The Astute Reader will have no difficulty figuring out the major plot trajectory of Two Queens at the Abbey—the publisher’s choice of title, not EJO’s as it gives away too much. Published in 1959 and set in April and May of 1939, this is the official final book of the Abbey Girl series and clearly EJO had planned it for some time. At its conclusion all the Abbey Girls are accounted for and their story lines are finalized with marriage and babies or engagements.
Above: Margaret and Elizabeth. Of course you know that the Queens wear white dresses with a hand-painted velvet train, not this RenFaire garb.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Nearly fifteen-year-old twins Elizabeth and Margaret Marchwood (Joy Shirley Marchwood Quellyn’s daughters) are longing to be elected Queens of the Hamlet Club, but the other girls elect Phillida (Phyl), an older girl enrolled in the cookery course that some take as an alternative to attending a university. The twins turn for counsel to Rachel, the Guardian of the Abbey, and she bravely tells them that they have been too used to being the center of attention and that perhaps the other girls think that they wouldn’t be good Queens because they would be incapable of putting the Club above their own interests. Margaret, the more immature twin, takes this advice to heart.
Littlejan Fraser (Janice MacDonald “JandyMac” Fraser’s daughter) returns unexpectedly to the Abbey: she is coming back to take the cookery classes as her father intends to retire from his business in Ceylon and move the family back to England. She reveals that, though just nineteen, she is married to Len Fraser. (No relation, but he was her father’s radio man on the ship for four years. What ship? Don’t know. As Waring and Ray put it, this name business seems an unnecessary complication. Perhaps EJO thought it funny?) She and Len are returning early to England because he is heading off to an expedition in Antarctica and will be gone for two years—
—Waring and Ray note that with this reference, Oxenham is acknowledging the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Vivien Fuchs in 1955-58. It seems odd to interpolate this into a story set in 1939, although young readers would probably not have known what Abbey Time it was. It is possible that EJO’s publishers wanted this kind of reference, as well as the heroic act that will ensue, to make the story seem relevant to new, young readers. —
The girls welcome the Marigold Queen warmly, and Len gets to see a Club dance with Marigold in her finery. They also ask Joy and Joan if they may buy a little bit of land to build a house on, between the Abbey and the Hall, and EJO very kindly invents this plot for them, the former Herb Garden of the Abbey. Lady Rosamond sends the couple off to Vairey Castle in Scotland for a honeymoon.
Phyl, the new Wallflower Queen, goes to Jen, Lady Marchwood, and says that perhaps she’ll ask some of the older Queens still at school—Marigold in particular—to help her rule. Jen is shocked at this sign of “slackness,” but doesn’t say anything. Phyl adds that the Club would have liked to have the twins be elected but felt that they lacked something. Phyl, who is mad about music, begins her reign badly by double-scheduling a Hamlet Club dance and another event, and says that she’ll do the other—it doesn’t matter. The real Queens are horrified at her lack of commitment.
Jansy Raymond (Joan Shirley Raymond’s daughter) returns from an around-the-world cruise with the President of the Club (Cicely Everett) and her family. Cicely’s youngest daughter, Shirley Rose, has died at the age of two—the only Abbey baby to die and the second of the two child deaths in the series—and the family has gone on the cruise to distract themselves. Jansy was asked to come as a companion to Cecily’s teenaged daughter, who really wants to take care of the next-youngest baby, so Jansy has been thrown much into the companionship of the eldest boy, Dickon.
Margaret faces a dilemma: the music mistress is selecting a new orchestra leader and is hesitating between Margaret and another girl, Jennifer. Margaret has wanted this position all her musical life as she wants to play the solos—but so has Jennifer. The mistress gives the position to Margaret and Jennifer is devastated. The Head Girl, Daphne, goes to Margaret and suggests that she give up the position: Jennifer is a poor girl whose parents can’t afford to give her the music she wants, and she was hoping that if she were the leader and played the solos in the fall concert, a wealthy godfather of hers would hear her and think her worthy of lessons in London, whereas Margaret’s parents can give her any music she wants.
(Below, right: Margaret is playing and Elizabeth (who plays the cello) is calling a dance.)
Margaret goes off and thinks about this sacrifice (remember the motto of the Hamlet Club!) and the other girls can see that the decision is entirely her own. She gives up the position and everyone is happy and impressed (except Sir Ivor Quellyn, her step-father the conductor, who thinks that she ought to have kept it). Phyl shows increasing signs of slackness, but Marigold and Jansy do not interfere. Finally, Phyl schedules a dance on a night when Miss Raven will have guests come and see the dancing. Phyl slacks off to go hear a concert and—to Jansy’s delight—the Club asks Elizabeth and Margaret to both play for and call the dance. They succeed brilliantly and the Club is impressed.
Littlejan (Marigold) suddenly announces that she is leaving school after only six weeks, refuses to play cricket, and starts to wear A Loose Frock. We hear that Rachel has gone to visit her sister Damaris—who has a baby, Rachel Maidlin Rose (to be called Raimie Rose). The girls attend Nanta Rose’s wedding (Lady Atalanta Rose Kane).
And now begins one of EJO’s weirder and rather distasteful sub-plots. While still on the ship to England, Littlejan was thrilled to hear a concert featuring Maidlin, contralto, and Littlejan’s good friend Belinda “Lindy” Bellanne singing soprano. Lindy, with her tow-white curls, is now a success. The girls meet and Lindy reveals that she is being stalked by Sir Konrad Abrahams, who wants to offer her “the best of everything.” He is stout, red-faced and middle-aged and apparently after any girl provided she is “young and fresh and attractive.” The Naïve Reader doesn’t know what he wants from her, but the Mature Reader assumes the worst.
Was EJO anti-Semitic? That name and its spelling certainly sounds Jewish, and this didn’t escape readers of the period either. In Island to Abbey, Stella Waring and Sheila Ray report that a Jewish reader and collector was troubled by the name and wrote to Oxenham, who assured her that “‘Sir Konrad Abrahams was not meant to be Jewish—and that many nationalities had biblical names.’”
It’s hard to buy it, but there is no other sign of anti-Semitism in EJO’s books, so I think we have to regard it as just one of the tone-deaf moments that can happen to authors, especially those who live in another world of their making. I am thinking, for example, of P.G. Wodehouse’s famous blunder when he attempted to be funny and downplay the awfulness of being in a German intern camp during WWII and the long-standing anger his remarks caused in the British public who saw him as another Lord Haw-Haw.
But this is a good moment to mention another of EJO’s non-PC words and that is the presence of far too many black cats named “Nigger.” While it is just possible that in her far-off childhood in the 1880s this word was not considered a pejorative, surely by the 1950s she should have known that this was no longer acceptable. But, evidently, she didn’t.
Back to the story. Lindy suddenly shows up at the Hall; Maidlin and Dr. Jock, with whom she lives, have gone away and she is afraid that Sir Konrad will show up. Lady Joy sends Lindy and Littlejan (Mrs. Fraser) off to Maidlin’s little cottage, Step-Down. Sir Konrad shows up at the Hall and Lady Joy tells him to go away but not before he has made a pass at Jansy, who he thinks is her daughter. Littlejan and Lindy have a pleasant day at Step-Down, when a man does show up—it is Dr. Jock’s nephew Donald Robertson, who once had fancied himself in love with Maidlin. He has just returned to England and heard Lindy sing and, like a true Abbey Girl future husband, fall in love with her instantly. Sir Konrad shows up at Step-Down and Donald tells him off. We find out that Robin Quellyn has had her second baby, a little girl.
The Hamlet Club elects the twins as Queens: they choose dark green for their trains and Margaret will be the Daisy Queen and Elizabeth the Buttercup Queen. (The fact that EJO reserved these flowers—so easy to find in the spring—for them indicates that she was planning this event, possibly from the twins’ birth.)
It is February and Littlejan has her baby boy, John or Ian, to be known as Littlejan’s Little John. Jandy Mac and her little girls return to England. Bad news comes from Antarctica—Len’s boss, the expedition leader, fell into a crevasse and Len jumped in to keep his head above water and was badly injured as a result. Littlejan wants to go to him and everyone says no.
Len is flown to Sydney and the doctors urge Littlejan to come to him, which she does, on an airplane, with Nurse and baby. He will get better.
Could Littlejan really have flown from London to Sydney in 1939? The answer is yes, but it would have taken eight days. Read more. Apparently the plane flew quite low by today’s standards, and travelers were given special paper on which they could make notes or drawings of the landmarks that they spotted. Of course, by the time this book was published in the 1950s, the flight would have been considerably shorter.
The coronation is approaching and Margaret gets chicken-pox, so it must be postponed. Will Littlejan return to England in time to see it? Yes.
Margia Lane (the fiddler from The Girls of the Hamlet Club and also the artist who makes all the Queen’s trains) has outdone herself with the twins’ robes: Elizabeth’s is lined with white silk and Margaret’s with gold, and the edges of the linings are turned over to make a border. The girls’ flowers are scattered all over (they fear that they will be known as the “spotty” Queens). The Queens process to the tune of Margia’s fiddle—Nanta Rose (The Fiddler From the Abbey) shows up and says that she’ll play as well as Margia is getting rather frail. Nanta Rose also reveals that she is going to have a baby at Christmas.
All loose ends are pretty much wrapped up. Jansy is clearly intended for Dickon; Lindy is engaged to Donald; Len will recover and won’t have to go back to Antarctica; Lady Rosamond and Lady Jen have (finally!) had their last babies; Maidlin and Dr. Jock have their three babies; Rachel is content in her role as Abbot of the Abbey and Mary-Dorothy Devine in hers as Abbot of the Hall. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Margaret—remember that this was published in 1959 and Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in 1953; it is also possible that EJO roughed out this story earlier than the publication date—will be great successes for the Hamlet Club.
For Folk Dancers
No detailed descriptions. The girls dance The Boatman, The Geud Man of Ballangigh, Nancy’s Fancy, Newcastle, Sellenger’s Round, and The Twin Sisters. It would have been lovely to end this series as it began in Girls of the Hamlet Club with a great dancing set piece, but it was not to be.
And so we bid a fond farewell (for now!) to the Abbey Girls and the Hamlet Club. We’ll go out with an ending that Elsie Oxenham used at least once and perhaps several times. . . . .
The Hamlet Club laughed and went on dancing.
e thompson says
Thanks for all the summaries of this series, Allison! What will you blog about next?
Read “where is this blog going”!–thanks, Emily