Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John is a juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum. It is the sixth of the ten volumes in the Aunt Jane's Nieces series, and continues the story of the three cousins Louise Merrick, Patsy Doyle, and Elizabeth De Graf. Like all the books of the series, it appeared under Baum's "Edith Van Dyne" pen name.
This sixth book picks up the continuing story three days after the wedding of Louise Merrick with Arthur Weldon, the event that concluded the previous fifth book, Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society. The new story starts when the cousins' uncle, John Merrick, has one of his inspirations: the family will escape the coming winter in New York City by taking a trip to southern California, the land of "sunshine and roses." Since Louise is on her honeymoon, she is effectively left out of the story; her place is taken by Major Doyle, Patsy's father. It is the first time that the Major accompanies Uncle John and the young women on one of their adventures. (The Major is relieved that Uncle John has set his fancy merely on California, and not on "Timbuktu or Yucatan...Ethiopia or Hindustan....")
The four travelers (accompanied by Mumbles, Patsy's new puppy) reach Denver by train; along the way, they meet an appealing teenage girl (14 or 15 years old) named Myrtle Dean. Myrtle is a poor orphan; she was injured in an automobile accident, which inhibited her ability to walk. She had been effectively abandoned by her family and sent to find a missing uncle named Anson Jones. Patsy and Beth are shocked at her situation; they adopt Myrtle as their "protege," and take her with them on their trip; they buy her new clothes, and she shares their hotels, meals, and adventures.
Uncle John buys a large, seven-passenger touring car and outfits it for camping and cross-country travel. He also hires a chauffeur, a half-Indian Quebecois named Wampus. The chauffeur provides some of the comic relief in the story, though he is also presented as highly competent, courageous, and principled, a "brave and true man."
The party sets off by car from Albuquerque. They visit the Grand Canyon and the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations; they witness a performance of the Hopi snake dance. In western Arizona they are waylaid by a group of riotous cowboys, who refuse to let them pass until the girls join them in a dance. In what grows into an ugly incident, the travelers are forced to acquiesce — at first; but Patsy and Beth, typically clever and resourceful, develop a plan to frustrate their opponents and escape.
The group reaches California, none the worse for wear; they are delighted with the change of scene. Myrtle Dean has proved a delightful and rewarding companion; her health has already shown signs of improvement with better diet, less anxiety, and the warmth of new friendships.
Myrtle, however, has been the center of a series of curious events. At the Grand Canyon, the travelers saw a morose-looking man standing on the very lip of the canyon; Myrtle, fearing that he intended to jump, cried out to him, and the man turned away from the edge. At San Diego, they once more see the strange man, standing on a cliff over the ocean; Myrtle once again fears his suicide, and calls out to him. The man turns out to be staying at the Coronado; his name is C. B. Jones. Myrtle happens upon him a third time, and takes away the revolver he has been brooding over in his room.
After these three incidents, the man becomes emotionally attached to, if not fixated upon, Myrtle. Uncle John's inquiries reveal that the man, Collanson Jones, is the "Anson" Jones who is Myrtle's missing uncle. Jones believed that his niece was dead; their happy reunion is the antidote to his deep melancholy. And since Jones has made his fortune in mining, Myrtle's financial future is secured.
Baum based much of the material in this book on a trip he and his wife took through the American Southwest in February and March 1904 — just as he had earlier relied on his 1906 trip to the Mediterranean and Egypt for his books Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad (1907) and The Last Egyptian (1908).
The travelers stay at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego once they reach California. This is a touch of autobiography: Baum and his wife regularly stayed at the Coronado during trips to California.
Baum employs another comic chauffeur in the final book in the series, Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross.
Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John bears some noteworthy resemblances to Baum's earlier novel Annabel (1906). Both books involve a missing rich man and a child unjustly suffering poverty; both plots depend heavily on coincidence, and both end with a nod to divine providence.
As with some of his other books, there are elements in Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John that violate modern standards of racial sensitivity and political correctness. Baum's view of the Indians of the Southwest is often negative: the Navaho are criticized for their "filth and laziness...." The Hopi (Baum calls them the "Moki") are presented somewhat more positively; their leaders speak "excellent English" and their snake dance is "unique" and "picturesque," though the girls find it "nauseating and offensive...."
The interlude at the reservations concludes when the chauffeur Wampus catches an Indian thief and sits on him until his employers return to their car. In Baum's words, "The chauffeur, partly an Indian himself, knew well how to manage his captive and quieted the fellow by squeezing his throat with his broad stubby fingers." Wampus threatens to torture and kill the would-be thief, and when Uncle John let the man go, Wampus tells him of the "mercy of Great White Chief."
Baum's choice of villains for his story is anything but stereotypical, and plays against readers' expectations. The malicious cowboys who intercept the travelers in western Arizona are, of all things, a crew of English "remittance men." They are the offspring of English gentry and aristocracy, who are paid by their families to live away from home, either for the crimes and scandals or simply because they are inconvenient younger sons in the traditional system of primogeniture. Uncle John calls them "mollycodddles and social drones...."
The leader of the remittance men is Algernon Tobey, "the fourth son of old Lord Featherbone," who "got into a disgraceful mess in London some years ago." The travelers confront the remittance men about their dissolute and disorderly way of life. Patsy argues with one man named Tim, telling him that he should forget about his meagre allowance, leave his barren ranch, and head for the growing cities of the West to build a new life through honest work. Tim, however, rejects this advice; ambition bores him, and he is content with what little pleasure he can squeeze out of his situation. Patsy gives up on Tim; "His world was not their world."
(Robert W. Service published his poem "The Rhyme of the Remittance Man" in his 1907 collection The Spell of the Yukon. Mark Twain wrote about a remittance man in his 1897 book Following the Equator.)
- ↑ Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; p. 131.
- ↑ Angelica Shirley Carpenter and Jean Shirley, L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz, Minneapolis, Lerner Publications, 1992; p. 77.
- ↑ Rogers, pp. 144, 152, 273 n. 54.
- ↑ See Father Goose and Father Goose's Year Book.