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I have just re-read These Happy Golden Years and I felt really sorry for

(9 Posts)
HumphreyCobblers Thu 19-May-16 19:00:39

Mrs Brewster, the woman who made Laura's life so miserable when she boarded there for her first school.

She was clearly deeply depressed - when I read this as a child I just thought she was a horrible woman. It made me think about how I might have felt, stuck in the middle of nowhere with none of the distractions or consolations of modern life. I think I would have been depressed too tbh - although hopefully I wouldn't have resorted to a bread knife, I was also shocked that Laura kept that from her parents as it would be shameful to not finish her term.

Life must have been so hard. It is a bit sobering to reflect that I would probably have ended up like Mrs Brewster rather than the omni-competent Ma.

RoosterCogburn Thu 19-May-16 19:11:33

I agree - when I read it as a child I thought she was awful but rereading it with adult perspective I feel so sorry for her.

I think being landed with Laura as a boarder is the final straw for her.

HumphreyCobblers Thu 19-May-16 19:28:20

Yes, I couldn't get over how CLOSE everyone was, Laura was asleep behind a curtain in the same room, wasn't she?

Life was so hard then, it must have been so important to be skilled and strong minded. You just had to know how to DO everything, and you had to be mentally resilient too. I remember reading in Cider With Rosie about how depressing it could be in winter, during one gloomy season 'even the coroner did himself in'.

As someone who suffered from PND and anxiety I can imagine I wouldn't have fared well.

RoosterCogburn Thu 19-May-16 20:12:42

Yes, and the un-relentless monotony of all that snow, housework, childcare and nothingness.

FamousSeamus Thu 19-May-16 20:18:59

I tend to imagine that Mrs Brewster was in some ways a corrective to the highly idealised picture of eternally cheerful and patient and competent Ma, all smooth hair, good cooking, uncomplaining ladylike voice, and unbroken china shepherdess. There must have been thousands of women who like Mrs B couldn't cope with the brutality and isolation of pioneer life, or were driven crazy by the repeated deaths of children, crop failures etc.

In fact if you know anything about the real lives of the Ingallses, things were a lot more frightening and unpleasant than they are in the novels.

HumphreyCobblers Thu 19-May-16 21:13:04

I also had a different perspective on the Harvest Supper when Ma had an unusual 'edge' to her voice afterwards - as a child I didn't understand why she was grumpy, now I realise that working for several hours waiting on tables whilst the menfolk relaxed was not the most enjoyable way to spend an evening.

I really enjoyed the re-reading, the book even had the classic illustrations I remember so well.

Witchend Fri 20-May-16 09:40:08

It's ages since I read it but:
I'm not sure I did feel sorry for Mrs Brewster. She may have been depressed, I don't think we can comment really from the little we know whether she is depressed, has other mental health problems, or simply is the sort of person that takes everything out on everyone around.
But she is constantly nasty to her children, Mr Brewster (who is certainly portrayed as doing his best and not being nasty back, my memory of him is a fairly gentle but tired man) and resented Laura because she was teaching the school she'd have liked to (although I suspect married women didn't teach so couldn't have).

Laura's a young girl, away from home, doing her first teaching job. They probably got paid for boarding the teacher too. She didn't have to be friendly, but she didn't even manage civil a lot of the time.

The really sad book in the series is "The first Four years". Seemed to be disaster after disaster.

HumphreyCobblers Fri 20-May-16 09:44:15

Well, that is exactly how I felt about her when I first read the book Witchend, she is horrible to Laura. It is just that I got a different perspective as an adult.

The family hesitated about publishing The First Four Years, didn't they? It was posthumously issued. The tone is very different to the rest of the books.

FamousSeamus Fri 20-May-16 10:58:32

Yes, but The First Four Years was found by Laura's daughter Rose Wilder Lane's executor after her death among her papers - it's in ms in Laura's handwriting, but seems to have been written in draft only in the 1940s and then abandoned, and was then published in the early 70s without any editing - and, crucially, without Rose Wilder Lane's input, which seems to have been crucial to the other Little House books. (To the extent that some people believe RWL essentially wrote them, or that her editorial input was to a large extent what made them so compelling.) It's much less 'fictionalised' than the Little House books, and much sadder and closer to the bone, and may not even have been intended to be part of the series, though that's how it's marketed now.

Sorry, have gone off my own point! Which is that the real-life events that the Little House books were based on were in many cases just as grim and tragic as the ones in The First Four Years, but they were either omitted entirely or prettied up via distance/religious resignation/stoicism etc. There was a baby boy between Carrie and Grace who died before turning one, there was Mary going blind in her teens (which is in the books but which happens 'offstage' and is treated very stoically), there were endless crop failures and disasters and danger and the family being dragged around by a itchy-footed father (who also ran out on debts more than once), and things like the fact that during the Long Winter, the Ingallses were sharing their tiny house with another selfish and unpleasant family who are never mentioned in the novel. But the narrative voice of the young Laura emerges as stoical, basically contented, secure in her parents' love and her belief in God etc etc, rather than frightened or bewildered.

I think The First Four Years reads like a first draft and that if Laura had gone on to publish it, she and Rose would have worked a lot more on it, and it would be less grim to read.

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