The current theme of this blog is an examination of Elsie J. Oxenham’s 39-book Abbey Girls series plus some Connectors, in reading order, focusing on the folk dance aspects they contain. With A11_The Abbey Girls Go Back to School, we hit the richest vein of description of Cecil Sharp and his teachers. This volume was published in 1922, and EJO may well have been planning or drafting it while she attended Sharp’s Vacation School at Cheltenham in 1920—it resonates with her now passionate involvement with English folk dance and her admiration of and attachment to Sharp and two of his teachers. If you are a folk dancer and can only read one Abbey Girl book (or wish to only read one!), this is the one to pick up. The book is dedicated thus: “To Helen Kennedy North and D.C. Daking with thanks for all they have given to me.” Helen Kennedy North (sister of Douglas Kennedy, who ran the EFDS after Sharp’s death) is found herein as “Madam” and Daisie Daking as “the Pixie.” [Read more…]
Archives for June 2020
We’ve finished the Retrospective Titles and are about to plunge into the mother lode of Elsie J. Oxenham’s depiction of folk dance with next week’s title, A11_The Abbey Girls Go Back to School, but before we attend Cecil Sharp’s Vacation School in Cheltenham, we’re going to make a detour to the Swiss Alps for a “Connector” tale: The Two Form Captains. Both of these books were published in 1921. Oxenham attended the four-week school in 1920 and may well have been planning or writing both books then.
The Two Form Captains was EJO’s 21st book, and it is the introduction to the five books known as the “Swiss Set.” It is not in the Abbey series but it introduces two characters whom the Abbey Girls meet in A11. They are also referred to in other books and one shows up later, as an adult dance teacher, in A31_An Abbey Champion. The Swiss Set also intersects with the “Sussex Set” and the “Woody Dean Set.” This wandering of characters in and out of each other’s books is one of the charms of EJO’s world, just as real people connect, fade away, and reconnect. It is also one of the fun aspects for the reader—can you figure out these relationships? [Read more…]
You might be reading this post in an unprecedented state of lockdown or at least of social isolation. But contagious diseases have been around as long as people have. Measles and, to a lesser extent, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and chicken pox are an important backdrop in Elsie J. Oxenham’s world and appear frequently. These highly infectious diseases are a Very Useful Plot Device for a novelist! They are more useful than, say, a heavy snowfall or a flood as these latter situations can usually be resolved relatively quickly: roads are opened and floodwaters recede. Instead, contagious diseases can uproot or close a school for a lengthy period of time; they can separate characters or cause them to have to go into quarantine and miss school. A character’s reaction to a disease can also tell us something about her. Elsie J. Oxenham’s approach to contagion and quarantine seems quaint and almost benign in our world of the Covid-19 pandemic. [Read more…]
Appearing in 1957 and the third-to-the-last book to be published prior to Elsie J. Oxenham’s death, A10_Tomboys at the Abbey is, mercifully, the last of the Retrospective Titles. With one important exception, it is a weak installment: repetitive and unconvincing. There is nothing in it for folk dancers, so if that is your principal interest in this blog, you can stop reading right now!
The exception, however, is an extremely interesting one that is not addressed in any of EJO’s other works, as far as I know; in Tomboys, characters successfully advocate for a girl to be able to pursue her career even after marriage. [Read more…]