In the 1880s, a group of rural Illinoisans formed a Christian sect that believed that a local woman, Dorinda Beekman, was the new Jesus Christ. When Mrs. Beekman died, a follower of hers claimed that her spirit lived inside him; as the new leader of the sect, he moved his followers into a barn and named it Heaven. At The Paris Review Daily, Dan Visel looks backon this odd chapter of history, as well as the novel it inspired. (Related: Eric Shonkwiler on the literature of the Midwest.)
Though as I kid I’d read The Long Winter, I was really more familiar with the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder via the long-running NBC television series, which recast her work as a warm paean to family togetherness during the cocaine-dusted, wife-swapping 1970s (and a show now appropriately preserved in the golden amber of the Hallmark Channel). Bolstered by the anti-sentimentalism of art school, I’d somehow fallen in line with this received opinion, dismissing her work as innocent and sanitized, of no real value except as a way of passing one’s time in a false nostalgia for a Good Old Days that probably never existed.
The great Chris Ware rediscovers Laura Ingalls Wilder.