Gentle Reader, like some of Mr. Collins’ delicate compliments to the ladies, this blog has been long in the making; I did not start posting until I felt that I had about 80% of each of the book’s summary and analysis written, and that process took several years. Some 80 per cents were more complete than others! Then, each week, I refine the post, which can be quite time-consuming. But this combination of long gestation and weekly challenge has given me some deeper insights into characters and actions. One character that I have had as much difficulty in liking as I did Miss Emma Woodhouse, is that of Joy Shirley, now the dowager Lady Marchwood. This installment is hers, though it is not told from her point of view, and she does not necessarily appear to advantage in it. Next week’s post—God willin’ and the crick don’t rise—will be about Joy. So now I have seven days to pull those thoughts together!
Published in 1935, A24_Joy’s New Adventure; A Romance of the Abbey Girls, is set in June through August of 1930. The word “romance” tells you that there is going to be little or no folk dancing—our focus is on different things.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Sixteen-year-old Abigail Ann Alwyn, known as Gail, is on a train down to the village of Whiteways. Gail is the orphaned grand-daughter of the famous composer Frederick Alwyn, who wrote progressive music that no one—at least no Abbey Girl—likes or understands. He died recently and Gail is now the ward of the famous conductor Sir Ivor Quellyn. Without discussing it with her, Sir Ivor has sent her to the village to attend the music school for girls that Lady Joy Marchwood runs. Gail does not want to attend and does not want to be a concert pianist as her grandfather intended. She contemplates running away. At a halt, the train compartment door opens (must be the old kind where the carriages did not connect) and a tall girl with blond hair in buns over her ears bursts in and welcomes Gail. She is Rosamund Kane.
Rosamund fills Gail in on the backstory; Lady Marchwood is not old as Gail had imagined, but young, scarcely thirty, and the mother of twin girls. Her husband had been killed while on safari—Joy was in fact engaged, married, widowed, and a mother all within one year—and Lady Joy has taken to doing good works in the village with her music school and a crafts center and so on. (This is in fact one of Oxenham’s repeated visions of a cooperative community of artists and artisans all run by a benevolent queen.) She takes Gail through the Abbey, and we know that the visitor is the right sort because she responds to its beauty. Gail confesses that she does not want to go to the music school and must tell Lady Marchwood so right away, and Rosamund urges her to give it a try. She then takes Gail to see Lady Jen, whose fourth child is just three weeks old.
Jen greets them warmly and tells Rosamund that she is sorry about the news—Rosamund doesn’t know what news she is talking about. And now we hear that the prediction made at the end of the last installment has come true—the young Earl of Kentisbury has gone out on a motorbike at night after he had been forbidden to, and been killed. The new Earl is his uncle, Geoffrey the invalid, and Rosamund’s baby half-brother is now the heir presumptive. Rosamund reveals that Geoffrey wants to marry her and she would like that but hates the idea of being a Countess. She also fears that she will not be able to keep Roderick at the cottage, since he has become more important to the succession. Jen is not happy about Rosamund marrying an invalid twenty years older than herself—and here there is a veiled hint that she wants Rosamund to be able to have children—but urges her to follow her heart. Rosamund goes into the Manor to make a phone call.
Suddenly screams fill the air and Gail, followed more slowly by Jen, rushes off. A small shed is on fire. In front of it, seven-year-old Andrew Marchwood (Jen and Ken’s eldest son) is holding down a struggling seven-year old Margaret Marchwood (one of Joy’s twin daughters) so that she can’t enter the burning shed. She is screaming for Elizabeth, who is inside it.
Gail rushes into the shed, brings out the unconscious Tony Marchwood (five, and Jen’s second son) and goes back in. She brings out Elizabeth-Twin, whose hair and clothes are on fire, and beats out the flames with her hands.
The children have been playing at Camp Fire, and lit some candles inside the wood shed that was littered with wood shavings. It was (of course) the twins’ idea. Sir Kenneth Marchwood finally says what some Readers have been thinking for quite some time, which is that the twins are brats and should be spanked and he won’t be responsible for them again. The children are uninjured, but Gail is badly burned—one finger will always be crooked and she will not be able to play music in public. Maidlin returns to the Hall from a visit to her Italian relatives and she and Gail become good friends. (In the cover illustration above, Maidlin, the Primrose Queen, is in the yellow dress and Gail, with her red-brown curls, in white.)
—Here I digress to meditate on the Marchwood twins, of whom I am not overly fond. Margaret, in particular, has a form of attention deficit disorder: she is flighty and impulsive and can’t stick to anything regular. In her grief over her loss of her husband, Joy has spoiled them terribly, and the omniscient narrator and several of the characters are aware of this. Occasionally in the series a character will call Joy out on some poor parenting technique. The twins are useful to the author because they create some kind of havoc that creates the tension or conflict that a story needs. If you are a girl visitor, beware! You are likely to suffer grievous bodily harm in protecting the brats from some predicament that they created themselves. The twins also represent the negative side of Joy, the side that used to be called the Wild Cat that Walks on its Own. And here, as I meditate, I see that EJO is also cleverly setting the twins up with their Problem—as I wrote some posts ago, each of the principal girls has a Problem that she must resolve in order to become happy. Some Problems are externally-focused, such as Jen’s coping with the loss of her parents. Rosamund’s Problem will similarly be the external one of her future marriage and what that entails. But some Problems are internal, and Maidlin and Joy have these. Maidlin is almost done solving her Problem—while still a bit over-sensitive and artistic, she is now quite capable of taking care of herself and others, and of understanding and forgiving Joy’s negative side while still loving her. So, in re-reading Joy’s New Adventure last night I noticed that EJO subtly linked the dead young Earl and the two girls lying in bed after the fire as equal cases of “disastrous self will.” Elizabeth and especially Margaret will have to learn self-control, empathy, and compassion before they reach their goal. It will be a long journey!—
Joy and Jen take care of Gail, whom they call Abbey Gail or Abbey Gale (she is hot-tempered). Meanwhile, Sir Ivor comes to visit. It is clear to Gail and Maidlin that he and Joy are interested in each other. Joy is over-excited. The over-sensitive Maidlin begins to feel neglected by Joy and uncomfortable with Ivor’s focus on her voice. Ivor raves over the improvement in her voice and says that she now sings as a woman (her voice has taken on new maturity after her growth in taking care of Biddy in France), and Joy becomes increasingly jealous and insecure about his affections. One night, upon Maid’s return from running her Camp Fire, her cloak falls off and there she is in her gown and beads and beautiful hair. Ivor is impressed and clearly admires her as a man admires a beautiful woman. Joy imperiously says: “‘Maidlin! You did it on purpose! Go to bed at once!’”
—Here I think that if I were a Girl Reader I wouldn’t really understand what was going on. What is the “it”? I don’t know if I would have noticed that it is weird that a thirty-year old woman tells a girl in her twenties to go to bed as if she were a naughty child. EJO does not write well about grown-up emotions, especially when sex is involved, not that we ever say that word! We have seen time and again that Abbey Girls are often unconscious of their feelings towards their Man until he proposes. Joy is an exception—she is excited by her feelings for Ivor and hopes that he will propose—he has taken her to see his mother; she is even looking ahead to the possibility of more children (we know this because she flushes slightly at the thought of babies)—but she is terribly jealous of Maidlin, her adopted daughter. It is not until some pages later, after this scene, when Joy runs to Jen for comfort and advice and says that Ivor had been interested in her eight years before, though she hadn’t known it, that we begin to understand this. Jen makes it clear that Joy overreacted and needs to apologize to Maid. Joy returns to the Hall and Ivor sweeps her away to propose to her. Through Gail’s eyes we are made to understand that Ivor is rather Joy-like himself; he is imperious, used to being obeyed, and somewhat blind and insensitive to other people’s feelings. Through Jen and Rosamund’s eyes we hear that Ivor might actually be a better match for Joy than Sir Andrew was; they have music in common, and Sir Andrew would have been bored with it. Joy does not go to Maidlin that night, and she and Gail leave the Hall in the early morning.
After a brief check-in with Rosamund and Biddy (and here we find out for sure that her nice Frenchman has proposed to her), the girls end up in St. Valéry in France, on the mouth of the Somme, a tidal river. Maid refers to the Battle of the Somme that took place in 1916, observing that she barely remembered the brave men and that Gail wouldn’t know about it first-hand. She is correct in Abbey Time; she was eleven in 1916 and Gail was about one. EJO’s description of the town and the fishing boats coming in on the tide is charming and evocative—some of her best writing! She excelled at painting pictures of places and activities, such as folk-dancing.
Maidlin receives a letter of apology from Joy forwarded by Rosamond. She writes a pleasant answer. Immediately after Gail posts the letter, they receive a telegram from Rosamond to return quickly: Margaret has fallen down the well—
—Quick, Lassie! Timmy’s in the well! Go fetch the doctor!—
—and hurt her head and Joy needs her. Joy had been showing Ivor around the secret passages under the Abbey and the twins followed them and started larking about. Margaret fell into the well and Elizabeth jumped in after her, most fortunately, as there was water at the bottom of it. Elizabeth held up Margaret’s head until rescue comes. The girls race back to England. Maidlin feels that if she had been there the accident wouldn’t have happened, but both Rosamund and Gail scout that idea—it was Joy’s fault for not paying attention. All explanations are made and fences mended. Rosamund is engaged. She tells Gail that a school is moving in to the big house near the Rose and Squirrel teashop/crafts store. There is another little cottage nearby that Rosamund wishes to use as the school “tuck shop” where the students can buy sweets and ice cream. She offers Gail the position of tuck shop lady, and Gail accepts.
For Folk Dancers
Nada. But do not lose heart. The next installment will include quite a lot.