GENRE; Non-Fiction, Historical
PUBLISHER: Practical Pioneer Press
RELEASE DATE: November 26, 2016
Whether you love her, hate her, or love to hate her, Nellie Oleson is one of the most recognizable literary figures of the 20th century. But Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series in which Nellie appears, had a secret. . .Nellie wasn’t a real person! Instead, she was a composite character created from three girls Laura knew in childhood: Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Estella Gilbert.
The Little House character of Nellie Oleson is one-dimensional: snobbish, selfish, and thoroughly unpleasant. But what about the real women behind Laura’s creation? They were an intriguing mix of the not-so-nice and the unexpectedly redeemable. In short, they were human.
Discovering the true stories behind Nellie, Genevieve, and Estella has been a fascinating journey. All three ended up on the West Coast at one point. . .true westward movement! One was widowed twice, one ended up divorced, and one died way too young. Two only had one child, and one had three, though she outlived her youngest by a very long time. There’s even some “Nellie-like” drama in there: Embezzlement. Lying on censuses. Shady land deals.
But there are some beautiful things, too. . .like the enduring love of a husband after his young wife died. Or the rare closeness of a mother and daughter who shared their lives as adults. Or the strength of a young widowed mother who not only cared for her son, but headed out west, in true pioneer fashion, while she did so.
Laura Ingalls Wilder did a masterful job of creating the character of Nellie Oleson. But the three real-life women behind that iconic character are, in my opinion, infinitely more intriguing.
Cue the Little House theme music and roll down that hill with me as we take a peek at the three real-life people who were the basis for the villain we all love to hate – Nellie Oleson. As an enduring fan more of the books than the TV series, I was very curious to learn more about these three historic ladies.
The Three Faces of Nellie is a very quick read and covers a lot of research that can be pieced together from Ancestry.com and similar sources. The point, though, is that most people don’t have time or patience or money to track down all this info ourselves, so it’s nice that the author has done all of this for us. She has also taken time to reference Laura Ingalls Wilder’s personal letters and recollections on the subject and uses these to help orient us as to which ‘Nellie’ appears in which of Wilder’s Little House books. I was fascinated to learn more about each of the three, in particular the girl who appeared to be the main inspiration for most of Nellie’s antics.
As someone who has also done a lot of research on my own family history and enjoyed writing summaries of the various family lines for my own relatives (I inherited my history-geekiness from my paternal grandfather’s sister who began this research before Ancestry.com existed), I could also sympathize with the author’s comments on the erroneous/conflicting information often found in census records and other people’s research. One thing I’ve found is that you can’t assume, just because someone else has these parents belonging to this child from this country on this birth date, that it’s accurate. You have to think logically and compare dates and do some math (yuck!) to verify anything you find. Still, research like this can be incredibly fascinating and yield fun results (William Shakespeare is my 1st cousin, 14 times removed).
Bottom Line: The Three Faces of Nellie is easily read in an evening or weekend, depending on your reading speed (it took me about an hour and a half) and will appeal to anyone who is a fan of the show or the Little House books. It’s written more like a genealogy but there are a lot of interesting facts to glean and you’ll never see Nellie Oleson in quite the same way!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4 stars / Enjoyed it!
Robynne Elizabeth Miller is a speaker, writing coach, and author of multiple books, articles, and essays. Her larger projects include From the Mouth of Ma, Pioneer Mixology, The Three Faces of Nellie, and Nonfiction, Memoir, or Fiction? Dissecting the Works of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Robynne speaks nationally at writing and historical venues and teaches at writer’s workshops and conferences. She also serves as the Board President of Inspire Christian Writers, as well as their Director of Leadership, and leads two Northern California critique groups.
She holds an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Westmont College and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction and Fiction from Ashland University.
She lives with her wonderful British husband and the youngest of their four cheeky children in the snowy woods of the Sierra Nevada mountains. When not writing, Robynne loves singing, felling trees, and making bacon from scratch.
Nasty Nellie Oleson. One of the most iconic literary characters in literature. Whether you loved her … or hated her … or loved to hate her, she probably left a lasting impression on you. At least if you were a fan of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder like I was growing up!
As a young girl, I loved Wilder’s tales of wagons, prairies, and grand westward adventures. Strangely, growing up didn’t change my love for all things Little House one tiny bit. But I did become deeply curious about the real life people behind some of the more fascinating Little House characters.
Namely, Nellie Oleson.
As I began to research Nellie, I learned a ton of interesting things. She wasn’t one person, for example. Laura Ingalls Wilder wove three girls she knew in childhood into one composite character for her books. One of the first “Nellie’s,” Nellie Owens, did have a brother named Willy, but did you know that he went blind from two separate incidents, one in childhood and one in adulthood? And did you know that all three of the “Nellies” ended up on the west coast at one point? Talk about true westward movement! One married a man who eventually went to prison for embezzlement, one did some shady land deals, and one shouldn’t have been a “Nellie” at all.
I suppose I was hoping for a good, old-fashioned redemption story. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the mean girl in Wilder’s stories grew up to work with orphans or rescue unwanted animals? Alas, that’s not exactly what happened. But the stories of these three women were fascinating all the same.
I hope you have as much fun discovering the real stories behind the famous Nellie Oleson as I did!
To celebrate her tour, Robynne is giving away a grand prize of a Little House Treasures basket that includes an authenticated piece of the original Loftus Store is De Smet, authenticated sand from Laura’s Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, a Loftus Store slate and slate pencil, chokecherry preserves from De Smet, a Christmas Tree ornament from De Smet, a corn-cob doll kit, a tin cup, maple syrup, a set of pioneer recipe books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s actual gingerbread recipes, and other treasures from various Little House sites!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries in to the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.
This giveaway is hosted by Celebrate Lit, not RimSP
Follow along with the tour for more chances to win!