We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to announce that 15 years ago (!) I compiled and edited a book of modern English country dances set to tunes by the blind Irish Harper, Turlough O’Carolan. Since then, the repertoire has expanded. One of my lockdown projects has been to publish the new ones online, and so I am happy to announce that 19 new English country dances (and one strathspey—I love the idea of having a modern Scottish dance set to a tune by an 18th century Irish composer on an ECD-oriented site!) are now available on my website: check out the page titled “Carolan” Both dance instructions and sheet music are available. [Read more…]
Published in 1923 and set, Abbey Time, in March through April of 1921, A13_The New Abbey Girls introduces two younger key characters: Rosamund Kane and Madalena (Maidlin) di Ravarati. These girls will support important plot arcs now that Joan Shirley has moved off-stage after her marriage. The New Abbey Girls is a strong episode and one that shows the often-difficult Joy Shirley at her best. In a very mild style, apparent only upon re-reading and thus knowledge of the future, it also starts off her romance. This installment again showcases Cecil Sharp’s folk-dance teachers, particularly “Madam/Duchess” (Helen Kennedy North) and the Pixie (Daisy Caroline Daking). There are many treats for folk-dancers below! [Read more…]
Published in 1927, A12_Jen of the Abbey School takes place immediately before and after A11_The Abbey Girls Go Back to School. Ideally you should read the first half of A11, then the first half of A12, then the second half of A11, wrapping it up with the second half of A12. Jen of the Abbey School takes place from June to December 1920, in Abbey Time. It is an important book for folk dancers as it paints a clear picture of the “folk spirit” as well as incorporating a thrilling folk dance competition. It is also an important book in the Abbey Girl world as it introduces [Read more…]
After last week’s long post, let’s catch our breath for a moment! I want to remind ourselves of what we are doing and also, if you are ready to race out and buy books by Elsie J. Oxenham, to provide A Dramatic Warning. First, while hopefully the old lags remember, new readers should know that I am blogging about EJO’s Abbey Girls books in reading order, not in publication order. We’ve gotten over the tricksy group of the Retrospective Titles, so, after next week’s post on A12_Jen of the Abbey School, RO will pretty much equal PO. Now for the Warning—there is an Abomination in EJO’s publishing world: the Children’s’ Press abridgments. [Read more…]
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…]
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…]
Published in 1952, A09_Selma at the Abbey takes place from September 1918 through May 1919 in Abbey Time. It starts two months after the activities of Strangers at the Abbey, and is a much better story, with a nice romance and a happy ending. It is also one that first introduces to the Abbey world a Swedish sea captain. Elsie J. Oxenham had a weird fascination with both Sweden and with sea captains—Stella Waring and Sheila Ray note that she had an elevated and inaccurate view of the social standing of the latter! Selma’s father was a Swedish sea captain—a double benefit! In a future post [Read more…]
This installment runs from May through August 1918, “Abbey Time” (which is calculated based on the characters’ ages and which May Queen is ruling), but it contains physical elements, such as transatlantic commercial air travel and ballet, more suitable to 1951, which is when the book was published. I didn’t notice this uneasy interpolation when I read Strangers at the Abbey out of order, but when we return to the installments published in the 1920s, we will return to a world where motor cars were open, where phones in houses were known but rare, and where women automatically gave up their jobs upon marriage. Strangers is also an installment in which the Abbey Girls and their seventy-one-year old creator wax eloquent [Read more…]