Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society

On to book 5!

My copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society is strange. It's from 1915 or later (it's still attributed to Reilly & Britton and the advertisement inside lists all ten books in the series), but the pastedown image is incorrect. The image looks like it would match the story (until you read it and find no corresponding scene), but it's actually the front cover image for Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West. This is the actual front cover for In Society (I don't own this cover, it's actually from March Hare Books' website):
In addition, my copy doesn't have a frontispiece.
That's what you see!
However, I had previously bought a later Reilly & Lee edition with an extremely simplified cover design. It did have the correct frontispiece. I have donated that and the other latter Reilly & Lee Aunt Jane's Nieces books I'd picked up to the International Wizard of Oz Club's auctions, but before packing it up, I scanned the frontispiece. I got it reproduced, so I can tip it in.
The frontispiece must have come loose, or it was removed, or for some reason, Reilly & Britton didn't include it, either as a cost-cutting measure or mine was an error.

Now for the story!

Mrs. Merrick—Louise's mother—thinks the nieces (especially Louise) should become socialites and move in New York's big social circles. Uncle John isn't so hot on the idea, but does what he can. Leading socialite Diana Von Taer befriends the nieces and introduces them to high society.

However, the stake of jealousy comes between Diana and Louise: Louise's fiance Arthur Weldon. Diana wants him and attempts to shame Louise, and when that doesn't work, she gets her cousin, Charlie Mershome, a social black sheep, to try to win Louise away from Arthur. Louise does not return his attempts, but he falls in love with her.

Finally, Charlie is frustrated at this rebuff and has Louise kidnapped and taken to a safe house in New Jersey. Uncle John manages to keep the press away from the scandal and detectives are hired to try to find Louise. Eventually, links in Mershone's chain of secrets snap and everything comes to an exciting finish.

This book made me begin to wonder how the Aunt Jane's Nieces series were written. A story about the socialites of New York hardly seems a subject Baum would go for, but he does. In fact, I almost wondered if this "Edith Van Dyne" book was actually by Baum until we got to the climatic ending which was definitely Baum. I imagine Baum must have grown tired of a socialite story himself and introduced the kidnapping plot.

Really, I found the socialites plot to be underdeveloped. It feels like Diana is going to try to make Louise look bad, but I guess a cat fight didn't interest Baum, so he goes another direction. After all, he was a feminist, so he probably had second thoughts about putting even fictional young women's reputations at stake. (Note how in Oz, Jinjur gets redeemed.)

However, the whole socialite plot really undercut Baum's strong female characters that he'd developed previously. It's not that it's bad, but now we have Patsy, Beth and Louise doing girly things, and during the kidnapping plot, the strongest characters are male. There is a strong female character in Cerise, an elderly French woman who cares for Louise while she's being held hostage, but as she's only secondary, she isn't developed much.

So, pretty much I felt the subject of Society worked against the series' characters in this case. But there is something that changes the series from here on out: Louie quickly marries Arthur in the end. So, does that mean Louise is going to sit out for the second half of the series? We'll see.

But not just now. I'm reading W. W. Denslow by Douglas Greene and Michael Patrick Hearn.

No comments: