In this post, I consider how an author’s diary (Travels with Zenobia) and a fictionalized account of the same author’s life (A Wilder Rose) make for good companion reads. The best part? Both are about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, and offer some later-in-life perspectives on Laura from her daughter’s viewpoint.
The Diary: Travels with Zenobia, by Rose Wilder Lane and Helen Boyston
This slim little book would fit in well with the other “post-little-house” diaries from the author’s mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like West from Home and On the Way Home, this is a travel journal written by Rose Wilder Lane and her companion “Troub” as they drove a model T Ford from Paris to Albania in the late 1920’s. My only disappointment is that the journal ends, abruptly, upon their arrival.
The Novel: A Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert
A Wilder Rose was the perfect follow-up book, picking up immediately after Rose’s time in Albania when she returns to Rocky Ridge Farm to look after her aging parents. Susan Wittig Albert perfectly captured Rose’s voice, at least as I heard it in Travels with Zenobia.
That’s both a good and a bad thing. A Wilder Rose is written from Rose’s viewpoint (much of it in first person as she tells her mid-life story to a protege), so it’s certainly important to get her voice right.
The problem is that Rose is never a very likeable character, in her journals, through her writing, or here. As the book progressed, I grew tired of Rose’s unrelieved viewpoint of her mother as a petulant child who had to be lied to, placated, put off, and ultimately ignored. The worst part is that Rose never learns or grows. I think Albert realized that and tried to address it by framing the 1930s/Laura story within another story from later in Rose’s life. Unfortunately, even in her later life, she still seems like a self-centered and controlling woman to me.
In the end, although I was convinced that Rose could have had a heavy hand in the Little House books, I was left wondering what they would have been like without her involvement: if she had allowed her mother to self-edit more, thereby growing on her own as a writer.
Overall, the author did an admirable job writing a fictional book about a very difficult and hard-to-like woman.