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Mary Louise

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Mary Louise is a 1916 juvenile novel for girls that L. Frank Baum wrote under his pen name Edith Van Dyne. The book was the first volume in a series that Baum continued up to his death, and which was carried forward posthumously by Emma Speed Sampson. The novels have sometimes been known as the "Bluebird Books" because of their characteristic blue covers.

Inception

By 1915, Baum's publisher Reilly & Britton was prepared to close the Aunt Jane's Nieces series that had been a profit center for the company for the past decade; after ten books in ten years, the firm had formed a judgement that the series had run its course. The publishers wanted to replace that series with another just as popular, if they could.

Baum responded by writing the first version of Mary Louise. He named the book and patterned the main character after his favored sister Mary Louise Baum Brewster. The author was surprised and unhappy when his publisher rejected the novel; they judged the heroine to be too independent. Baum rewrote the book, giving it a more conventionally feminine protagonist.

While the publisher's choice may seem odd today, it is not without sense in the context of the time. The Aunt Jane's Nieces series had been a success, but Baum's second venture under the Van Dyne pseudonym, the Flying Girl series, was a miss rather than a hit and died after two books. Reilly & Britton likely judged that a girl who flies airplanes was too much for their readers to accept; they did not want to make the same mistake with Mary Louise. (Sadly, Baum's original manuscript of Mary Louise has not survived, so that no direct comparison between two versions can be made.)

Summary

Mary Louise Burrows is a privileged child, the darling of her mother and her "Gran'pa Jim," otherwise known as Col. Hathaway. She is surprised when the two suddenly disappear, seemingly abandoning her to the care of former servants. The girl is shocked to discover that her beloved grandfather is a wanted man, facing no less a charge than treason.

Mary Louise sets off on a quest to unravel this mystery. She tries to find her mother and grandfather without betraying them to the law officers that pursue them. In time she strikes up a friendship with a Secret Service agent named O'Gorman, who seems genuinely sympathetic to her family's plight. With the help of his daughter Josie, O'Gorman is eventually able to prove the Colonel's innocence of treason, and restore Mary Louise's family.

The series

The first book was enough of a success to justify continuing the series, which eventually extended to ten books. Baum wrote the first four, though his son Harry Neal Baum is thought to have helped with at least the third, Mary Louise Solves a Mystery (1917). The fifth book in the series, Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier (1920), was based on a fragment by Baum, and completed by another hand. Speed Sampson wrote the last five books entirely on her own.

  1. Mary Louise (1916)
  2. Mary Louise in the Country (1916)
  3. Mary Louise Solves a Mystery (1917)
  4. Mary Louise and the Liberty Girls (1918)
  5. Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier (1919)
  6. Mary Louise at Dorfield (1920)
  7. Mary Louise Stands the Test (1921)
  8. Mary Louise and Josie O'Gorman (1922)
  9. Josie O'Gorman (1923)
  10. Josie O'Gorman and the Meddlesome Major (1924).

Interestingly, Mary Louise proved too tame a character to drive the series forward on a longterm basis. The less traditional Josie O'Gorman, girl agent, came to dominate more and more; the titles of the last three books illustrate her takeover of the series.

References

  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.

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