Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation is a juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum. It is the seventh in the ten volumes in the Aunt Jane's Nieces series, and carries forward the continuing story of the three cousins Lousie Merrick Weldon, Patsy Doyle, and Elizabeth De Graf. Like all the books in the series, it was issued under Baum's "Edith Van Dyne" pseudonym.
The novel returns to Millville, the setting for the series' third installment, Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville. Supporting and minor characters from that earlier book recur in this seventh volume.
Temporally, the seventh novel occurs in the following summer, after the third. A strict consistency would demand that the events of the intervening three books all occur in the winter between those two summers — but Baum is not terribly concerned with such consistency. Time is more condensed as well as more flexible in the fictional world of the cousins.
In Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation, three years have elapsed since the start of the series. Louise is seventeen years old in the first book, and twenty in the seventh, though six years of real time have passed between the volumes. Curiously, Baum makes the other cousins younger than they should be in a strict chronology: in the first book, Patsy is about a year younger than Louise, but here in on Vacation she is "more than two years the junior...."
Baum no doubt kept Patsy and Beth young so that the books' readers would find it easier to maintain a sympathy with them. (Characters in popular television shows and comic strips are impervious to normal aging in the same way.)
Uncle John and his nieces travel to Millville on their private railroad car. They are accompanied by Louise's new husband Arthur Weldon, and unwittingly by an amiable hobo who hitches a ride on the outside of their carriage. Once ensconced at their farmhouse, Uncle John opines that the only comfort missing is a morning paper. In the discussion that follows, the girls decide to start their own local newspaper. Arthur Weldon is amazed when their uncle supports their unrealistic plan; Uncle John calls his New York banker and orders a complete printing plant, with all necessities, to be sent to them. The girls appoint themselves editors, with Patsy in charge overall; Uncle John hires typesetters and a pressman and other staff, including the amiable hobo, who calls himself Thursday Smith, and a young but veteran newspaper sketch artist named Hetty Hewitt. Soon their Millville Tribune issues its first edition.
The girl journalists report on the small-town doings of the local residents. They run into problems with a corrupt local politician, and also with the manager of a nearby sawmill and his rowdy workers. The workers riot in town and even try to blow up the newspaper office. The girls persevere, however, and maintain their paper through the summer. When the season ends and they return to new York City, they pass their paper to Thursday Smith and Hetty Hewitt, who marry and continue the Tribune as a family enterprise.
The news business
Baum drew heavily upon his knowledge and experience in the news business, earned in his years with The Aberdeen Pioneer. Yet he never pretends that the girls' newspaper is a practical enterprise. Arthur Weldon calculates that in its second month in business, the Millville Tribune lost 88 cents on every copy of the penny paper sold.
When Weldon questions Uncle John on his willingness to finance the girls' "plaything," this "incomprehensible eccentricity," Merrick explains his motives. He eventually plans to make the three girls the heirs to his fortune: each will someday command millions of dollars. "I'm educating my girls to be energetic and self-reliant," he says at one point; and the newspaper is one teaching tool in practical affairs and worldly work.
When the cousins relinquish their paper, it shifts from a daily to a weekly periodical, which gives it at least some hope of financial viability.
The novel delivers a version of the duel story that surfaces elsewhere in Baum lore. In this story, Louise reports on Molly Sizer's birthday party, but her report contains an unfortunate typographical error: what Louise called Molly's "roguish smile" is printed as her "roughish smile." For revenge, Molly's thuggish brother Bill wants to horsewhip Arthur Weldon, whom the girls have listed first on the paper's masthead (though he has almost no connection with the paper). The local justice of the peace interferes, and structures the confrontation as an old-fashioned duel: Sizer runs away, and Weldon is left the apparent victor.
Thursday Smith suffers from amnesia in this book, just as Lucy Rogers does in Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work. Baum pictures amnesia not only as wiping out the sufferer's past experience, but also restoring him to a state of moral and ethical innocence — the same way the Water of Oblivion functions in the Oz books.