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Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work

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Written by  L. Frank Baum
(as "Edith Van Dyne")
Illustrator  Emile A. Nelson
Published  1909
Publisher  Reilly & Britton

Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work is a 1909 juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum under his "Edith Van Dyne" pen name. It is the fourth of the ten volumes in his Aunt Jane's Nieces series, and continues the story of the three cousins Louise Merrick, Patsy Doyle, and Elizabeth De Graf. Its story begins three days after the end of the previous book, Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville; Patsy still has a sunburn from her summer on the Millville farm.

The title of the fourth book is somewhat misleading: It could more accurately be called Aunt Jane's Nieces in Politics. Early in the story, John Merrick tells his nieces that politics is "work," which yields the title.

Summary

A few days after returning from their summer in the Adirondacks, Patsy and Louise receive letters from Kenneth Forbes, the young man who actually inherited Jane Merrick's estate in the first novel in the series. Kenneth has become involved in politics, running as the Republican candidate for the local seat in the state legislature. It appears as though he will inevitably lose to his Democratic opponent, however. The Merrick family decide to go all out to help him win his election.

The cousins and Uncle John go to the rural district where Forbes's estate, Elmhurst, is located. The multi-millionaire, the three attractive girls, and their two motorcars (rare in the area) create a sensation. Patsy campaigns among local businessmen, Beth writes newspaper articles and press releases, and Louise visits farmers' wives. (The women cannot vote — but they will "tell their husbands how to vote.") Uncle John spreads his cash around, even buying positive coverage for Forbes at a local newspaper. (The fee is $250, with another $500 if and when Kenneth wins.) Kenneth's mercenary and cynical opponent, Erastus Hopkins, fights back vigorously — but, provoked by the three cousins, he intemperately takes an anti-female line that works against him. In the end, Kenneth wins easily in the normally Republican district.

Unlike previous books in the series, Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work possesses a significant subplot. Beth and Kenneth learn of a local girl named Lucy Rogers, who suffered a mental breakdown and disappeared after being falsely accused of theft. Beth and Kenneth find the girl and get her effective psychological help. The subplot gives the book some of the emotional warmth, sentimentality, and human interest that is typical of the series, but rather lacking in the politics of the main plot. (Regarding Lucy's amnesia, compare the amnesia of Thursday Smith in Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation.)

Background

Kenneth Forbes is an idealistic and progressive reformer. His primary political issue, oddly enough, is the suppression of unrestrained commercial advertising. According to Baum's novel, this was a cause that was earning some public support at the time, with some local laws passed to control advertising.

Party politics

When he ran his own newspaper, The Aberdeen Pioneer, Baum supported Republican candidates for office. Critic Fred Erisman notes that this novel "specifically identifies the villains as Democrats" in keeping with what he calls "Baum's lifelong Republicanism...."[1] Yet Baum overtly denies the importance of party affiliation in his book.[2] In Baum's words, "There is no difference of importance" between Democrats and Republicans, "But the two parties are the positive and negative poles that provide the current of electricity for our nation, and keep it going properly. Also they safeguard our interests by watching each other."

References

  1. Fred Erisman, "L. Frank Baum and the Progressive Dilemma," American Quarterly, Vol. 20 No. 3 (Autumn 1968), pp. 616-23; see p. 617 n. 3.
  2. Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; p. 154.

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