19 May 2009

Caddie Woodlawn

I was a big Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, had all the books in the pretty hardcover bindings, and read them cover to cover many times, the whole series through. They were a gift from my grandmother. My grandmother is also the one who introduced me to Caddie Woodlawn but I don't remember ever owning a copy so I must have read it at my grandmother's house. I was always very partial to Caddie; she and Laura were very similar, even from the same area of the country, but for some reason Caddie always seemed a little more "real" to me and I can't quite put my finger on it. Re-reading Caddie now I think it's the author/subject that causes the difference; while Laura wrote from an autobiographical stand-point, Carol Ryrie Brink wrote about her grandmother, the real Caddie (nee Woodhouse), and perhaps that created more space between writer and subject, however small.

The new edition of Caddie has a note from Brink - something missing in my grandmother's old copy - and it was very nice to read a bit about how Brink and her grandmother interacted. There are some things I did not remember from my childhood readings and, strangely enough, the biggest hole in my memory centered around Caddie's father; I completely forgot he was from England which is huge because that fact informs several other plot points in the book including the final chapters. I do realize now that I read Caddie long before I had a good hold on the historical timeline (I believe I first read this in second grade because we hadn't moved to the new school district at the time); there are a number of facts related to the Civil War that I have a far better understanding of having had fifth-grade history. A hold-over from childhood is my lack of knowledge of the folk songs Robert Ireton sings; I'd not heard of any of them at the time but this time 'round I have Google so I can search for the music.

Caddie lived in Wisconsin about ten years or so before Laura so the setting is slightly altered. There is more interaction with Native American tribes in Caddie than in the Little House in the Big Woods and there seems to be better communication with the rest of the US at large in Laura's time than Caddie's. Brink seems to include a subtle lesson on racism and tolerance which I don't recall from the Little House books. While the Ingalls' don't seem to mind the neighboring Native American tribes but interact little with them, Mr. Woodlawn actively seems to offer friendship and assistance to John's tribe; Brink also treats the biracial Hankinson family with sympathy, showing how the father's cowardice and lack of tolerance drives his wife to return to her people, leaving her children behind. Mr. Woodlawn also relates the stringent nature of the class system in England through the story of his childhood.

The one thing I'm not quite sure on was Brink's stance on women's rights. She wrote Caddie in 1935-36 so women were in the workplace, had the right to vote, etc. but still had a bit to go. in the 1860s of Caddie's childhood, she was allowed to run and play with her brothers as a counter against the poor health that killed a younger sister; she can do just about everything her brothers can but her mother constantly pushes her to act like a proper young lady of the 1860s (like her elder sister Clara). In a scene near the end of the book Caddie's father comes to comfort her and talks of how women are meant to be good, and keep house, and tame the wild fathers and brothers (a bit like the "Angel in the House" Victorian concept, which wouldn't be off time-period-wise); I'm sure it was decently close to the real conversation between Caddie and her father. Caddie decides that she ought to start learning to help Mother....but Brink doesn't let us know how Caddie feels, truly. Caddie enjoys her first foray into ladyhood - learning to quilt - and seems to like being in the kitchen, too, but the book ends shortly after. I get the feeling that Caddie won't go over to the "accomplished" side like Cousin Annabelle, but I feel like Caddie's voice gets lost at this point in the book. There is a follow up volume, Caddie Woodlawn's Family, so I'll probably need to read that (which I've never done) to see where Caddie's life takes her, if the book extends that far.

The vocabulary list is quite long this time; I pulled words and phrases that I'm sure I didn't actually know as a second grader and inferred the meanings for myself:
inseparable, hassocks, "hot pitch", indignation, leisurely, disinherited, lofty, taverns, frail, "public houses", escapade, titters, smarting, inconsolable, disgrace, massacre, victuals, obscurity, insure, impassive, enthralled, remote, irksome, cowards/cowardice (cowardice is the actual word), pendulum, unfathomable, weariness, abolition, aristocrat, homesteads, sportsman (in the upper-crusty sense of shooting), wholesale, slaughter, haymow, smirk, reproaches, drenching, whippersnapper, "treading on air", trinket, darning, sulphur, gravely, pompously, wheedled, enterprise, daintier, challis, sedately, muffler, dassn't, sledge (I might have known this one), tumultuous, picallili (guaratee I didn't know what that was), soliloquize, titillate, muskrats, breeches, clogs, gimcracks, clambered, notions, guttural, tactful, bewilderment, proteges, capered, jostled, coaxed, arbutus, "accomplished", anticlimax, trilliums, hepaticas, impartial, wistful, churning, vicissitudes, apparition, cultivated, quaint, rustic, impish, fatigued, vivaciously, momentum, pandemonium, stupendous, distraught
(sorry for the paragraph - the list was way too long)

Next up in the Newbery reading is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - who wouldn't want to run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Current book-in-progress: Wives and Daughters, Sexing the Cherry, The Palace of Illusions, The Liar, A History of God, Burnt Shadows
Current knitted item: Karma's poncho - one stripe repeat left
Current movie obsession: Ian McKellan's Richard III should be in the mailbox today
Current iTunes loop: Lost in a Good Book is in the car; have some yummy classical CDs winging their way to me from B&N

1 comment:

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