been born. The author of these letters home is Mama Bess, a farm wife and occasional contributor to the Missouri Ruralist, who is enthusiastic over the journalist successes of her daughter and hostess Rose Wilder Lane ("the stories in it, although incidents, are true, and actually happened" she says admiringly of one piece), who marvels at the wonders of the San Francisco exposition and is fearful of city traffic. (Justly, it appears, since her sightseeing is cut short by a fall from a streetcar which lands her in the hospital.) Mama Bess is a dutiful, precise observer but her reactions are exactly those of a wide-eyed provincial more impressed by the Exposition's budget than its content: The "northern 'lights" show cost "$40 a minute. . . in salary alone" she reports triumphantly, but the "friendly and good-natured" Navahos receive only passing mention because their (reconstructed) dwellings "smell like wild beast dens and I did not like to be there." And though students of children's literature might be interested to know that Rose Lane gave her mother help with her writing, Mama's greater preoccupation with recouping a loan made to the Lanes can have mattered to no one but husband Manly. That we find these letters only intermittently interesting can hardly be blamed on Mrs. Wilder who intended them for her husband and friends, but at best they serve as an object lesson proving the English composition cliche "write about what you know.