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Our Landlady

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Our Landlady was a serialized newspaper column that L. Frank Baum wrote and published in his South Dakota newspaper, The Aberdeen Pioneer. The column had 48 installments, running in almost every issue of the weekly paper from 25 January 1890 to 8 February 1891.

The landlady of the title is Mrs. Sairy Ann Bilkins, who runs an Aberdeen boarding house. She is poorly educated, and speaks in malapropism-rich dialect; she is a penny-pinching ("bilking" someone is the same as cheating them) busybody and husband-hunter, who is also passionately opinionated on a broad range of subjects, which she relates in conversation with her three main boarders. Baum used Mrs. Bilkins as both a support and a foil for his own views and values; sometimes she agrees with the opinions he expresses in the editorials of the paper, and sometimes she disagrees for comical and ironic reasons.

Baum used the column to comment broadly on local affairs, especially on the evolving struggle for women's suffrage, which he favored strongly. Local politics was also a key focus for the column, as was the economic decline that set in with the failures of the 1889 and 1890 wheat harvests. Baum also used his column to comment upon other issues and topics that interested him, including the technological and social changes that the future was likely to bring — from flying machines to electric blankets.

Taken together, the series represents Baum's first major work of fiction. Long neglected, the Our Landlady columns were reprinted in a scholarly edition in 1999.

References

  • L. Frank Baum. Our Landlady. Edited and annotated by Nancy Tystad Koupal. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.
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