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|Written by|| L. Frank Baum|
(as "Edith van Dyne")
|Illustrator||Emile A. Nelson|
|Publisher||Reilly & Britton|
Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville is a juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum under his "Edith Van Dyne" pseudonym. It is the third in his series of Aunt Jane's Nieces novels for young girls. This third novel picks up the story of the three Merrick cousins. Patsy Doyle, Beth De Graf, and Louise Merrick, shortly after the end of the previous book, Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad.
The cousins' benign and eccentric patron, Uncle John Merrick, devotes much of his fortune to helping others — an effort managed in its details by Patsy's father Major Doyle. These efforts do not always yield financially sound results. In one case, Merrick and Doyle loaned a few thousand dollars to a young inventor named Joseph Wegg for a patent he was developing — but Wegg lost a patent lawsuit, and Merrick now owns the collateral on the loan, a farm in a remote region of upper New York State. In his capricious way, Uncle John decides to take his nieces to the farm to escape the city's heat in the approaching summer. He arranges for a real-estate agent to get the farmhouse in good order and ships crates of furnishings to the place, sight unseen.
Merrick and the girls come north, and find the farmhouse a surprisingly appealing place. The local inhabitants of a tiny village in the Adirondack mountains are naturally interested in the new residents; they call Merrick "the nabob." The cousins quickly become interested in the family of the previous owner. Joe Wegg's father had been a retired sea captain, and something of a recluse; his close friend Will Thompson went mad when Captain Wegg died, and both their fortunes mysteriously disappeared. The girls meet and become friends with Thompson's daughter Ethel, the local schoolteacher. Also, the cousins (with Louise in the lead; she takes a more prominent role in this book than in the previous volumes) decide that Captain Wegg was murdered and robbed, and they set out in search of suspects.
They pry into the local past, with limited success. Matters begin to clear when Joe Wegg returns home to convalesce after a car accident. The girls are dispirited to learn that there was no murder and no robbery. It is Uncle John who unravels a genuine mystery, as to the fate of the Wegg and Thompson fortunes. He recovers a missing property deed that ensures that Joe Wegg and Ethel Thompson can marry in comfort and security.
City and country
Baum pokes gentle fun at some of the small-minded habits of small-town people in this book. The real-estate agent is a comic stereotype of village crudity, cupidity, pettiness, and envy; and one chapter is devoted to a bumpkin's inept attempt at finding a rich wife among the cousins. Yet Baum's view of urban and rural manners does not lean wholly one way. Baum approvingly contrasts the relative moral innocence and "simplicity" of the country with the "guile" of the city; and the three cousins are praised for being "so simple" without being "cityfied" or "stuck up."
The Aunt Jane's Nieces books have been studied for the light they cast on the "Progressive dilemma" of adapting "rural values to a complex urban society."
Elements from other Baum books, and also from his biography, turn up in Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville. The Wegg farm servant Tom Hucks is described as
- "A tall man, much bent at the shoulder and limping in one leg from an old hurt aggravated by rheumatism. His form was as gnarled as the tree-trunks in the apple orchard, and twisted almost as fantastically."
Readers of the Oz books may recognize Hucks as a precursor of Dr. Pipt in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. The Millville book repeatedly mentions Plymouth Rock poultry; Baum was a devotee of Hamburg poultry, and published a book on the subject in 1896.