22 July 2018

Dis Content


Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Leigh Lundin

The Long Wilder Winter

The Little House
A couple of weeks ago, friends Darlene and Sharon sent me articles about the literary fall of the author of the Little House series. One column was titled ‘The Savaging of Laura Ingalls Wilder’.

That sums up my attitude, that and a rift of anger. Maybe the family trace of Indian blood runs too thin to take exception to Wilder’s writing, but what the hell. I wrote back:
“Bah! Humbug! Political correctness has always been so stupid that even the name says serves as a warning like rattles on a diamondback… and still people embrace it. … Some people look for excuses so they can say, ‘Look how woke I am.’”
When questioned about the last sentence, I replied:
“‘Woke’ is the most annoying, grammatically poor, pompous, self-inflated, politically correct term to brag about how socially conscious and aware one is. ‘Look how “woke” those who trashed Ingalls be! They be woke!’”
A Cold, Cold Prairie

My thoughts rushed back to Soviet era renunciations. Politically suspect, out-of-step authors, artists, actors, and poets found their lives erased not merely from the rolls of the living, but from the public record as well. At the other political extreme, they followed upon the Nazis and fascist committees.

This is nothing new. Ancient Egyptians chiseled names and cartouches (personal seals) from walls and tombs. We know of one pharaoh only because ‘political editors’ happened to overlook a single instance of his name.

The Lost Years

An unforeseen consequence of bowdlerizing works or ripping literary accomplishments from public view is that we also edit history. Obviously that’s a goal when striking public enemies from the record, but consumers of saccharinized works lose touch with that distant historical landscape. A snowball effect causes desensitized to the thinking of the era.

Both sides of the issue often cite Huckleberry Finn. The one issue they agree upon is that words exert power.

Fahrenheit 451 flamers trip over the N-word, completely losing the fact that Twain was anti-slavery and sympathetic toward the disadvantaged. We can be thankful the bonfire folks haven’t discovered Pudd’nhead Wilson, sort of a Prince and the Pauper in colorful black and white.

Wilder Rose
Out of the Big Woods

SleuthSayers have written about Wilder and I doubt most have taken kindly to the Library Association’s attempt at rewriting history. However, credit for our most interesting Little House article, the solution of a mystery, goes to author Susan Wittig Albert.

Within our own ranks, Eve Fisher and Bonnie Stevens have expressed deep fondness, even love for Wilder’s Little House series. Eve in particular gives the impression the books for her proved formative, perhaps transformative.

Politically correct me if you will. What is your take? Was the ALA right or wrong to purge Wilder’s name from the ranks of American literary greats? And where does a sensible society draw the line?

15 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Censorship sucks. Will they ban THE ILIAD for excessive violence? The ALA is wrong about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Just as those are wrong about H. P. Lovecraft whose racism should be noted but his books should never be banned. He was a weird fella who wrote weird stuff. Like Twain, Wilder wrote of her time and Lovecraft wrote of another world.

Leigh Lundin said...

A 5th grade teacher literally kicked my butt and tore in half my aunt's copy of whatever Lovecraft collection I happened to be reading. I can't recall racism beyond the scaly, lizardy, greenish Cthulu overlords, and that was scary!

O'Neil, we've worked to keep censorship at bay here in SleuthSayers. I much prefer adult conversations. I've always felt Twain understood much better than book-burners would believe, and no doubt other authors did as well. Look how Harper Lee rewrought her writing until she came out with a beautiful novel.

Steve Liskow said...

My teacher read several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to us in grade school. My sister had the entire set growing up. I'm sure thousands of other kids in our generation can say the same and however we turned out, it wasn't because Wilder warped us.

Censorship is wrong unless the work (speech, book, play, whatever) is clearly going to incite violence, and even that is a slippery slope.

The worst aspect of censorship is that when you silence a point of view, it's no longer possible to examine it and see where it might be wrong. Then, when it appears again years later, we've lost the defense. It's like people no longer vaccinating their children and now finding them vulnerable to various diseases again.


The ALA has made an irresponsible and wrong choice here.

Eve Fisher said...

I'm totally opposed to what they've done with Wilder's works, not just because it's censorship, but because it's a rewriting of history. Wilder's works reflect the times; just as Twain's did. People may not like it, they may want everyone to be whatever the current morality, etc., is (thus in Victorian times they cut the living hell out of Shakespeare, for instance, and some plays were NEVER performed), but it's all bollocks. It's like the modern thing where too damn many "historical" novels have to have completely ahistorical characters, especially young girls who are ninja warriors in the 18th century, because empowerment or something. Ridiculous. GROW UP, PEOPLE!

John Floyd said...

I hate censorship, and this constant rewriting of history is ridiculous. As Eve said, grow up!!

Excellent column, Leigh. My wife has read all the L. I. Wilder books, and we still have them.

Leigh Lundin said...

Steve, when I think of all the books I read growing up, the best warped young minds into… making them think. Censorship and renouncing authors are like miniature executions… they kill creativity. I always felt librarians had our best interests in mind– maybe the ALA still believes that, but few others do.

Bollocks… Eve, good answer to a badly warping of history. Your comment reminded me of one of the Rumpole stories where the romance author mutilated and merged historical timelines, making poor Rumpole shudder. Despite criticisms about accents, Shakespeare in Love was pretty entertaining until the end. The director just couldn't resist putting an anachronistic politically correct comment in the mouth of the queen. As you say… grow up!

Thanks, John! So far it's Common Sense 4, Censorship 0!

Barb Goffman said...

Wow. I disagree with all of you here. This has been said before more eloquently by others, but here goes: There is no censorship going on here. No one is saying don't read her books. No one is saying don't publish her books. No one is saying don't teach her books. No one is pulling them from libraries or bookstores or classrooms. No one is saying change the words in her books.

What has happened? An organization that strives to encourage children to read has said it does not want to have ITS award named in HER honor anymore because it believes those books could make some children feel badly about themselves when they read them. That is their right, and I think they have made a good and honorable decision. When you read Huck Finn, yes, there are outrageous words in there, but it's clear from the book that Jim is a good guy. That same impression doesn't come across from the Little House books, no matter how warmly a lot of fellow white folks remember the books. But it doesn't matter what I think or you think. It's the ALA's award and they can honor anyone they want to. I would hate to think that if SleuthSayers decided to name an award in someone's honor today and in 50 years the people then in SleuthSayers decided that that person or his stories wasn't so great after all, and they'd like to rename the award, that they would be stuck with continuing to honor the same person simply because any change would be deemed censorship. That's ridiculous. When it's your award, you get to call it what you want.

And by the way, political correctness is another way of saying treating other people with respect. We certainly could use more of that in this world.

Robert Lopresti said...

I'm against censorship. Explain to me how what the ALA did was censorship. Did they suggest Wilder's boosk shouldn't be read, sold, or offered in libraries? No, they decided that her name shouldn't be on their own award, which by the way, puts WIlder at the same level as thousands of other children's authors.

I never read the Wilder books until my daughter was old enough to have them read to her. A few chapters into the first book my wife and I said, "Okay, now we are going to explain what the New Deal was, and what 'propaganda' means." Then we read more of the books, but we always explained what Wilder was arguing for and against.

For the record, we didn't name any awards after her.

R.T. Lawton said...

Our society has gone mad to the point where if you even use what's considered to be a racist word to talk about a situation which you may be against, then you too can be called a racist. And, if this censorship type of thinking &/or I'm-more-PC-than-you thinking continues then who knows how our own current writings will be judged for political correctness by others in the future if attitudes and opinions happen to change the definition of a word? After all, the English language keeps evolving. A century ago, if you wrote that someone was gay, it meant a completely different thing, having nothing to do with sexual preference in those days. So, who can safely predict how words they've written in the past will be defined in the future?

Jeff Baker said...

Something about some of the news outlets that were spreading this story and tut-tutting about Wilder's books makes me suspicious as all hell. I stand with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books!

Leigh Lundin said...

Thanks, Barb. One couldn't hope for a more eloquent defense. To be sure, the topic did shift from renunciation to censorship. This falls at a time when actors aren't merely being shunned by Hollywood, but their names removed from rolls… and rĂ´les. Stuff happens. As the trend increases, I fear those Soviet-style erasures, the striking of those who find themselves on the wrong side of the political establishment. But yes, you make an important point.

Except, I disagree political correctness can enforce respect. Respect, kindness– those traits we should learn at home. In the guise of social politeness, political correctness has become weaponized as a means of controlling others based upon another's whims. Dictating to the unwashed (⬅︎ politically incorrect) is about as likely to result in respect as the insults flying about Washington these days. That said, if there's an elegant defense, Barb, I depend upon you to persuasively articulate it.

Rob, we've seen beloved books come and go. Novels and novelists become forgotten and fall by the wayside. Horatio Alger, for example, once a household name, has slid from public memory. If there was a reward in his name, it would be sad but somewhat understandable if that honor was dropped in this new age. That didn't happen to Wilder. The ALA actively and assertively declared Wilder sort of persona non grata, that in their politically sensitive 'woke' judgment, she was no longer worthy of their award. That's what dismays me. That's why I believe they got it wrong.

RT, good point. Our readers are educated, but I wonder how many others would be horrified reading a 19th century story to learn faggots were thrown in the fireplace. At least Oscar Wilde was merely tossed in gaol.

Jeff, amen, my friend. There is a telltale whiff, isn't there?

Steve Liskow said...

Barb,
Political correctness is NOT about treating people with respect. It's about PREVENTING PEOPLE FROM TALKING ABOUT THINGS that make people who disagree with them "uncomfortable." That means it's censorship. It stifles free expression and open discussion.

Taking someone's name off an award is a way of "disappearing them," just as Orwell showed in 1984. From this moment on, Wilder's name will have negative connotations. That will affect how she is read...if indeed she continues to be read. This isn't like getting a one-star review on Amazon.

Barb Goffman said...

Steve, ask any Native American who has read Wilder's books, and I bet you they had a negative connotation with those books long before the ALA said anything. Wait until you read a book that says you and your people are less than human and then tell me you shouldn't have a problem with it and you should care if those books have a negative connotation. A committee of childen's librarians researched and discussed this issue for over a year and then voted unanimously to put the needs of marginalized children first. I think that's great. And you don't want to stifle free speech? Then don't tell the ALA that they can't decide they don't want to put their imprimatur any longer on books that make Native American children feel bad. That is their speech.

And you're not going to persuade me about political correctness either. (You either, Leigh.) You can choose to treat other people with kindness and still talk about difficult issues. Just like we're doing here. There's no name-calling. There's respectful discussion.

Eve Fisher said...

Wilder did indeed record her family's (especially her mother's) hostile comments about Native Americans. On the other hand, I remember that the doctor who saved their lives and treated them for free was Dr. Tann, a black man, and not a disparaging word was said about him or his race.

BTW, he was real: Dr. George A. Tann (see this article here: http://littlehouseontheprairie.com/dr-george-a-tann-pioneer-physician-and-neighbor-to-the-ingalls/) Turns out he also delivered Laura's little sister Carrie.

Anonymous said...

I'm late in making a comment, but I have to say that for the most part I agree with Barb. Native American children have enough low self esteem as it is without reading stuff like that in a book. No one is keeping anyone from reading the book.