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Annabel

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Written by  L. Frank Baum
(as "Suzanne Metcalf")
Illustrator  H. Putnam Hall
Published  1906
Publisher  Reilly & Britton

Annabel: A Story for Young Folks is a 1906 juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum under the pen name "Suzanne Metcalf," and illustrated by H. Putnam Hall. The book was one of Baum's first attempts at writing for adolescent girls, who would soon become one of his most important audiences.

Summary

Will Carden is a fifteen-year-old boy who lives in the town of Bingham with his mother and siblings. His family has declined in its fortunes; though his late father had once owned a steel mill, Will's family now survives by growing vegetables on a two-acre plot of land. Will is popular with the local children, especially with the five Williams children who live in the town's biggest house. Of the five, Mary Louise is the beauty; her sister Annabel, twelve years old, is plain in comparison, with red hair and freckles and a pug nose. Their father owns the steel mill that succeeded the Carden mill as the town's leading employer; their mother, the snobbish Mrs. Williams, wounds Will by telling her children to avoid the lowly vegetable boy.

Will, however, is a young man of fine character; he is encouraged by the local physician, Dr. Meigs, who joins the Carden family in a mushroom-growing business that relieves their poverty. Will saves Annabel's life when she falls through a frozen pond while ice skating. Annabel and Will grow close as Annabel blossoms into young womanhood; Meigs encourages her steel-man father to acknowledge and encourage the boy.

Meigs and Williams also become suspicious of Ezra Jordan, the man who manages Williams's mill and boards with the Cardens. Jordan was crucial in the Carden family history: the doctor and steel-man realize that all knowledge of the death of Will's father has filtered through Jordan. Upon investigation, they learn that Jordan has cheated both Williams and the Cardens by appropriating a valuable steel-making process developed by the elder Carden.

It turns out that Mr. Carden is alive and well in Great Britain, where he has made another fortune. Jordan has worked a double fraud: he deceived the Cardens into believing that their husband and father had died in a shipwreck — and he also tricked Carden in England into thinking that his family had perished in an epidemic. Jordan maintained his lodging with the Carden family precisely to intercept any possible communications that would reveal his nefarious scheme.

Once all the facts are revealed, The Carden family is united in prosperity once more. Will and Annabel look forward to the prospect of a happy marriage.

Background

Starting in 1897, Baum spent the better part of a decade in establishing himself as a successful author for children. In 1905 and after, Baum made a concerted effort to expand to other segments of the general readership. He published The Fate of a Crown, his first novel for adults, in that year, and followed it with his first books for juvenile audiences, both boys and girls. Annabel was one of the first fruits of this effort. The book does not seem to have been a resounding hit; no other books by "Suzanne Metcalf" were released. Baum's other 1906 book for girls, Aunt Jane's Nieces, proved more successful.

(The plot of Annabel has one obvious and glaring flaw. The elder Carden learned of his family's supposed death while he was in England; if he had returned home even briefly, or if he had written to family members, friends, his lawyer, his clergyman, or any other natural contact, he would easily have learned that his family was still alive.)

Annabel did go through a second edition in 1912; for that printing, the original illustrations by Hall were replaced with new pictures by Joseph Pierre Nuyttens, an artist who worked on other Baum books at that time. The novel was next reprinted in the final edition of Oz-story Magazine in 2000, with the illustrations by both Hall and Nuyttens.

The character Mary Louise Williams was named after Baum's favored sister Mary Louise Baum Brewster. The plot of Annabel bears a significant relationship with Baum's later book Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.

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