Christine Woodside, University of Connecticut
Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) left a literary legacy built on the celebration of individualism. She helped found the libertarian political movement with her book The Discovery of Freedom. But her silent collaboration on the Little House books, the fictionalized version of her mother’s pioneer life, is perhaps her most significant achievement. Before Lane spent time living in Europe in the 1920s, she did not admire hard work or the American character. But after she traveled in France and Albania, and spent two years living in Tirana, Albania, she experienced a change of heart. In 1921, Lane worked in France as a writer for the Red Cross. She befriended Dorothy Thompson, also working for the Red Cross and who would later become an influential journalist. Lane traveled with Thompson through France. Later that year, Lane explored the Albanian mountains with Americans and locals as guides. Lane was fascinated by Albanians living amid political upheavals and yet somehow far from the influences of the dominant culture. In 1926 she and a friend, Helen Boylston, returned to Europe and settled in Tirana, Albania, in a former diplomat’s house, for two years. Lane befriended the Albanian president and knew much about the threats to the country’s shaky democracy. She retreated behind the idyllic walled garden of her house and spent hours watching a man she’d hired to tend the garden. She had claimed in one letter to a friend that she didn’t like “the American spirit” or its work ethic. Yet, a year later, as a result of her time in Albania, she sketched the start of a list: “Idea. A series of pioneer stories, featuring the woman.” This is the earliest proof of her new appreciation of hard work and free markets.
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Presented in Session 224. American Individualist Women Writers and the Question of Europe