Let The Hurricane Roar (Young Pioneers): Literary Overview (Part 1)

Before we dive into a discussion of ‘Let the Hurricane Roar,’ let’s take a few moments to put the book and its author in perspective. By the late 1920s, Rose Wilder Lane was an established American literary figure. She had published several books and short stories. Her work had appeared in important regional and national magazines, from ‘Sunset’ to ‘Ladies’ Home Journal.’ A reporter from the ‘Kansas City Star,’ noted in a lengthy profile on Lane: “This astonishingly energetic person found time, in spite of other activities and the writing of many short stories and articles, to publish seven books.” But by 1930, Lane’s career had stalled. In part because of the Great Depression, magazine publishers were hit hard. Readership fell as Americans had less money to spend on such luxuries as books and subscriptions. Advertisers slashed their budgets, and magazines were left with a backlog of stories they had purchased when the economy had been stronger. As one of Lane’s friends noted, “1930 was a bad magazine year.” As we discussed in part one of this class, this is one reason why ‘Pioneer Girl’ was never published (more about this a minute). But the gloomy outlook in American publishing in the 1930s also affected Rose Wilder Lane very directly. She worried not just about her career, but the financial future of Rocky Ridge Farm, where she was living in the early 1930s. Lane and her companion Helen Boylston (known as ‘Troub’)lived here in the farmhouse. Meanwhile, Wilder and her husband Almanzo lived in the rock house, here, within walking distance to the farmhouse. The rock house was a home that Lane had built for her parents’ retirement in 1928, before the stock market crash, when Lane’s professional prospects still looked rosy. Now, I’ve talked about this before, and for a more complete discussion of all this I encourage you to review the lectures on ‘Pioneer Girl’ and ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ from part one, but it bears repeating here. Lane grew increasingly worried about finances at Rocky Ridge, and when Wilder produced her rough draft of ‘Pioneer Girl,’ Lane was eager to market it. She took the train to New York in the fall of 1930, and showed the edited manuscript to several editors, including Graham Lorimer, the publisher of the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ one of the most important national magazines of the period, a prestigious publisher of both long-form nonfiction and fiction. Lane must’ve felt a certain amount of confidence in Wilder’s ‘Pioneer Girl.’ Lorimer was an important publishing contact; Lane wouldn’t risk sharing an inferior manuscript with him. Not only would a second rate manuscript jeopardize her professional credibility with Lorimer, it might undermine future sales for Lane herself. As successful as Lane’s career had been up to this point, in 1930, she herself hadn’t published anything in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ and that was something a writer of Lane’s standing certainly aspired to. So, remember at this point, Lane herself hadn’t yet published in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ despite her previous publishing success. We’re going to come back to this point in a minute. Unfortunately, however, Lorimer decided not to buy ‘Pioneer Girl’ in the fall of 1930. Lane wrote home to her mother at Rocky Ridge that Lorimer thought ‘Pioneer Girl’ was “a most intelligent piece of writing,” and that they would “undoubtedly have taken it only they have in their safe some material which, broadly speaking, covers the same field.” Ultimately, of course, the juvenile version of ‘Pioneer Girl’ sold to Harper & Brothers in 1931, and as we discussed in part one of this class, went on to become ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’ It was published in April 1932. Remember that date. But while Wilder’s career seemed to be blossoming, Lane’s had stalled, and as the Great Depression settled in over Rocky Ridge Farm, she grew increasingly concerned about her own future, both professionally and personally. To make matters worse, Lane’s companion Troub, left Rocky Ridge Farm for good and moved back east. In January 1932 Lane wrote: “Last year was catastrophic. On Rocky Ridge alone. Troub gone.” Then, out of the blue, in late April, Lane heard from her agent George Bye, who also represented Wilder. He told Lane that Graham Lorimer of the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ had had second thoughts about that frontier manuscript he’d seen in the fall of 1930. Bye wrote: “I think that Graham Lorimer confused your mother’s manuscript with your authorship.” In other words, Graham Lorimer was interested in ‘Pioneer Girl,’ but he thought Lane was the author. Two things to keep in mind here. One: although George Bye represented Wilder as well, her first book had just been published that very month, April 1932. No one guessed that it would become a bestseller, much less a children’s classic. Two: Since Lane was the seasoned professional writer who had hired Bye in the first place, he communicated, at least at this stage in Wilder’s career, with Lane, even on developments that related specifically to Wilder’s work. It wouldn’t have occurred to George Bye to write Wilder herself to convey the news that Graham Lorimer of the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ was apparently interested in ‘Pioneer Girl.’ And finally, one last thing to note. Three: at this point, Lane still hadn’t published anything in the ‘Saturday Evening Post.’ So what does Lane do with this vital information? That Graham Lorimer may actually be interested in ‘Pioneer Girl’? She tells her mother nothing about it. Why? Because she was already working on her own pioneer manuscript. Right after a children’s book editor at Alfred Knopf publishing expressed interest in the juvenile version of ‘Pioneer Girl,’ Lane had started a new novel of her own, a manuscript she entitled ‘Courage.’ It was a short novel, written for adults, drawing on characters, scenes, and episodes taken directly from ‘Pioneer Girl.’ As we discussed in part one, ‘Courage’ would tell the story of a young pioneer couple named Charles and Caroline. It appears that Lane kept the storyline of ‘Courage,’ as well as the ‘Saturday Evening Post’s’ renewed interest in ‘Pioneer Girl’ to herself. She completed ‘Courage’ in 1932, retitled the novel ‘Let the Hurricane Roar,’ and sold it to the ‘Saturday Evening Post.’ It was her first published piece in the magazine. ‘Let the Hurricane Roar’ appeared in serial form in the fall of 1932, just months after the publication of ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’ Wilder apparently didn’t find out any of this until Lane’s novel was published. Lane, by the way, did with ‘Let the Hurricane Roar’ exactly what Wilder had hoped to do with ‘Pioneer Girl.’ After ‘Hurricane’s’ publication in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ Lane resold the manuscript to Longman’s Green and Company. It was published in book form in early 1933. As I discussed in part one, Wilder felt betrayed by Lane’s actions, and a serious rift developed between the two women. They managed, however, during, 1933 to overcome their differences, and by the mid-to-late 1930s, Wilder thoroughly approved of Lane’s second pioneer novel, ‘Free Land.’ It draws even more extensively from ‘Pioneer Girl.’ But by then, Wilder’s career as a novelist for children was firmly established. She didn’t have to worry that her daughter’s use of material from ‘Pioneer Girl’ would upstage her own, or compromise her writing career. So, now let’s delve into ‘Let the Hurricane Roar.’

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