Sunday, April 22, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross

And now for the last Aunt Jane's Nieces book. It's been fun going over one of L. Frank Baum's non-fantasy series, and maybe I'll do it again soon.

I have two copies of Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross. The one you see in the above photo on the left is from 1915, as based on a gift inscription inside. The one on the right is from about 1918. It is still from Reilly & Britton, who would become Reilly & Lee shortly afterward.

The 1915 version was the first vintage Aunt Jane's Nieces book I bought as I found it for sale online for only $5, and it is worth so much more. Not only does it have its dustjacket, but the cover is also clean and the pages have barely yellowed. I noticed a spot where it looked like the page cracked somehow, but that was it. Very minimal damage and age has been quite kind to it! If I ever sold my Baum collection, I could bet on this one being a big seller. (No, I'm NOT interested in selling.)

The 1918 version hasn't been so lucky. The cover is quite dingy, the pages have yellowed, and the inner half of the front endpaper is missing.

So, why do I have two copies? We'll get to that.

The book finds A. (okay, they actually call him "Ajo," short for A. Jones) and Maud Stanton coming to visit Patsy, Beth, and Uncle John in their New York home. Maud is taking leave from her acting to serve in the Red Cross tending to those injured the war overseas, and Ajo is going to use his yacht, the Arabella, as a hospital ship. They convince Patsy, Beth, and Uncle John to join them.

Time for some history: in 1914, about the time Baum would have been writing the book, other countries were at war with Germany. The United States of America was hesitant to get involved, in fact, we didn't join the fight until 1917, making this war that we ignored overseas World War I.

Uncle John is hesitant to get involved. Quite possibly one of the best exchanges of dialogue in Baum's work occurs in this book:
"Foreigners," said Uncle John weakly.
"Human beings," said the boy.
 Right there, Baum makes his stance clear: it doesn't matter if these people are American or Belgian or French or German: they are people and that's why they deserve help.

A skilled but disfigured surgeon called Dr. Gys joins the company. They stock up on medical supplies and after getting the proper documentation, head overseas to serve with the Red Cross for what will be three months.

Baum makes a rare anti-drug statement through Dr. Gys when Beth praises the effects of morphine for patients:
"Morphine," he replied, "has destroyed more people than it has saved. You play with fire when you feed it to anyone, under any circumstances. Nevertheless, I believe in its value on an expedition of this sort, and that is why I loaded up on the stuff. Let me advise you never to tell a patient that we are administering morphine. The result is all that he is concerned with and it is better he should not know what has relieved him."
During their time overseas, they are aided by a Belgian they call Maurie who says he's been separated from his wife and children because of the war. However, they discover his wife and her two children during their time overseas and she claims he's a scoundrel and spy. They don't believe her until one night he disappears with a German prisoner of war who was being treated on the ship, which causes them to fall out of favor with the local authorities.

Patsy helps a seemingly fatally-wounded soldier find his missing wife, and Dr. Gys makes a surgical experiment and manages to help the man recover.

Dr. Gys himself claims to be cowardly and wants to redeem himself. A few times, he has acted boldly and rashly around the soldiers. However, he knows he is of more service tending the ill and wounded and helping death come easily to those he cannot save. However, he makes no secret that he longs to die and be rid of his disfigured body.

Baum doesn't lighten up at all in this story: this is war. This isn't funny. This isn't happy. The tone is keenly felt throughout the book.

Finally, one day they are stationed just outside a battlefield and Patsy and Dr. Gys are trying to help a wounded man back to the ship when a piece of shrapnel kills Dr. Gys. Having had enough of the war, realizing more help will be coming from other countries, and noting they have lost their most valuable asset in Dr. Gys, they decide to return home.

That ending was all right for the neutral America in 1915, but when America entered the war in 1917, it smacked of poor taste. Basically, war was viewed as a wasteful thing, and the girls were simply commended for being unselfish in a matter that shouldn't have concerned them.

Not only was America involved with World War I in 1917, Baum's family was involved as two of his sons were serving in the war. The ending of the book was now no longer relevant, and it furthermore dated it, meaning sales of future copies would be low.

So, Baum revised the ending. That is why I have two copies: these are the two different versions. Tip for collectors, the first version has 20 chapters, while the second has 24 and the copyright page lists copyrights for both 1915 and 1918. Any version published by Reilly & Lee would be the later version.

The new version seems to have been released silently and it was not a big reissue. The only changes in front matter are the copyright page and the table of contents which looks cramped compared with past books. I didn't compare the books fully, but if there were any text edits before chapter 20, they were done very carefully so few new plates needed to be prepared, because all the paging is exactly the same.

The story is the same as before, until they arrive at the battlefield where Dr. Gys met his end in the original version. Here, instead of Patsy trying to get to a fallen soldier, they see a cameraman boldly taking footage of the war. A shell lands near him, ruining his camera and injuring him badly. Dr. Gys braves the field and recovers the cameraman and his film.

The cameraman is named Charlie Holmes and used to work with Maud in her movie studio. However, his injuries require him to have an arm amputated. He puts the best face he can on it.

Uncle John thinks Dr. Gys is being too rash and bold and putting many of them in unnecessary danger. Ajo thinks Uncle John is still against helping the wounded, but the old man is thinking nothing of the sort:
"No, said he, "we won't go home. We'll merely behave ourselves. I wasn't much interested in this venture at first, but the sacred mission on which we have embarked has grown upon me day by day; I am beginning to understand the horrors of war as I never imagined they could exist, and I thank God that we have had the opportunity to save so many brave men from suffering and perhaps death. I was drawn into this enterprise against my wish, as you will remember, but now that I'm in it, I mean to stay in it! My duty is here, in these stricken countries devastated by German cruelty, and I'm glad to be able to furnish brains and money to mitigate the suffering this inhuman war is causing to the poor soldiers and sailors who do their duty and ask no questions, but are crushed between the millstones of national diplomacy. They are my brothers, and, please God, I'll stand by them to the end. If you want to go home, Jones, take your ship and go. If any of the rest of you care to desert, go—now or whenever you please. But understand this: John Merrick is on the job just as long as he can be of use to his fellow creatures."
Applause for Mr. Baum there.

They continue their work and soon borrow a second skilled surgeon named Godrayal, who considers Gys to be lacking in skill. (Godrayal is credited with replacing a man's leg with that of another.) One day, while working on the fields, Gys is injured and is only semi-conscious. Godrayal not only operates on him, but attempts to restore his features from his old disfigurement. And, to the surprise of all, the experiment is successful and a very handsome Gys is the result.

The book tells us they were serving in the war yet, Maud and Charlie Holmes getting engaged to each other, and Beth soon falls in love with Dr. Gys and they are engaged as well. As almost a footnote, we are informed Patsy and Ajo begin to fall in love as well, and it is just as well that Uncle John "lost" Patsy to a husband last as she was his favorite. And then: THE END.

Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross was the final book in the series, despite it being one of the best selling series for Baum and Reilly & Britton. Given the serious tone and how the girls put aside their playful nature and work hard, further adventures would only feel like steps backward for the characters. In the revised version, even Uncle John has finally "grown up."

Being struck by how mature Baum could be after reading so many of his juveniles and all his adult novels, this one was really sobering and I'm putting it forward as one of Baum's best books. The character development over the series isn't the smoothest or the best, but here, Baum proved he could make his characters mature and stay in character. This was quite an accomplishment for any writer and Baum handled it well, even though I suspect his failing health and stress over his family in the war were a huge factor in the revision.

Oddly enough, it is the 1915 edition's text that comes up online these days and used in the poorly-done print on demand editions. Those may be typeset well and may be well-bound, but they do not include the original pictures and few use the original cover pictures. That was why when I decided to collect the series, I went for old editions. And I feel sure that insisting on older editions taught me quite a bit about the series' history.

Edith Van Dyne would continue with the new Mary Louise series, the first five of which are by Baum. (I think I have heard the fifth might be largely rewritten.) After Baum's death, this series was continued briefly. However, I don't own all of these yet. I'm keeping an eye out, though.

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