Today I want to talk about Mary J. Holmes. One of the things I got out of Anne Romines’s book, Constructing the Little House, was that she pointed out the author of Millbank. It’s the only novel mentioned by name in the “Little House” series. I was familiar with the mention and quote in On the Banks of Plum Creek of course, but never quite got around to looking for it. I was astonished at the author’s name because it was one I was already well familiar with — Mary J. Holmes. Holmes was a very popular author in the mid- to late-19th century. Not only that, but she was the author of my Great-Grandmother Buchmayer’s favorite book Homestead on the Hillside. Homestead is a collection of novelettes of fairly typical romantic stories, each with a twist and a happy ending. My copy, that I got when they were cleaning out my great-grandmother’s house, actually has my great-GREAT-grandmother’s name inside.
The reason I had already started to buy copies of each Holmes book I ran across at flea markets
and used book stores was because of a very personal connection the family had with the book. In my travels I often run across people who were named after Laura Ingalls Wilder, but my grandmother was named after a character in Homestead, Orianna. She was very proud of her unusual name and as she said “I had it to myself for over 60 years” (she was quite disgusted when she read in a paper that one of a pair of local twins had also been named that – no idea where they got it from, we didn’t know them). It was quite the experience when I read in a book for the first time the story that gave my grandmother her name, just as my great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother, and grandmother had before me, in the same copy of the book no less. So when I read Mary J. Holmes was the author of Millbank in Romines book I was amazed that here was another connection between Laura and me that I didn’t know– our families loved the same author.
UPDATE April 18, 2015: My friend Nancy Cleaveland (Pioneer Girl) pointed out that there is a second fiction book mentioned by name. Both Romines and I both missed a novel by title. In Little Town on the Prairie Chapter 19 – Whirl of Gaiety, Carrie receives a novel for Christmas. Laura calls it Stories OF the Moorland, but the correct title is Stories FROM the Moorland.” I thought it might be short stories based on the title, but Nancy confirmed “It does have stories, but in the same way that Pa tells Laura stories.” Thanks for the correction.
This follow up post about Holmes includes links to posts about Holmes’s house and a podcast of me reading it in a podcast for World Read Aloud Day.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.