Melissa Wiley •
Down to the Bonny Glen •
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s immensely popular Little House books, first published in the 1930s, have been supplemented in recent years by spin-offs tracing earlier generations of her family. The most intriguing of these from a historical perspective come from the pen (or, presumably, the keyboard) of Melissa Wiley.
Martha Morse, Laura’s great-grandmother, grows up amid the braes and lochs of 18th-century Scotland. As the daughter of a laird, Martha leads a comfortable life, though she would rather run races and play outdoors with her brothers than practice the ladylike occupations of sewing and spinning.
Period and cultural details abound throughout the four books that make up the Martha Years. Martha sleeps in a box bed with a sliding lid, keeps a hedgehog as a pet, and attends a traditional Highlands ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee, in case the weirdo Gaelic spelling flummoxes you). She drives off a succession of governesses, but takes pleasure in learning herb lore from a neighbor and thrills to the words of a new young poet, Robert Burns, who has captured his countrymen’s imagination.
And despite her elevated social position, Martha chooses to marry the son of the village blacksmith. Her middle daughter, Charlotte, will be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s maternal grandmother.
Laura came from a long line of spirited women, as these books amply demonstrate.