This is such a sad book. After ending These Happy Golden Years on a happy (dare, I say Golden) note, as readers we’re then thrust into the real world of this sad, unfinished work that is The First Four Years.
Laura started writing this book in her little orange school notebooks, but she sadly never finished after Almanzo’s death. After Laura’s death, Rose inherited the work, but never edited it or apparently looked to get it published. It was Rose’s heir who found the story in her documents and had it published as is.
Life was rough for Laura and Almanzo. The one good thing to come from all their suffering was Rose. Born in December, Rose was named after the wild flowers her parents had walked among that summer. (Because a Rose in the winter is far more rare.)
Laura references feeling the familiar sickness a second time, but she never says anything else about it. We know she had another child, but she wasn’t able to write about her experience. She does write about the fire, the crop failure, the tree claim failure.
Despite all of the struggles, Laura writes “We’ll always be farmers, for what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh” (page 133), which was a musing on her Ma’s saying. We know that Laura and Almanzo were always farmers; finally finding success in midlife though it was coupled with Laura’s writing income.
Througout this book, Laura writes frequently of her deep love for baby Rose. I’ll admit that while I found it true, it seemed odd knowing the difficult relationship Laura and Rose would have throughout their lives. In one of her columns (reprinted in The Little House Reader), Laura writes about her bachelor girl in Kansas City with pride.
The First Four Years and On The Way Home are shelved as children’s literature along with the Little House series, which is completely wrong. These books have adult themes that aren’t appropriate for young readers or that would definitely be a shock for them after the Little House books.
What I Remember
Despite thinking it’s misshelved (and for the fact that it is), I definitely read this as a child. I recalled Laura and Almanzo’s snowy trip with newborn Rose to visit the Ingalls family. Ma was surprised to see them in such weather. Laura states that she wrapped Rose well and kept checking her little face, but it’s obvious that Laura’s a little ashamed of their daring trip.
How do you feel about books like this being shelved for children? I think it’s great if a precocious reader picks it up, but it’s definitely a shock.
3 thoughts on “Reflections on The First Four Years”
I read it as a child too and was so disappointed – it’s very different to the other books. The book is very real – it hasn’t been made fluffy like the others. I find it a good insight to their life though – and I can kind of connect to them and their struggles. Life really was hard for Laura and Almanzo.
I think I miss the rest of the family in it – Pa,Ma,Mary,Carrie and Grace. I know they do feature in it but not as much. When you read this book you definitely know that the series is over and that’s sad 😦
I think Laura did love Rose but Rose was just a rebel who was bitter about something!
Yes, the happy life of the Little House books was definitely over. Part of me wishes she’d been able to finish it, but the other part appreciates how realistic it is.
I’d love to know more about her life as a wife and Mother she seemed very modern and embraced anything that made her life on the farm easier