Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross is a juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum. It is the tenth and final volume in the Aunt Jane's Nieces series, and like all the books in that series was issued under Baum's "Edith Van Dyne" pen name.
In Baum's canon, the book is notable for its expression of his views and feelings on World War I. It is also the only book in the series, and a rare Baum book in general, that was substantially revised for a second edition. The 1915 original was published when the United States was still neutral in the War; the 1918 second edition was revised by Baum to reflect changed attitudes after America's entry into the conflict.
The book was furnished with an introductory note by the author, an unusual though not unprecedented step for the series. (The second book, Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, also features an author's introduction.) In this introduction, Baum as Van Dyne writes,
- This is the story of how three brave American girls sacrificed the comforts and luxuries of home to go abroad and nurse the wounded soldiers of a foreign war.
- I wish I might have depicted more gently the scenes in hospital and on battlefield, but it is well that my girl readers should realize something of the horrors of war, that they may unite with heart and soul in earnest appeal for universal, lasting Peace and the future abolition of all deadly strife.
The story opens on 7 September 1914; Patsy Doyle, Beth De Graf, and their Uncle John are reading a newspaper account of the end of the Siege of Maubeuge and the German victory. Both the girls are concerned with the war news; Beth in particular is a partisan of the French.
The girls are soon re-united with "Ajo" Jones and the movie star Maud Stanton, two characters from the previous book in the series, Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West. Maud has come to New York on her way to Europe, where she will serve as a nurse. (She trained in nursing before becoming a film star.) Patsy and Beth are struck with admiration for her action, and are eager to follow her example. When Uncle John finds that he cannot dissuade them, he resolves to support their effort; he uses his wealth and influence to form a connection with the American Red Cross. Ajo Jones, also enthusiastic for the cause, volunteers his ocean-going yacht, the Arabella, for conversion to a hospital ship. Uncle John pays for its refitting and for two ambulances to carry the wounded.
Merrick's money and the girls' enthusiasm work wonders: by the end of September the Arabella, painted with large red crosses, is in Dunkirk. Among their staff is a talented surgeon, Doctor Gys. He is "an eccentric, a character...erratic and whimsical," an adventurer who has been from the Arctic to Yucatan, and in the process has been badly disfigured by hard-luck accidents (involving icebergs and poisoned cacti). Gys calls himself a coward, but also sees death as a release from his disfigured body; he wonders what kind of death would be preferable, and has a morbid interest in confronting the violence of the War. The Americans also acquire a Belgian chauffeur named Maurie as an ambulance driver; he provides comic relief for the story.
The protagonists cope with military bureaucracies and confront the horrors of the battlefield (though Baum, "in keeping with his Van Dyne persona...kept his descriptions mild"). Beth previously had a year of nursing training, but Patsy is a neophyte who is shocked by the conditions she encounters. Doctor Gys reacts with paralyzing fear to his first exposure to combat, though his medical discipline soon takes over and he functions effectively.
In the climax of the story, Patsy is injured but recovers, but Dr. Gys is killed on the battlefield. Though Gys had repeatedly proclaimed his cowardice, his death is heroic.
The Americans lose the confidence of the French authorities at Dunkirk when a German prisoner they are treating escapes their custody; fewer wounded come to their ship as a result, and it appears that their usefulness is limited. After three months of service, the girls return to the United States. Uncle John tells them that "You have unselfishly devoted your lives for three strenuous months to the injured soldiers of a foreign war, and I hope you're satisfied that you've done your full duty."
The 1918 revision
By 1918, the American entry into the War had changed the general situation. On the purely personal level, two of Baum's four sons were serving with the American army in Europe. For the 1918 revision, Baum wrote four new chapters that toughen the tone of the book and replace the original neutral outlook with one that favors the Allies.
Where the War had been seen as waste and folly in the earlier version, the revision sees it as a moral conflict between right and wrong. John Merrick asserts that his "money and energy must be expended in defeating the menace of the Central Powers." The horrors of war are given a more direct treatment, particularly in the case of an American cameraman who is badly wounded and treated by the nurses.
The ending of the story varies significantly between the two versions. In the 1918 text, the girls do not go home after three months, but plan to stay as long as they can be helpful. Dr. Gys survives, and his disfigurements are remedied by a skilled plastic surgeon. Once Gys is restored to his original good looks, he and Beth become engaged to be married. Also, a post-war marriage between Patsy and Ajo is implied.
Since Louise Merrick, the oldest of the three cousins, has married and had a child in the preceding books, she is left out of this story; the last book is the only one in the series in which her name is not mentioned. Her place in the trio of young American women is taken by Maud Stanton.
Maurie, the comic chauffeur in this book, can be compared with the comic chauffeur Wampus in Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.
In a letter dated 7 October 1915, Baum's publisher suggested to him that while the Aunt Jane's Nieces series had been "one of your — and our — bread-and-butter winners," it was time to bring the series to its end and start a new venture. Baum agreed, and began work of the Mary Louise series that would (along with his last Oz books) occupy him through the remainder of his literary career.
The Red Cross book was a natural point at which to halt the series. It is the most serious of the ten novels, with the weightiest subject matter; and it takes its protagonists out of the world of girlhood and into adult life. Both the remaining single cousins, Patsy and Beth, are moving toward maturity and marriage at the end of the novel.
- ↑ Katharine M. Rogers,L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; p. 218.
- ↑ Rogers, p. 218.
- ↑ Baum's eldest son Frank Joslyn Baum was in the heavy artillery, and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel; second son Robert Stanton Baum was an officer in the Corps of Engineers.
- ↑ Rogers, p. 219.