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Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3444] Thu, 21 April 2005 00:18 Go to next message
Eric  is currently offline Eric
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With apologies to Erin for usurping the space here, the (probably brief) discussion below relates to Aunt Jane's Nieces, a short novel by Edith Van Dyne (pseud., L. Frank Baum), 1905, which can be found, as OtherEric noted previously, at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/10123.

[It's not a TG story, though it could have been. Van Dyne was a name Baum and his publishers intended to use for items comparable, in their mind, to Louisa May Alcott's stories, marketed primarily to girls in their early to mid-teens. A series of Aunt Jane's Nieces books followed, though Jane herself dies in this one.

An explanation for how we got on the subject and what limited relevance it has to TG fiction, if not to Tuck, can be found in the Future Tuck category here, under Halloween Costumes for Tuck. Briefly, characters from Baum's (and others') Oz books that would provide suitable costumes made up a large part of that discussion, which led, eventually, to a comparison between Jane Merrick of Baum's non-Oz tale and Jane Thompson of Tuck Seasons and other Seasons stories. While the similarity, once the story actually surfaced, proved negligible, it did bring up some questions that I wanted to discuss here, for lack of a better place.]

I'll start the commentary in the next post below. Though I don't think I'll be spoiling things too explicitly here -- not nearly as much as my Halloween Costumes post that was written (from a story synopsis in a Baum bio) on the assumption that the original was no longer publicly accessible -- those of you curious enough about this to read the story might want to do so before proceeding further.

Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3445] Thu, 21 April 2005 01:24 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Erin Halfelven  is currently offline Erin Halfelven
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I was struck by how much the first part read like a 'typical' TG story from FM, SS, SP or BC. Smile I didn't read too far but like you, I ended up imagining that IF Aunt Jane had been misinformed and 'Patsy' was a boy....

- Erin

(this is as good as anywhere else Smile)
Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3447] Thu, 21 April 2005 03:13 Go to previous messageGo to next message
OtherEric  is currently offline OtherEric
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Ok, I've got a copy and I'll try and read in in my copious free time over the next few days.

In case anybody isn't aware of it, Baum did have as outright a TG character as I've ever seen in a kid's book (or even most mainstream fiction) in the OZ stories. Which, I think, is one of the reasons I fell so completely in love with the books as a kid, even if I didn't know it at the time...

So, while we've drifted pretty far from Tuck here, Baum & TG fiction do have a definite connection already.
Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3448] Thu, 21 April 2005 07:57 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Eric  is currently offline Eric
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Having read it through a second time and a little more carefully, I should back off a little on my comments. There do seem to be a few signs of haste or editing problems: Kenneth Bradley was apparently upped from age 16 to 20 while the story was being written or edited, and there are two or three spots -- one explicit, the other(s) implied -- that weren't corrected.

Also, there seems something a little sloppy in Kenneth learning about the girls' arrival: it happens twice, as I read it -- once when they're on the way and once after they've arrived -- which isn't a problem except that Kenneth's panic reaction the second time would make more sense, it seems to me, if he hadn't been aware they were coming.

(Nitpick time: "Supersede" is misspelled. I'll bet it was right in the original.)

After a second reading, I'm not sure how confidently to go ahead with my assertion that Kenneth is autistic. But his problems seem more complex than anyone in the story thinks they are.


[Had a long comment here about Louise -- who IMO may be the most INTERESTING character in the story, Patsy included -- but I really need to organize it better.]
Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3457] Wed, 27 April 2005 00:18 Go to previous messageGo to next message
iWindoze  is currently offline iWindoze
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Sounds intresting..I'm downloading the whole
series now. It's just easier for me to do it that
way when I'm at a cybercafe than to try and
decide if I'll like it or not. Here's a link for
the rest of those reading this thread...


The above link takes you directly to the author's listings
however it DOES TAKE SOME TIME TO LOAD, so don't
be too dismayed upon arriving at the top of the page
and wondering if I've slipped you a bad link or something! ;P

Hope this is useful to someone.

Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3624] Fri, 03 June 2005 18:45 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Eric  is currently offline Eric
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Registered: January 2003
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I have to mention this somewhere -- a nearly perfect setup that Baum wasted. (Warning: Explaining it includes some major spoilers. Those who haven't read the story and intend to are hereby forewarned.)

It would have been easy and beautifully ironic if it turned out that Louise's success in entering society had stemmed from the assumption that she and her mother were future heirs to John Merrick's fortune -- a source of wealth that they weren't even aware of, let alone pretending to claim. And since the author chooses to let them learn about it at the end (right after Louise and her mother have given the apparently-destitute Uncle John the brushoff) by making their next-door neighbors in the apartment building the son and daughter-in-law of John's investment bankers, it's almost hard to avoid.

(Talk about changing times: the bankers' family name, Isham, brought Arabian oil to my mind rather than the comfortable Anglo wealth and investment connections that were presumably intended.)

One other point: Jane's lawyer friend Watson seems to be presented as an entirely positive character (changing times, continued?). But as it turns out, Louise and Beth are badly in need of an attorney of their own. Watson's assertion that Jane had nothing to bequeath once she lost the estate can't be true, even in those days when property rights tilted toward males. Jane never married, so whatever assets she had before she inherited the estate would still have been hers to distribute, and it's made clear that her (and the estate's) money was invested successfully for a long time. It wouldn't have been at all surprising if there were enough to pay the specific bequests to Louise and Beth -- unless Watson was claiming that money for himself, between attorney's fees and his own bequest in the will.

(It's also unlikely, had there been a challenge, that Tom Bradley's newly-discovered will would have been accepted as genuine, though the story tells us that it is. The time and circumstances of its discovery are so suspicious -- and Watson so instrumental in authenticating it, with none of Aunt Jane's legitimate heirs present other than Watson and John Merrick -- that it hardly seems likely that a court would overturn something a generation old to allow it. But it seems as though that's almost unfair to point out.)

Re: Baum's "Aunt Jane's Nieces" [message #3625] Fri, 03 June 2005 20:15 Go to previous message
Eric  is currently offline Eric
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Registered: January 2003
Location: San Francisco
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Not sure whether this will be of interest or not; for what it's worth, it's a chapter, verbatim, from Aunt Jane's Nieces which provides a sample of the tone and style of the story. It's the chapter (VIII) in which the conniving Louise meets her aunt for the first time.

Reason it's here is that Louise's over-the-top performance here really made me think about a TG version.

The setup: Louise (as we know from the actual story) and her mother have only recently moved to an upscale apartment in New York City and a comfortable, if temporary, lifestyle in hopes of attracting a wealthy suitor for Louise. In Baum's tale, Louise receives Aunt Jane's invitation to her mansion and decides to pursue it as Plan B, since the guy she's after is currently out of town on vacation. But she sends back Jane's check for expenses in an attempt to convince her that she's not really in it for the money.

My alternate version would have the invitation come to Louise and her mother's old address, where it's intercepted by a young con artist with whom Louise grew up and occasionally assisted when she and her mother were scraping by. The boy sees the potential upside here, realizes that Louise and Jane have never met, and knew Louise well enough to answer basic questions about her life should any present themselves. So he accepts the invitation and brazenly sends back the expense money, collecting suitable clothing less than honestly and riding the rails until reaching a station near the estate, where he changes clothes and buys a ticket for the last stretch...


Aunt Jane was in her garden, enjoying the flowers. This was her especial garden, surrounded by a high-box hedge, and quite distinct from the vast expanse of shrubbery and flower-beds which lent so much to the beauty of the grounds at Elmhurst. Aunt Jane knew and loved every inch of her property. She had watched the shrubs personally for many years, and planned all the alterations and the construction of the flower-beds which James had so successfully attended to. Each morning, when her health permitted, she had inspected the greenhouses and issued her brief orders--brief because her slightest word to the
old gardener incurred the fulfillment of her wishes. But this bit of garden adjoining her own rooms was her especial pride, and contained the choicest plants she had been able to secure. So, since she had been confined to her chair, the place had almost attained to the dignity of a private drawing-room, and on bright days she spent many hours here, delighting to feast her eyes with the rich coloring of the flowers and to inhale their fragrance. For however gruff Jane Merrick might be to the people with whom she came in contact, she was always tender to her beloved flowers, and her nature invariably softened when in their presence.

By and by Oscar, the groom, stepped through an opening in the hedge and touched his hat.

"Has my niece arrived?" asked his mistress, sharply.

"She's on the way, mum," the man answered, grinning. "She stopped outside the grounds to pick wild flowers, an' said I was to tell you she'd walk the rest o' the way."

"To pick wild flowers?"

"That's what she said, mum. She's that fond of 'em she couldn't resist it. I was to come an' tell you this, mum; an' she'll follow me directly."

Aunt Jane stared at the man sternly, and he turned toward her an unmoved countenance. Oscar had been sent to the station to meet Louise Merrick, and drive her to Elmhurst; but this strange freak on the part of her guest set the old woman thinking what her object could be. Wild flowers were well enough in their way; but those adjoining the grounds of Elmhurst were very ordinary and unattractive, and Miss Merrick's aunt was expecting her. Perhaps--

A sudden light illumined the mystery.

"See here, Oscar; has this girl been questioning you?"

"She asked a few questions, mum."

"About me?"

"Some of 'em, if I remember right, mum, was about you."

"And you told her I was fond of flowers?"

"I may have just mentioned that you liked 'em, mum."

Aunt Jane gave a scornful snort, and the man responded in a curious way. He winked slowly and laboriously, still retaining the solemn expression on his face.

"You may go, Oscar. Have the girl's luggage placed in her room."

"Yes, mum."

He touched his hat and then withdrew, leaving Jane Merrick with a frown upon her brow that was not caused by his seeming impertinence.

Presently a slight and graceful form darted through the opening in the hedge and approached the chair wherein Jane Merrick reclined.

"Oh, my dear, dear aunt!" cried Louise. "How glad I am to see you at last, and how good of you to let me come here!" and she bent over and kissed the stern, unresponsive face with an enthusiasm delightful to behold.

"This is Louise, I suppose," said Aunt Jane, stiffly. "You are welcome to Elmhurst."

"Tell me how you are," continued the girl, kneeling beside the chair and taking the withered hands gently in her own. "Do you suffer any? And are you getting better, dear aunt, in this beautiful garden with the birds and the sunshine?"

"Get up," said the elder woman, roughly. "You're spoiling your gown."

Louise laughed gaily.

"Never mind the gown," she answered. "Tell me about yourself. I've been so anxious since your last letter."

Aunt Jane's countenance relaxed a trifle. To speak of her broken health always gave her a sort of grim satisfaction.

"I'm dying, as you can plainly see," she announced. "My days are numbered, Louise. If you stay long enough you can gather wild flowers for my coffin."

Louise flushed a trifle. A bunch of butter-cups and forget-me-nots was fastened to her girdle, and she had placed a few marguerites in her hair.

"Don't laugh at these poor things!" she said, deprecatingly. "I'm so fond of flowers, and we find none growing wild in the cities, you know."

Jane Merrick looked at her reflectively.

"How old are you, Louise," she asked.

"Just seventeen, Aunt."

"I had forgotten you are so old as that. Let me see; Elizabeth cannot be more than fifteen."


"Elizabeth De Graf, your cousin. She arrived at Elmhurst this morning, and will be your companion while you are here."

"That is nice," said Louise.

"I hope you will be friends."

"Why not, Aunt? I haven't known much of my relations in the past, you know, so it pleases me to find an aunt and a cousin at the same time. I am sure I shall love you both. Let me fix your pillow--you do not seem comfortable. There! Isn't that better?" patting the pillow deftly. "I'm afraid you have needed more loving care than a paid attendant can give you," glancing at old Martha Phibbs, who stood some paces away, and lowering her voice that she might not be overheard. "But for a time, at least, I mean to be your nurse, and look after your wants. You should have sent for me before, Aunt Jane."

"Don't trouble yourself; Phibbs knows my ways, and does all that is required," said the invalid, rather testily. "Run away, now, Louise. The housekeeper will show you to your room. It's opposite Elizabeth's, and you will do well to make her acquaintance at once. I shall expect you both to dine with me at seven."

"Can't I stay here a little longer?" pleaded Louise. "We haven't spoken two words together, as yet, and I'm not a bit tired or anxious to go to my room. What a superb oleander this is! Is it one of your favorites, Aunt Jane?"

"Run away," repeated the woman. "I want to be alone."

The girl sighed and kissed her again, stroking the gray hair softly with her white hand.

"Very well; I'll go," she said. "But I don't intend to be treated as a strange guest, dear Aunt, for that would drive me to return home at once. You are my father's eldest sister, and I mean to make you love me, if you will give me the least chance to do so."

She looked around her, enquiringly, and Aunt Jane pointed a bony finger at the porch.

"That is the way. Phibbs will take you to Misery, the housekeeper, and then return to me. Remember, I dine promptly at seven."

"I shall count the minutes," said Louise, and with a laugh and a graceful gesture of adieu, turned to follow Martha into the house.

Jane Merrick looked after her with a puzzled expression upon her face.

"Were she in the least sincere," she muttered, "Louise might prove a very pleasant companion. But she's not sincere; she's coddling me to win my money, and if I don't watch out she'll succeed. The girl's a born diplomat, and weighed in the balance against sincerity, diplomacy will often tip the scales. I might do worse than to leave Elmhurst to a clever woman. But I don't know Beth yet. I'll wait and see which girl is the most desirable, and give them each an equal chance."
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