Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn
Carol Ryrie Brink, 1935

Caddie Woodlawn is seen by some (according to the quote on the back) as a sort of antidote to Little House on the Prairie. And the contrasts are interesting. I enjoyed the book maybe a bit less than I remember enjoying it as a girl, but it's a sweet story about a pioneer girl, presented as a series of life events. (I was always a huge sucker for a good pioneer girl story.)

Caddie, unlike any of the other girls I've looked at recently, is a confirmed tomboy. It's explained that her father encouraged her to be so to enhance her health. Okay theory to me. So the arc of the book of course includes Caddie deciding that maybe it's time to learn to be feminine. My initial reaction is: well, if you must.

However, there is a memorable chapter in which Caddie begins to learn to quilt, and her brothers decide that if it's good enough for the sister they've played with all their lives, then they're going to learn too. The story of Caddie growing up is in fact nicely balanced with both masculine and feminine pursuits. (I loved the chapter in which her father teaches her to fix clocks.)

This book is also written much more like a story (rather than a history) than Little House, and there's a good reason. Carol Ryrie Brink based her book on the life of her grandmother, as told in stories to her as a child. In the preface to the edition I had, she writes that her grandmother was still alive when the book was being written, that she asked her questions about many things, and quotes her grandmother as finding the book very true to her family. Whether or not every event was based on a true account, it, alone among the girls books so far, was being written as a historical novel by someone who had not lived in that time.

I find the following information fascinating:
Caddie Woodlawn: published 1935 about 1860s Author 40
Little House: published 1932, 1935 about 1868, 1870 Author 65, 68
Little Women: published 1868-9, about 1860s Author 36
Anne of Green Gables: published 1908 about 1900s Author 34

Brink is writing about pioneer life from the perspective of a relatively modern woman. So of course she mostly extols the virtues of Caddie's tomboy ways, and her heroine gets to go on a breakneck horse ride to head off a fight between the local Indians and the townspeople.

Also of note, the death of Abraham Lincoln is touched on as an important time for the family. Louisa May Alcott, who was writing directly after the Civil War, (in which she served as a nurse,) doesn't even mention directly what side of the war the father in Little Women is fighting on. She was living it, Brink has the luxury of looking back though history.

Now, it's not entirely progressive writing. There's some unfortunate dialogue due to the fact that the Indians and the settlers don't really share a language. But, even though she was writing at the same time as Laura Ingalls Wilder, about the same period, the tone of the books is very different. Caddie Woodlawn is probably better written from the point of view of novel construction. However, the main differences are those between an older woman looking back, reconstructing (and partially fictionalizing) her own childhood, and a younger woman looking back on a time she never really knew. This makes Caddie Woodlawn a rousing read, but Little House feels more real.

 2 Stars - An Okay Book


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