by Little, Brown & Co. (An Atlantic Monthly Press Publication.) 1928. 12mo. 178 pp. Illus. $2.00., with a Foreword by Samuel V. Eliot, D.D., LL.D. Boston:
THE extraordinary vitality of this book burns on every page. Again and again the reader looks to see it fail; Hilda Rose herself looks in the mirror to mark its extinction, but always it is renewed, and from within. Rarely indeed has the human will so indestructibly prevailed; rarely has it been so purely articulate in its passion. Writing of her letters, Mrs. Rose has said, ‘ They don’t amount to much. Just the struggle for existence on a farm.’ But to a reader of average environment the pressure of these realities is severe, and the readers of the Atlantic Monthly, in which many of the letters appeared, have not forgotten Hilda Rose. They carry indelible impressions of her struggles on the stump farm in the highlands of the West, and of her exodus, with her elderly husband and her little boy, into the northern wilderness of Alberta in Western Canada. They remember that she weighs eighty-five pounds, that her eyes are blue and her hair ‘pale gold,’ and that she vowed, once she got quit of the slump farm and away into ‘the lovely green and lonesome land’ about the Great Slave Lake in Alberta, that she was done forever with crawling on her belly on the ground for nothing.
‘What a life!’ says Hilda Rose, of the soft life as she imagines it to be, ‘reading and tatting and going to the movies!’ — and many a soft liver, reader, and tatter will have a new feeling for a dollar because it is, in this book, a thing to be carried about, to be spread on the table before you as you eat your bread, wondering for long to which of many uses you shall put it. Many a one will think with more respect of a prune, because that little pioneer, when she had a fine crop of prunes, ‘almost sickened with fear’ lest she might not harvest them in time. Her necessitous adventures with food and shelter reveal afresh their value and their honor — it is a function of the pioneer to do this. And these letters are an epic of the family — the woman as wife and mother has fallen upon the raw material of life tooth and nail; like a beaver she will make a home, if she has to hollow it out of the side of a hill. Married to a man nearly thirty years older than herself, she ‘adores the ground he walks on’; and, having prayed for a baby, she proposes to make a man of him. Writing her letters by the light of her stove with the lid off, she remembers Lincoln, who wrote by firelight; considering her boy s welfare with a professional solicitude,— she was a school-teacher when she married, — she determines that he shall have such an education as Lincoln had; and for him she desires the pioneer’s environment. The book is rich with her creative thinking and man-making. Boy, from the pulliwog be is in her first letters, becomes man overnight, until at ten he goes his three days’ journey through the wilderness alone, to get the mail. It is for a parent of boys to measure at their adequate value the adventures and development of Boy, learning his lessons from his teachermother, so good a shot with a ‘22’ that he brings down five birds out of five, so free of the forest that he travels it alone on his little pony, so responsible that he guesses lie ‘can keep the pot boiling for Mother.’
A comment on this book would be unjust indeed that stressed unduly the difficult adventures of that expressive creature who is so free from morbidity and self-pity, whose appetites are so well balanced, and who has, within the recorded compass of her life, achieved so many of her dear desires. She who said that she must not look ‘weatherwrung and sorrow-beaten, ’ because she would wish one day to be president of a club, came indeed to be president of a club of twentytwo members ‘all living straight now.’ She who said. ‘That’s my specialty — digging up the half-dead. ’ has made a multitude of them turn, at least, in their graves.
At the end of her book she is farming. Not so lonesome as she was last winter. The country is opening up to settlers; a government road is coming in. The invasion of the wilderness is under way. If Hilda Rose lives the twenty more years she has thought to do, she will read with wonder of that endurance which makes of The Stump Farm one of the most moving of American records.
JEAN KENYON MACKENZIE