The First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Unofficially, The First Four Years is the final in the series of Little House novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The manuscript was abandoned by Wilder herself, and published posthumously in 1971. This final novel makes for a total of nine in the autobiographical series that chronicles Wilder’s growing on America’s frontier. The series was started in 1931, with Little House in the Big Woods, with Wilder just a small girl living in the woods of Wisconsin, and ended with her marriage to Almanzo Wilder in These Happy Golden Years (1943).

The Adult Laura, Coping With Farming, Motherhood, and Debt

With The First Four Years, it seems obvious that Wilder wished to continue from where These Happy Golden Years left off, Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury live showing Laura as an independent married woman, but the unfinished manuscript exhibits a quite different tone and attitude from the previous eight novels. In those novels that Wilder published in her lifetime, a young Laura Ingalls lives happily ensconced in the bosom of her family. Sure, the Ingalls family had their share of heartbreak and tragedy, but their strong family unit and interdependence gave a warm, cosy overall feel to the narrative.

The First Four Years has little warmth and less in the way of happy family episodes. It describes Laura very much out on her own, trying to carry the burdens of farming, motherhood and financial debt. The novel opens with Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder, trying to talk her into a life of farming. Laura needs persuading, and so she agrees to give farming a go for four years. If it fails after this trial period, they agree to rethink farming in favour of some other form of income. The four years turn out to be one failure after another, with the almost comic ending of Laura accidentally burning down their house. You would think that this seals the fate of their life at farmers, but in the last chapter the question is asked “Was farming a success?” The question isn’t really resolved one way or the other, although Laura and Almanzo do admit they are “incurably optimistic”. And so it’s back to the grindstone!

Problems With The First Four Years

Fans of the Little House novels will know that it was Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder-Lane, who worked as editor on all of her mother’s novels, and it’s tempting to think what her editorial wizardry could have done for this manuscript. Wilder’s open and simple writing style is still there on every page, but the novel has an unrelenting glumness about it. Everything goes wrong for Laura in the novel, and Wilder makes it starkly clear that she was not happy at this point in her life. At one stage, she starkly states that she hates farming. Fair enough! The miseries, frustrations and setbacks associated with the farming life are plainly put before the reader. Wilder makes farming almost look like a job for chumps.

Other problems with this unfinished manuscript include its brevity. Too much happens too quickly, more detail is needed. Consider that the novel covers a period of four years, and that the book’s length is 130 odd pages of large type stuffed with numerous illustrations. It seems that Wilder’s anger over these difficult times overtook her aesthetic judgement, and caused her to rush through the story. Wilder, by abandoning this manuscript, seems to have come to the conclusion that her adult life provided no fictional possibilities. Perhaps she found it easy to idealise her childhood, but the mundane and often depressing reality of adulthood could not inspire.

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