Our Landlady

Our Landlady

Our Landlady

Our Landlady

Synopsis

From January 1890 to February 1891 Baum wrote a column entitled "Our Landlady" that ran regularly in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. In all, he wrote forty-eight installments, each treating with practiced naivete the problems facing the brand-new state of South Dakota. Through his fictional landlady, Sairy Ann Bilkins, Baum commented on drought, railroads, suffrage, prairie populism, the Ghost Dance Movement, prohibition, and dozens of other matters. Together, the "Our Landlady" columns constitute a satirical history of South Dakota's troubled first year. Baum's genius as a fiction writer can be clearly seen in four of his recurring characters. Mrs. Bilkins runs for mayor, alternately feeds and starves her boarders, and keeps track of everybody else's business. She harbors a secret passion for one of her boarders, the cigar-smoking Colonel. She nags Tom, the clerk who habitually fails to pay his rent. She chides the Doctor about the flimflammery of American medicine.

Excerpt

Since 1900 and the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum's life and writings have been scrutinized for clues that would unlock the meaning of this enduring American fairy tale. Overlooked in the search have been the author's South Dakota writings, most of which appeared in a rare newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. As a consequence, biographical and critical studies have sketched rather than studied Baum's literary and political apprenticeship on the western frontier. From the sparse data, scholars have then generalized about the nature of Baum's western years and writings, leading to the chronic mistakes concerning the author's life and politics that mar most critical and interpretive discussions. This annotated edition of the author's 1890-91 "Our Landlady" columns makes the most significant portion of Baum's western writings available to readers and attempts to correct some long-standing misconceptions about the author's experiences in the West.

Only cursory or heavily clichéd references to Baum's three years (1888-91) in South Dakota occur in many scholarly treatments of the author's work. A standard discussion usually takes up a paragraph or, at best, a page. It includes the information that he came west as a storekeeper, failed, and then took over a newspaper, which likewise failed. Often added to these bare bones is a mention that he wrote the satirical "Our Landlady" series and experienced firsthand the agrarian unrest that took place in the area at the time. On these bald statements alone, critics have "documented" Baum's sympathy for the farmer and, in fact, have metamorphosed the author himself into an agrarian radical or Populist to support a reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a political commentary. As I quickly found out when I began reading his newspaper, however, Baum considered himself a traditional Republican, and his view of the farmers' problems was often as critical as it was sympathetic.

Scholars less interested in politics have tended to emphasize other stereotypical concepts of Baum's frontier experience. Assuming that his description of Kansas at the beginning of The Wizard is actually a stand-in for Dakota, they have concluded that Baum's western years must have been bleak, isolated, and deprived -- akin to the well-known experiences of Hamlin Garland a few years earlier. In this scenario the local townspeople become country bumpkins, yokels, rubes, and other stereotypes of rural Americans. This concept has been especially prevalent in popular treatments. For example, the N B C made-for-TV movie Dreamer of Oz (1990), based on Baum's life, "re-created" an Aberdeen . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.