Published in 1933, Rosamund’s Victory, subtitled “A Romance of the Abbey Girls,” is set in February to March of 1929 and occurs immediately after A20_The Abbey Girls on Trial, and semi-concurrently with A21_Biddy’s Secret. It is an important installment in the story because it introduces the Kane family and its complicated family tree. It also a showcase for Rosamund Kane, who is, as I have mentioned, my favorite of the heroines. Here we see her loving, attentive, and determined—a strong character going through some challenging times and winning through.
There is no folk dancing, alas. Too many more important things going on.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Two young women wearing leather coats and broad-brimmed hats stop outside a duplex cottage called The Rose and Squirrel that offers teas and lunches and hand-crafted goods. They are Lisabel Durrant and Rena Mackay—remember them? We met them in A12_Jen of the Abbey School—and they are trained gardeners who are going to put the garden of an empty nearby estate in order. They beg for tea and then for beds for the night from Rosamund Kane. Tall, pretty and blonde, 23-year old Rosamund tells them that she is expecting a baby in a day or two—hearty laugh!—he is her “step-brother” (half-brother) and is six weeks old and will be coming to live with her shortly. A year or so prior to the opening of this story, Rosamund’s 60-year old father married Eleanor, the middle of three young sisters, two of whom Audrey and Elspeth, keep The Squirrel (the tea house) while Rosamund runs The Rose (the craft shop). Rosamund somewhat jokingly refers to them as her aunts. Eleanor and the baby are currently in London.
Rena and Lisabel reveal that their employer is Mrs. Thorburn, a young widow who has been left a large property near The Rose and Squirrel. They are professional gardeners and are going to put the grounds in order. Rena offers to prune Rosamund’s roses for her in return for her hospitality. They admire the drawings of the Abbey and the photos of the Marchwood twins and the other Abbey children, and end up spending the night at The Rose. Eighteen-year old “aunt” Elspeth shows up and tells them how much Rosamund hates it that her step-mother is no older than herself. She tells Rosamund that 29-year old Audrey is engaged—she hadn’t known that she cared but as soon as he asked, she realized that she did. (This is a very typical reaction for the young women in these novels!) Rosamund reveals that there is a little cottage behind the inn and close to The Rose and Squirrel—she’d like to renovate it and have that be a place for boarders and for the teas, giving the Rose more room for young Roderick’s nursery. With these mentions of the property and the cottage, Elsie is expanding her imaginary landscape to support future plot-lines.
Audrey brings the baby to the cottage and gives him to Rosamund saying that he is hers. The mother has selfishly gone away to stay with her posh friends, meaning that she is not nursing the baby. This is a definite no-no in Abbey Land, and a tell that Eleanor is not a suitable mother! Abbey Girls nurse their babies! Jen, Lady Marchwood, even notes jokingly that once one of her babies turns one year old (meaning that she has weaned the baby), people will start asking her to resume her public life, which is part of why she has so many children. Rosamund mentions Jenny-Wren, now Lady Marchwood, and Rena says that she knows her! Jen had danced morris jigs for the invalid boy who later died. Later she reveals that the boy’s brother, Rex Courtney, has repeatedly asked her to marry him and she has refused, thinking that it is all a joke. She also feels a need to take care of Lisabel, who is needy and can often get “slack.” The girls make it very clear that it is expected by all that a woman will give up her career when she marries, and that neither of them is ready to do so. Lisabel has some unexplained chip on her shoulder about romance. Rufus Courtney, the elder brother, shows up and proposes finally to Rena—she couldn’t talk about her feelings for him until he spoke. Rufus is now a doctor. He also reveals that Mrs. Thorburn is going to remarry—an American—and, because the estate of Rocklands in Yorkshire really belonged to his father’s side of the family, she is giving it to him as the eldest; his younger sister and brother will each get 500 pounds a year. Rufus proposes to run a sanatorium for people with the same disease as Wriggles and find a way to cure it. Rena will now be taking care of her own gardens. The next day, Rex shows up and proposes to Lisabel, who is the girl he wanted all along.
Rosemary reveals that she intends to adopt Roderic, to keep him from being spoiled by his selfish and capricious mother. She tells Jen that she feels it important to give him the same spirit of the Abbey that Joy and Jen gave her. She also reveals that he is the third in line to an earldom—while we had a little hint of this at the end of the last installment, this is the first concrete mention of the family of the Earl of Kentisbury. She doesn’t simply want to take care of him for Eleanor—if he does become an Earl she knows that Eleanor will want to take him back for the glamor of it, and that that would ruin him as she would alternately spoil and ignore him. Lady Jen says that she and Lady Joy will stand behind her. Eleanor appears and is presented as a fluffy, blonde, gold-digger. They discuss Roderick over and over and Eleanor finally capitulates and says she’ll meet with the lawyer—but leaves the house in the middle of the night to go to her friends in London, with whom she is about to leave the country without resolving the adoption issue. Rosamund calls up Jen who motors over with her husband. They pick up the lawyer, who is sympathetic, and race to London to confront Eleanor, who finally signs the adoption papers. Victory!
A few days later, the Hon. Geoffrey Kane, the invalid who is second in line to the title, asks to see Roderic, and Rosamund and the baby spend the afternoon with him and quite captivate him. At the end of the story, Joy comments that Rosamund is a “’fairy-tale heroine of romance. We shall see her reigning over that castle yet.’ (256)” While prescient, this is a little ruthless (although a reader unaware of the rules of entail wouldn’t pick up on it) as it implies a sad ending to the Little Earl’s story, as we will find out below.
The Kanes of Kentisbury
Rosamund’s romance and some of the plot lines of the later Second Generation titles are intertwined with the family tree and inheritance structure of the Kane family, the head of which is the Earl of Kentisbury. The inheritance is “entailed,” an old form of estate law that ensured that the title, money, and property went to (typically) the eldest son, rather than being subdivided among all sons or even among all children. Daughters would receive marriage portions, and younger sons perhaps an allowance, but generally those younger sons had to make their own way in life, which is why so many went into the military services or emigrated to the colonies to make their own fortunes. Since an entail is family-specific, the rules were not always the same from one entail agreement to another, but most were similar to what we are going to see here, and to what we see in Pride & Prejudice, when Mrs. Bennet cannot wrap her head around the fact that when her husband dies, the property all goes to the distant relative, Mr. Collins, rather than to her and her daughters. Like measles quarantines, entails are extremely useful plot devices! They were much used by, for example, mystery writers of the Golden Age, because the resolution of an entailed inheritance (or the motive for the murder) often involves the appearance of that long-lost second cousin whose father went off to Australia, Canada, or some other distant land. Lawyers could spend years trying to track down sons of younger sons.
So pay attention, Mrs. Bennet!
The general rule is that the title and all that goes with it goes from father to eldest son to his eldest son and so on down. If the youngest heir dies without issue, the title would go first to the next oldest son of his father and if there is none, it goes back up and sideways, generation after generation up to the original founder of the entail, until it finds the next eligible male. You could sit there toiling away in obscure but genteel poverty for years and then, suddenly, when everyone with a Y chromosome ahead of you in line has hopped the twig, boom! You scoop the pot and get to Little Lord Fauntleroy it all over the place.
The Kane family has a relatively high rate of male mortality, and its men seem to marry and father children late—EJO could be ruthless when it suited her plotting! The Kane family tree is also much, much more complicated than what we see here—Oxenham expanded it over the years to accommodate other story lines—but we’re only going to focus on the part of it that affects Rosamund’s story in this installment as well as the next few coming up.
I am indebted to Ruth Allen of the Elsie J. Oxenham Society for this tree and the dates associated with it. Ruth based it on EJO’s hand-written notes as well as her own close reading of the stories. Click on the image to see it bigger.
The Old Earl is 86 and dying. The heir is Geoff, the teenaged eldest son of the Earl’s eldest son. Since his father died recently in an aircraft testing incident, Geoff’s title is currently Viscount Verriton, but when his grandfather dies he will be known as “the Little Earl.” If young Geoff dies without issue, and since he has no younger brother, the succession goes up one generation to the invalid and middle-aged Geoffrey, his uncle, who is Geoff’s heir. (If Geoff lives to marry, Uncle Geoffrey will immediately be demoted to “heir apparent,” since Geoff could then have a son of his own—this is why Mr. Elton is so anxious to ingratiate himself with Sir William in Persuasion: he is only the heir apparent as Sir William could still re-marry and father an heir.) If invalid Geoffrey dies without fathering a son, the title goes up another generation to the Old Earl’s next younger brother’s side of the family. This brother is Rosamund’s grandfather’s branch of the tree. The title would then flow down to his grandson, little Roderic Geoffrey. Rosamund tells us that she never mentioned this relationship before because the possibility of her father inheriting seemed so remote while the elder Lord Verriton was alive. EJO expands the Kane family tree further in later stories, in part to bring in younger generations of girls as the older Abbey girls age out and spend more time with their families, and in part because she wrote other inter-connected stories about the Kane family. We will later discover, for example, that the elder Viscount Verriton and the Hon. Geoffrey Kane had a brother between them who went to America, and who for one week inherited the title—but we’re going to ignore him and his four daughters for now, since EJO hadn’t invented him yet. (If he had had a son, that boy would have been next in line after his father, with Uncle Geoffrey then coming in fourth place.) The Kanes pride themselves on being tall and fair and of having the tradition of using Geoffrey and Rose/Rhoda/Rosalie/Rosamund in every name, thus sowing the seeds of confusion in the reader! (Wait until we get to Rosamund’s children!)
You’re clear now? The succession is young Geoff the Little Earl, then invalid Uncle Geoffrey, then baby Roderic Geoffrey. If all three of them are wiped out in some cataclysmic event, the title goes up to the Old Earl’s grandfather’s line of younger sons (the Old Earl had no other younger brothers) and thence down to a young man, Wilfred Geoffrey, refreshingly called Bill, who appears in the story cycle and doesn’t mind being bumped downwards in the succession by the birth of the baby because he wants to serve in the Royal Navy.
Why are we going into this family tree in such detail? Well, because quite a few installments in the Abbey Girls series will address it. Some people will be jealous of others because of baby Roderic’s appearance and Geoffrey’s eventual marriage. There will be a Kidnapping of the Heir (Which one? Won’t tell yet.)
For Folk Dancers
This episode contains no actual folk dancing, although Rena whistles the tunes of the morris dance Trunkles and the country dance Christchurch Bells. She reveals that she did some dancing when she was younger and then had a week at a Christmas School in London. Rosamund says that she has been to a lot of schools: “’all our crowd are very keen’ (77).” Rena asks if she has her silver badge “’You said you’d had ‘some training’ in cookery, and later we found that meant a first-class diploma. Does ‘quite a lot of dancing’ mean an Advanced Certificate?’ (77)” Rosamund says only Advanced Country—she hasn’t done nearly enough morris for the silver badge. Badges and certificates were part of the Sharp-conceived certification process, a mechanism to standardize teaching points and skills. Certification was dropped around World War II.
There is discussion of beautiful crafts and yellow pottery on green tablecloths and green pottery on yellow tablecloths—Elsie Oxenham had a very strong eye for color and beauty and it shows here. Rosamund sings a few verses of Kitty Alone and I and Dance to your Daddy to the baby. Here’s a great version of the latter song.