During the 2008 US presidential election, it came to light that Sarah Palin had, in her girlhood, been a huge fan of the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of course, that hardly made her unique. Is there a girl who grew up in the US in the last 50 years who was not enthralled by the "Little House" series?
(And of course we all know that President Reagan was a huge fan of the spinoff "Little House on the Prarie" TV series.)
In this week's New Yorker, Judith Thurman gives us some of the story behind the Little House books, which has as much to do with Wilder's daughter Rose as it does with Wilder herself. The story is not as pretty as we lovers of the books might have hoped. Wilder's life as an adult was filled with struggle and the story of her relationship with Rose, her only child, does not flatter either mother or daughter.
And if you're not a fan of Reagan Republicanism, you might also get a cold chill while reading of one academic's conclusion that the popularity of the Little House books "helped create a constituency for politicians like Reagan who sought to unsettle the so-called liberal consensus established by New Deal politics.”
However, for those of us who devotedly read the books again and again (forty-some years later I can still recite the proposal scence between Laura and husband Almanzo more or less verbatim), it's perhaps enough to be grateful that the books exist. You can read Thurman's piece in the New Yorker here.