While there have been hints of weaknesses in the last few books, with this installment published in 1950 at the beginning of Elsie J. Oxenham’s last decade, we are now in, I am afraid, the downward trajectory of her writing. In this decade she published one to two books a year in the Second Generation and Retrospective groups. Alas, her plots—always rather slight—grow more fantastic, and her writing simultaneously redundant and contradictory: a character will say something and then either repeat it or contradict it within a few subsequent sentences. EJO was in a hurry to get her girls safely married and their stories “finished.” Babies bust out like mushrooms after a rain. The ballet emphasis in the books that feature Rachel and Damaris is not compelling—EJO didn’t understand ballet the way she did folk dancing, Guiding, or Camp Fire, and it really shows. Other commentators have noted that during this time there were some changes in the publishing industry that did not work in Oxenham’s favor, and of course there had been changes in girls themselves—the girl reader of 1950 was not that of 1920. But I also think that Oxenham was growing tired: she had been producing at least one book a year since 1909 and she was now in her seventh decade. Here’s how the last decade stacks up. [Read more…]
Published in 1948 by Muller, this tale continues the story of Lady Rosalind Atalanta Kane (Nanta Rose), Littlejan (young Joan Fraser; also known as the Marigold Queen) and nearly thirteen-year-old Jansy (young Janice Raymond). It takes place in the reign of Queen Jean, the Rosemary Queen, from September of 1934 to May of 1935, “Abbey Time.”
There is quite a bit of material here for folk dancers—not the repertoire so much, which remains a mix of the Playford set dances and the newer, simpler traditional dances like the Durham Reel or the late-eighteenth century dances from the Apted collection, but the style and details of teaching which, as I have commented before, is not a “do whatever you feel like” style. Oxenham showcases three set dances from the early editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master: The Old Mole and Picking Up Sticks, both for three couples, and Althea, for two couples. Sticks is still in my group’s repertoire, but I’ve never danced Althea and danced Old Mole only for a performance many decades ago. Complicated set dances are not as much in favor in the U.S. as they used to be. The amount of detail provided about these dances shows that EJO really knew what she was talking about—it is not just a recitation of the figures but practical and accurate advice as to how to dance them well.
There is also a touching little nod to Oxenham’s own dancing: Jen and Mary Dorothy Devine, EJO’s writing and counseling avatar, are dancing the easy longways dance The First of April. Mary says she finds it “rather hard work,” refers to its “wild rings” (slipping circles), and begs Jen to take it easy. She says that she is not as young as Jen is. The internal evidence of the books and Ruth Allen’s invaluable timeline show that in 1935 Abbey Time, Jen is 32 and Mary is only 44. In 1935 EJO herself was 55 and in 1948, when this installment was published, was 68—much more plausible ages to find slipping circles a bit exhausting! We don’t know when Oxenham stopped dancing.
The cover illustration shows Nanta Rose (plaits) and Littlejan leaning over the battlements at Kentisbury Castle to watch the dancing on the lawn from above.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
A Fiddler for the Abbey starts on the same night as the last installment ended with the Hamlet Club dance in the tithe barn celebrating the marriage of the Robins.
Jen shows Joan her two new twin babies: Christopher and Bernard. She is now up to 5 boys and two girls—still one boy short of a morris side. Rosamund, the Countess of Kentisbury, announces that there will be a dance party at the Castle in October and everyone can then meet the youngest set of her twins. Queen Jean, the Rosemary Queen, says that she would love to become a child’s nurse—this is a default career aspiration for many Hamlet Club Queens and may not reflect EJO’s perception of reality so much as her novelist’s need to keep former Queens near the school and handy for the coronations. Margia Lane, the fiddler and artist, tells Rosemary that she isn’t well and must go to a hospital for observation. This leaves the school’s Hamlet Club without a musician.
A day or two later, Rosamund asks Maidlin, Joan, and Mary-Dorothy Devine for advice about the youngest of her “American” cousins, Lady Rosalind Atalanta, who is 16. Nanta Rose, as she is known, is shy and dreamy and filled with music. Her eldest sister is to be married soon and the husband wants Nanta Rose and his own sister Annamaria, who is known as Mya but would prefer to be known by the swankier moniker Anne-Marie, which tells you a bit about her character, to live with them. Rosamund thinks this is a bad idea, as Mya is a stronger character and will bully Nanta Rose into withdrawing into a dream world. They hope that Littlejan, Queen Marigold, can help.
Littlejan, Mary-Dorothy, and Jansy go to the Castle for the Hamlet Club party. Girls are dancing on the lawn in front of it. The music is a fiddle, amplified (this is the first and, I think, only mention of amplification of live music in Oxenham’s oeuvre), and the fiddler is Lady Rosalind (Nanta Rose). The M.C. is her sister, Lady Virginia. Rosamund brings out her children, in the care of the nurses who are Queens as well (they will get a chance to dance, I am relieved to report). Jen Marchwood brings her new baby boys and her pipe. The Hamlet Club President, Cecily Everett, also attends, and is surprised to overhear little Roderick, Rosamund’s half-brother, address her as “Mother.” Rosamund explains to Cecily that they are doing this until he is old enough to understand why little Geoff-Hugh, the heir, is Lord Verriton and the little girls are all Capital-L Ladies and he isn’t anything. She will explain that he belongs to them three times: as her brother, as her adopted child, and as the Earl’s cousin. Rosamund and the Earl plan to send Roddy to a naval academy and thence to his future career in the Navy. Why the Navy and not the Army or a profession? Does this reflect EJO’s fascination with the sea and sailors or an early-twentieth century perception that the Navy conferred higher social status? I do not know. Perhaps a Gentle Reader will comment.
The dancing begins again and Littlejan and Nanta Rose bond while watching the dancing from high on the battlements. Later, Littlejan suggests to the Jansy and Queen Jean and Nanta Rose that they run a dance weekend to really work on dances that the younger members don’t know.
The girls can’t have their usual teachers for the weekend school: Mrs. Thistle (Tazy Kingston Thistleton) has had another baby, Tazy Rose, and Maribel Marchwood, who usually fiddles, can’t attend because she just had another baby, Marilyn Rose—EJO is at this point going practically berserk with babies, but they do make a good excuse to remove the adults from the scene of action. Virginia, an experienced teacher and fiddler, would like to help out, but Rosamund says no—she wants Nanta Rose to find her feet with the girls. Littlejan feels competent to teach and asks Nanta Rose to play. All agree that this is a marvelous idea.
The school’s dance weekend is to take place in November, with Littlejan as teacher. They have a successful Friday evening session, but return to the Hall to hear bad news: Littljan’s young brother Alan, at school “up North” with his brother Alistair and the two Marchwood boys, has appendicitis and must be operated upon. Joan Raymond (his guardian) and Littlejan race to his bed side. Queen Jean worries about the weekend—she’ll now have to take over the teaching and she does not feel competent to do so. She receives a middle of the night phone call and is whisked away. Will the weekend have to be cancelled? No, on Saturday the girls ask young Jansy to take over, and she is a great success. Tessa and Phyl, who will have stories of their own in later installments, are both amused and impressed by her. Some older girls wonder if she’ll swank and put on side about it, but of course she doesn’t. Her talent, pluckiness, and humility signal that she is an excellent candidate for a May Queen.
As Christmas approaches, everyone expects Lady Joy and Sir Ivor Quellyn with the nearly twelve-year-old Marchwood twins and the two baby Quellyn boys but there is bad news: one of the children’s nurses, Queen Bee (Beatrice, the Striped Queen), has contracted typhoid. (As Waring and Ray observe, it sometimes seems that EJO will go to any length to keep Joy off-stage!) Joy will not leave Bee, but hopes to arrive in March for An Important but Unspecified Reason—of course you can guess what it is. Rosamund, Jen and Joan are worried—she shouldn’t travel after the holiday. (Oxenham seems to have had an exaggerated feeling that expectant mothers should be kept wrapped in cotton wool, and that crossing the ocean in stormy seas should be avoided.) Rosamund contrives to send Gracie Gray, the Garden Queen, to New York, to join Joy (the Green Queen), Queen Stripes, Queen Wild Rose (Barbara “Babs” Honor—the has her B.A. and is tutoring the twins), and the Strawberry Queen, Marguerite Verity, who has a husband and family there.
After the holidays, Queen Marigold calls for a mid-term dance of the Hamlet Club and invites the older Queens to attend. Much to her own surprise, Jansy is elected Queen—she will be the Lobelia Queen, with a dark blue train. Jansy’s mother, Joan, the Violet Queen, is very proud.
Joy misses participating in Jansy’s coronation in May; she has just had baby Madeline Rose. Nanta Rose decides to attend school beginning in the summer term, taking the Cookery course, which lasts about two years. Jansy asks Nanta Rose to be her maid-of-honor, and suggests that perhaps Nanta Rose will be the next Queen; the latter says that if elected she would be the Lavender Queen in pale purple.
For Folk Dancers
This installment provides an excellent overview of how to teach dances well, as shown by both Littlejan and the very young Jansy who is modeling herself after her mother Joan, who had always been something special, as Jen observes, in the way of teaching. It also makes mention of a prodigious number of dances that the teenaged girls not only know but are competent to teach.
Complicated set dances from various editions of Playford: Chelsea Reach, Althea, The Old Mole, Picking Up Sticks, Epping Forest, Sellenger’s Round, Parson’s Farewell, The Boatman, Newcastle, Merry, Merry Milkmaids, Hey Boys Up Go We, Goddesses, Maid’s Morris.
More accessible longways dances mostly from the Apted Collection: The First of April, The Dressed Ship, The Spaniard, Childgrove, The Way to Norwich, Pleasures of the Town.
Traditional (i.e., recently-collected) dances: The Circassian Circle, Speed the Plough, Durham Reel, Haste to the Wedding, Meeting Six, Gloucestershire Three Meet, Yorkshire Square Eight.
I may have missed some, but I make that 26 dances, many of them quite complex. It is quite a good weekend program.
Oxenham provides us with a number of style points, starting with the timing of “lead down the middle and back.” She actually stresses this twice: first when we see Jen’s daughter Rosemary, who is seven years old, dancing at the Castle party. Queen Jean notes that she is a jolly dancer and always “on the beat.” Littlejan says:
“I noticed that. If it’s five steps down the middle, Rosemary takes five steps; if it’s eight slips in a ring, she slips eight. People aren’t all so particular.”
The second reference to this figure is much more explicit and callers today should heed EJO’s advice. Inexperienced callers often say “lead down the center for eight steps and come on back”—this is wrong. Pay attention! Littlejan (Queen Marigold) is teaching the longways dance Haste to the Wedding and the girls aren’t listening to the music.
—Here I’ll interrupt to say that there are many versions of Haste to the Wedding—it was and is an easy and popular tune to play and the dance figures are easy to adapt to the needs of the audience. Sharp himself published two versions in the first Country Dance Book of 1909. In some versions the 1s lead down the middle of the set and return to places after which they and the 2s dance a once-and-a-half swing-and-change (dance around) to progress; in others, the 1s lead down and then come up the set (usually with a slipping (galop) step) and cast off to second place, followed by a partner swing. Here Littlejan is calling the second version, which requires good timing on the lead down and back figure. She asks Nanta to play the tune and put an accent on a certain beat (which Nanta does without being told which one (it is the first beat of the second phrase of the B music).
Littlejan gave a loud stamp [on that beat]. “There! Did you hear that? Rosalind [Nanta Rose] played it too, she knew what was wrong. You must start to skip back on that beat. None of you do it; you’re still turning the woman under your arm [at the end of the lead down]. It’s a strong beat, the first of a phrase. You mark it by starting your return journey on it. You’re late, and so you don’t get round the corner [she means the cast off] and you’re fearfully late in beginning your swing. You meet your partner about the third beat, instead of on the first. And the way to put the whole thing right and keep it all up to time is to go only five, or at most six, steps down the middle. You go right on and on for eight, and then you start to turn, and you can’t possibly get back in time. Now start again; the music will help you, if you’ll only listen. Five down the middle—it’s quite far enough. A nice easy turn, in three beats, and up the middle on the new first eat. Then round the corner, and meet your partner for the swing as the music stars again.”
. . . . “I say, Marigold, that’s much jollier!” Tessa cried, at the end.
“It fits the music now,” Phyl added. [These are both older and musical girls.]
Littlejan then instructs them in some fine points about Meeting Six, a set dance from Buckden published in Six Dances from the Yorkshire Dales. It has two lines, a man in the center of each with a woman on either side. After some initial forward and backing, the men turn the woman on their right by the right arm, then the one on the left by the left, and then repeat. Here’s Littlejan’s helpful suggestion and she is quite correct:
“If the women came to meet their man in the arming, instead of waiting for him to come and drag them in, you’d find it much easier. You make it an awful rush for the man. And the woman who has been armed needn’t stand still and go to sleep, and have to be wakened up by the man, when he comes back to her in four beats. Keep moving; keep on your curve, women. . . . “
[Tessa again says that it is better and asks if everything Marigold will teach them will be easier?]
“I should think so. The right way’s sure to be easier, because they’re folk dances, and they’ve been altered and polished by people for centuries, until the easiest way was found.”
“I see,” Tessa said, with interest. “Anything hard or awkward would be altered.”
Um, well, sort of, yes. Let’s carry on with the teaching for a minute more and then come back to this thought.
Jansy teaches the two-couple dance Althea, which has a distinctive setting step not seen in any other dance: spring on the right and swing the left foot, spring on the left and swing the right, then three little jumps with “crossed feet.” You can see it here performed by Teatro Olimpico Nuovo as part of a vampire LARP (Live Action Role Play; I am amused and even touched by the wistful onlooking of the dance by the young vampiresses in the audience). This group interprets that direction by alternating one foot slightly in front of the other on each hop. Because Cecil Sharp used the word “spring”—the original instructions from 1657 say “step,” I deduce that the Abbey Girls and EJO herself danced Althea faster than this performance group does—it’s difficult to spring at a slow tempo.
I’m not going to excerpt EJO’s details about Althea, since it is no longer in the common repertoire, but the girls are having a difficult time remembering who is dancing as a man and who should “honor” (set to) whom. They want to have some way of distinguishing gender and Jansy says that her family used to wear bonnets when dancing as a woman, but now they’ll just have to remember.
EJO also gives us plenty of style suggestions for The Old Mole, a set dance for three couples, with an eight-bar tune that is played 22 times through. A distinctive figure is that pairs of dancers on the side of the dance (top two women, bottom two men, for example) join inner hands, advance to the singleton opposite them, retire, then cross over, with the singleton going under the arch. Jansy tells the girls:
“When you’re doing arches, don’t swing up your arms in the first bit, the forward and back. Just let them do what they want to do; they won’t go away up to your heads! Lead forward naturally, and then raise your arms when you come to the arch. There’s some point in it then.”
There’s some point in it then. The older girls in particular respond to knowing why she is asking for certain movements or style points, and EJO articulates this point directly. But, again, to know and articulate why is to be certain that there is only one way of doing the movement. It is also to have a keen sense of performance style—this level of detail is not what we’d approach in the U.S. at a casual weekend event today, although it was more commonly stressed or understood back in the 1970s.
Finally, another dance that EJO goes into significant detail about is Picking Up Sticks, for three couples: you can see it here. The girls sort of know how it goes and start dancing. Jansy watches their efforts “with widening eyes,” and stops them after the second figure, which is the one I call “sandwiches and orbits.”
“Awful! Simply awful! What a ghastly mess! Even the first figure was a scramble, but you had some idea of what you were supposed to be doing. I don’t believe you had any idea at all in the second figure. I think you’d better walk it, and I’ll tell you what it ought to be.”
Nanta Rose observes her teaching with “delight and understanding” —she realizes that not only does Jansy really know details of the dances, she can clearly articulate what she knows, which is a very different skill. Jansy asks to see the first figure of Picking Up Sticks and reminds the girls not to skip in it. Do you know this figure? It is the one that I sometimes call “shoelaces”: lead up a double and back, then first man changes places with second woman and then with third man, if you start with the set all “proper,” which they certainly did in Sharp’s time. (Some groups today dance with the second couple improper so that, if dancing in he-she couples, all the crossings are with the person of the opposite sex.) Then repeat, criss-crossing until all are in original places. Nanta Rose starts playing, and suddenly Jansy shouts: “‘Stop! Stop! I will not have those crossings skipped!’” The girls observe that she is “dancing with rage” as she stands on her chair so that she can see better. The phrase about Jansy dancing with rage and her exhortation is repeated with amusement in more than one place in this book as well as others, and I feel that EJO was remembering a teaching moment of someone whom she knew, probably Madam (Helen Kennedy North), who was very bossy indeed.
One girl protests that it is a “very skippy tune,” (it is in jig time, 6/8, which does feel skippy) and Jansy agrees but says: “‘. . .don’t you see? You skip through the other two figures. You can’t do the whole dance alike; there’d be no contrast. You want differences in the figures; a quiet one to start with, and then working up the excitement in the middle and at the end.’” Nanta Rose, whose sister Virginia is also an excellent teacher, is pleased at this exhibition of Jansy’s knowledge and her ability to explain why she wants the dancers to follow her style suggestions commands.
But here’s the thing. There’s nothing in the original of Playford’s The English Dancing Master of 1651 that indicates whether anything in this dance is skipped or not; likewise, there are no tempo markings. In fact, Sharp didn’t care for the tune associated with the dance in Playford’s edition, so he set his reconstruction of Picking Up Sticks (the middle word in the title was “of” in the original) to the tune of the dance “Lavena” in the same edition. So these rules and style points that Jansy fiercely defends are Sharp’s own, rather than based in historical documentation, and this is an insight that seems to have been opaque to Oxenham and her generation. Further, the complicated mid-eighteenth century set dances like Picking Up Sticks had never been dances “of the people”—meaning the common people or “folk,” which is such a complicated word!—they were dances of the upper-middle and upper classes and had even for them long fallen out of favor, so that there was no “folk process” going on, at least not within the last 200 years.
Don’t get me wrong—I like Sharp’s interpretations and am happy to be an acolyte. And his approach and his standardization of the dances is an enormous part of why and how he succeeded and triumphed over his competitors. I will have more to say about that topic in the future. But for now, while the characters’ references to the “folk process” smoothing out awkward bits is not entirely wrong, it is not wholly right, either. It’s complicated!
Published in 1947 and taking place in August of 1933 to September of 1934, Robins in the Abbey brings back Robertina Brent who we first met in a stand-alone novel The Girl Who Wouldn’t Make Friends, published in 1909. We encountered Robin again in parts of Rosamund’s story arc, but this is her very own Abbey story. Oxenham is brilliant in her re-use of this character; Robin is a thoughtful, serious, kind girl and it is a pleasure to encounter her again. Robins in the Abbey is a nice installment, one of the most “romantic” in the sense that the young lovers are, most unusually for an EJO story, aware of their love for each other before they declare it. And with Queen Marigold (Remember? Littlejan Fraser, Jandy Mac’s daughter) firmly on her throne, there is more dancing now than we saw in the last installments of the first-generation stories. There is nothing particularly new for folk dancers although it is rather charming to see how the younger girls introduce Lady Joy, who has been in New York City for several years, to the new dances, largely from the Apted collection, that they have learned in her absence
Robins in the Abbey overlaps with the Connector Margery Meets the Roses and the books could be read in either order without too much disruption of the characters’ story arcs. [Read more…]
Published in 1947, Margery Meets the Roses is a “Connector” book, part of the Rachel-and-Damaris/Rainbows group of eight novels, one of which is directly in the Abbey Girls series: A23 Maidlin to the Rescue (1934). Margery Paine, the principal heroine of this book that bears her name, is not an Abbey Girl, but her story introduces four sisters, one of whom goes on to become a May Queen. I enjoyed this book with its two romances when I first encountered it, not too long ago, but subsequent readings have left me a little uncomfortable or dissatisfied with it. It is, however, another important book for folk-dance readers.
(For those just joining the party, this blog’s current topics are an examination of Elsie J. Oxenham’s Abbey Girl novels plus Connectors from the point of view of a folk dancer. I have found EJO to be a reliable and informative narrator of the early days of the folk-dance revival in England, and want to explore what she has to tell us about that time. Posts generally have an initial discussion, a plot synopsis and then a dance-oriented discussion.)
For dancers, a central motif of this book is the perpetual and unresolved tension between [Read more…]
This week’s post looks at pre-WWII American Camp Fire series books for girls, books that could have represented competition for Elsie J. Oxenham, had her books been published in the U.S. Why are we doing this? Partly because it is fun, and partly because by looking at how other authors treated Camp Fire we can gain some insights into Elsie’s approach. The differences are night and day—it’s not just that Oxenham was, generally speaking, a better writer than these series writers (although, of those that I have read, Margaret Vandercook’s works are quite good and very readable), but also that she was a different writer—Camp Fire represented something different to her than it did to many of the series writers. While we don’t know whether other authors were personally familiar with Camp Fire—as we’ll see below, some of them seem to have just cribbed from the Handbook—we know that EJO was Guardian of Camp Watéwin (The Camp of Those Who Conquer) from 1916 to 1922, where she took the name of Wenonah, the Eldest Daughter.
(Above: the image used on this series by Vandercook. When my sisters and I canoed we called the girl in the middle the Beautiful Lady Passenger (still a family term), but we faced forward. It makes more sense to face backward as the BLP’s weight would be more in the center of the canoe. And, yes, that is a swastika on the prow—this was and still is a symbol of prosperity and peace in some cultures, despite its modern connection to Nazism.)
By the way, none of the American titles I have read yet address folk dancing. As I noted in earlier posts, while dancing was an activity for which a girl could earn Honors, it did not make its way into the series books. [Read more…]
Dear Readers, this week’s post is a covid-related detour: due to an early retirement plan offered at my place of work, an option for which I missed the bar by three months, I have now taken on additional duties there and am wearing so many hats that it interferes with my blogging as well as my desire to watch all the seasons of Laurie & Fry playing Bertie and Jeeves. So, while I continue to work on two long posts on both Camp Fire mysteries and the next Abbey Girls installment, An Abbey Champion, here is a little digression on Captain of the Fifth (1922), the second in the Swiss Series and one that shows Anastasia (Tazy, or “Taisez-vous”) Kingston, teaching the Kirkby Malzeard and Flamborough sword dances to the girls at St. Mary’s School in the Swiss Alps. Most of the focus is on the first dance.
My copy of Captain of the Fifth came as a freebie with another purchase—a freebie because it arrived in a plastic bag as a pile of sheets of photocopied paper that had been painstakingly folded and then glued together page back-to-back with page and also along the back spine in a sort of DIY perfect binding. With all the copying and folding and gluing, [Read more…]
This post, the second of several on the Camp Fire movement as Elsie J. Oxenham experienced it, looks some of the details of participating in a Camp Fire. EJO was a Guardian of two successive Camp Fires and this colored her writing, most explicitly in some of the non-Abbey Girl books.
As with the real world of folk-dancing, EJO is a reliable and evocative reporter of the ceremonies: the lighting of the three candles and the fire, the call of “WoHeLo,” the approach of the girls, the adoption of names, etc. What she is silent on is the work and commitment involved in earning the honors themselves—she does not show us is a girl learning “standard dives” (Health honor), carving a totem pole (Camp Craft honor), or swatting “at least twenty-five flies a day for a month” (Patriotism honor).
Before I go further, please click on the picture above, which I love, to enlarge it. (Click on the back arrow—so appropriate to this topic!—to return to the post.) This image is unsigned and I don’t know what book it comes from, but it seems to be by the artist whose work I admired in my last post on Camp Fire. We see a lot of fun details: one girl is making a woven basket, another a clay bowl, a third is showing off her beaded headband, while the fourth holds a bow and has an arrow on her lap. All of the girls wear comfortable bloomers and middy blouses and we can see a neat tent with a mirror, trunk, and cots as well as what are probably bathing suits and a dressing gown drying on a line strung between two trees. They look happy and absorbed and there are no grown-ups in sight.
Suppose you had read a thrilling article about Camp Fire in a magazine, like the one by Mrs. Gulick to the right. (Notice the pose of the girl at the top left: this is the “sign” of the fire and it is used in many of the illustrations of the series books that I’ll address in the next post.) How would you get started? By purchasing a small, paper-backed book with a brown cover (EJO even mentions this book and the color in one of her non-AG books) which cost only twenty-five cents. (My copy cost more than that on ABE.) My copy is the fifth revised edition from 1914, and it is well-worn. It looks like the one below except that it is dirtier and there is no date in large letters.
The Guide immediately tells us that Camp Fire is an organization of girls and women “to develop the home spirit and make it dominate the entire community.”
It is a means of organizing a girl’s daily home life. It shows that romance, beauty and adventure are to be found on every hand and in wholesome ways; that the daily drudgery may be made to contribute to the beauty of living. It gives boys and girls wholesome interesting things to do together. It deliberately intends to promote happy social life.
The reference to boys is a little puzzling until one looks at some of the honors, several of which involve interacting in a “healthy” way with boys—teaching them folk dances, for instance. The Guide goes on to state that Camp Fire “is an army of girls rather than a mission to them.” It stresses that meetings are usually in the home or in the out-doors.
A minimum of six girls over the age of twelve plus their Guardian, who had to be over the age of eighteen, were required to form a Camp Fire. The Guide suggested that a group should not exceed twenty in number, but that ten to twelve was the best size for the girls to get to know each other and their Guardian. And Guardians were meant to be more than just activity leaders: they were counselors of their groups of girls, whom they would nurture for several years.
The fire-lighting ritual and all the symbols and ceremonies were central to the concept of Camp Fire.
[Camp Fire] uses beautiful ceremonies, has an appealing ritual and bases rank and honors upon personal attainment. There are attractive ceremonial costumes, honor beads, and decorations. It interprets daily things in terms of poetry, symbolism, color and imagination.
Each Camp Fire was encouraged to take on a name, activities, and symbols relevant to their own part of the country.
A Camp Fire in one of the Western states may be called the Alsea Camp Fire because it is in the Alsea Valley. . . . The symbol for this Camp Fire is two low brown triangles with bases touching, to suggest the mountains. . . . . The Sequoia Camp Fire may have a reddish brown, long trunked, pointed topped tree for its symbol because it tells of the giant redwoods. A group of girls in Butte, Montana, may name themselves the Copper City Camp Fire Girls, because of the principal industry of their home city, and they may use the pick and shovel in copper color as their symbol. The more simple the symbolic design the more effective it will be and the more varied may be its use.
Girls were encouraged to take names from Indian legends and folklore, but I have not seen any discussion of any of the languages or the differences in Native American cultures described; they are all just generically “Indian.” The Guide tells us that “‘Pakwa’ chose the frog as her symbol, for its skill in diving; ‘Kanxi’ chose the honey-bee for its sweetness. ‘Morning Star’ likes to take walks before breakfast and hopes soon to get breakfast all alone for the other members of the family. ‘Evening Star,’ her sister, is the one who puts the two younger children to bed, and she is winning her first honors in telling folk-stories and Indian legends to them.” Girls could also make up their own names: the Guide says that one girl took her name from the words “needed” and “cheerful,” as she wished to be both those things, and formed the name, “Neachee.” If a girl had chosen a name too hastily, and felt that it no longer described either her qualities or her desire, she could, after discussion with her Guardian, change it, by burning a paper with the old name on it in the ceremonial fire and saying that that name and intent were gone.
One thing that the Guide was silent on is precisely how the Guardian was to acquire the skills to instruct the girls: how did she learn to set a broken limb or tie the trucker’s hitch? Perhaps that was part of the personal growth that the founders were envisaging—that the Guardian would find experts to cover the knowledge areas with which she was unfamiliar, thus binding the Camp Fire to others in the community. This aspect of engaging others—especially mothers—with the group comes out clearly in some of the fiction about Camp Fires.
After the fire itself, the gown was an important part of the movement. Girls were encouraged to incorporate personal symbolism in their beaded headbands and in the embroideries on their gowns. This can be seen clearly in these two examples, especially the one on the left: this girl really enjoyed embroidering as you can see the flowers, the beaver, the bunny, the music notes, etc.
Not only did the gown incorporate symbols and decorations important to the individual wearer, it had a democratic, unifying influence. As the Guide states, when the Grand Council Fire was held and many groups attended
. . . girls from every station in life came together all clad alike. [The gown] was just as becoming to the poor girl as to the rich girl. Its value in bringing about a true democratic feeling between girls of all classes cannot be estimated. They are all one in this great sisterhood.
Unlike Boy Scouts, who apparently routinely went about in the street in their uniforms, Camp Fire girls reserved the fringed gowns for ceremonies. The Guide specifically requires this so that the gown should not become “common and of little significance” by being so worn. It specifically states that a girl may not wear it at any “partisan” parade such as a women’s suffrage parade (though the Guide says that girls and Guardians were entirely free to “identify themselves” as they please) but it did permit the wearing of the gown at pageants when the girls could appear in their “ceremonial dresses without sacrificing any of the delicate personal feeling which should cling to them.”
Organized activities—hikes, camping, and acquiring honors—were also central to the movement. To achieve the rank of Fire Maker (the second rank), you had to have accomplished all 14 of the required Honors, such as sleeping with open windows for at least one month, naming the chief causes of infant mortality, tying a square knot five times in succession correctly “and without hesitation,” refrain from eating candy and sweets for at least one month, and so on. In addition to these required Honors, girls also obtained Elective Honors in the following categories:
Home Craft—Flame colored honors, as fire has been the center of the home.
Health Craft—Red honors (red blood).
Camp Craft—Brown honors (woods).
Hand Craft—Green honors (creation, growing things).
Nature Lore—Blue honors (blue sky).
Business—Yellow honors (gold).
Patriotism—Red, white and blue honors.
There were 90 possible Home Craft honors to earn, showing its importance to the movement, and 32 Health, 25 Camp Craft, 41 Hand Craft, 49 Nature Lore, 25 Business, and 48 Patriotism honors. Guardians also seem to have had some leeway in being able to bestow an honor not on the official list. In addition to regular honors, a girl could earn Big Honors, which were certain multiples of individual honors: viz., to earn a Home Craft Big Honor, you would have to have earned any fifteen Home Craft Honors.
The previous owner of my well-worn copy has placed tick marks on various of these honors. For example, she seems to have known how to identify and describe fifteen trees in Summer and Winter, to have made a baby dress, to have taken seven hours of outdoor exercise every week for three months, to have known six trail blazes, and to have known the names of the Indian tribes that inhabited her state, as well as “the tribes and number of members now living there, and their economic and religious condition.” Religious condition? Hmmm.
Unlike, for example, the YMCA or the YWCA, both dating back to the mid-1850s and both with an emphasis on Christian Bible study, Camp Fire was the first non-sectarian organization for girls. While non-sectarian, however, it was very definitely spiritual as its “Law” and the various “Desires” of the different ranks show.
Elsie Oxenham’s father, John Oxenham (their real surname was Dunkerley, but both of them used Oxenham as a pen-name), contributed verses to Camp Fire, but I do not believe that we know which ones. I suspect him of writing the Fire Maker’s Desire since EJO quotes it, but we may never know.
The Fire Maker’s Desire
As fuel is brought to the fire
So I purpose to bring
My heart’s desire
And my sorrow
To the fire
For I will tend
As my fathers have tended
And my father’s fathers
Since time began
The fire that is called
The love of man for man
The love of man for God.
Symbolism was another key component of the Camp Fire movement, and Charlotte Gulick created many of the symbols, visible in the Law to the left. Note the two little dancing girls at the bottom of the page: this pictogram of one triangle on top of a larger one is the “primitive” (to quote the Guide) symbol for woman. EJO refers obliquely to these pictographs: when Elspeth Abbott sends her letter of invitation to Rosamund, Maidlin thinks that her cute drawings of girls and squirrels are very similar to what her Camp Fire girls use. I have no idea what Charlotte based her symbols upon, but in addition to using these symbols on a gown or a headband, one could sign with them, in a fashion of hand signals that real Native Americans may have used to communicate—although if they really used hand signals, I am doubtful that the Camp Fire signals matched with them.
For example, Seek Beauty, the first of the Laws, could be signed as “Seek” and “Good,” with Seek shown as the index and middle fingers of the right hand touching the eyes, then those two fingers pointed towards the front and Good shown as “Right hand, palm down, held against left breast. Move hand several times with quick motion front and right on horizontal plane.” These “air-pictures” were also developed by Charlotte Gulick, and you can read a book of her symbols and their explanations here.
While Camp Fire was originally founded as a sister organization to the Boy Scouts of America, it never officially became so. However, many of the same people were interested in or involved in the organizations at various times. My Guide lists John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Mrs. Russell Sage, S.R. Guggenheim and Grace Dodge among the financial supporters and Ernest Thompson Seton, Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and Jane Addams among the Electors and Directors. These were all important people of the time and their involvement certainly gave an imprimatur of respectability to the movement.
By December 1913, membership in Camp Fire Girls was estimated at 60,000, which is an enormous number for this pre-internet era. Interest was fueled by word-of-mouth, by magazine articles, and by books for girls with the words Camp Fire in the title—I’ll be discussing some of these in a later post.
For Folk Dancers
While EJO’s Maidlin makes singing and dancing one of the principal activities of her Camp Fire, the former at least was a relatively small part of the official honors. (Singing was more stressed, especially “action” songs which incorporated mimetic movements.) However, dear folk-dance reader, you could earn an honor (a red, white and blue bead) in Patriotism thus:
An honor in patriotism may be given to: each member that participates in giving a party or dance in which the girls and boys are about equal in number and in which at least two of the following dances are learned and danced by all: Virginia Reel, Portland Fancy, Lady of the Lake, Howe’s (or Hull’s) Victory, Pop Goes the Weasel, Chorus Jig, Lancers, Boston Fancy, French Reel, German Hopping Dance, Varsouvienne, Furetur, Gottland’s Quadrille. This honor may be repeated four times in any one year, provided new dances are used each time.
The Virginia Reel is the old Sir Roger de Coverley and there are many variants in the U.S. The next five dances as well as Boston Fancy and French Reel are contra dances from New England—these are basically the old country dance, still in triple minor formation, set to New England fiddle tunes. The Lancers is an abbreviated version of one of the figures of the five-part Lancers Quadrille, popular in England at and after the Battle of Waterloo. The Varsouvienne is a turning couple dance from the ballroom, and I don’t have information currently on Furetur or Gottland’s Quadrille which I take from the names to be Danish dances. In 1914 there were a number of folk dance manuals from which girls could learn these dances, but Elizabeth Burchenal, the great collector, had not yet begun publishing. More on her at another time.
You could also earn a Home Craft (flame-colored) honor if you taught a boy to dance any four of those dances, and a Health Craft (red) honor if you demonstrated knowledge of any five “standard” (undefined) folk dances. Since some honors could be repeated, some of us could have earned quite impressive strings of honors!
Published in 1945 but set in July through August of 1932, A30_Two Joans at the Abbey takes us into the Second Generation titles. While it is not one of my favorite titles, it is satisfactorily constructed with a nice balance of adventure and folk dancing.
There is an enormous difference in the experience of reading the Abbey Girls series in Publication Order, which is how Stella Waring and Sheila Ray organized their Island to Abbey analysis, in Reading Order, which is how this series of posts is organized, or in Random Order, which is how I (along with, I suspect, many other readers) first encountered Oxenham’s works. We don’t really need to discuss Random Order, which was confusing and sometimes frustrating, but also fun to try to puzzle out the characters and relationships. This puzzlement was not aided by Elsie’s fondness for repeating certain names: take Cecily/Cicely/Cecilia, Rosamund/Rosalind, Marjorie/Maidlin/Maribel, Joan/Janice/Jehane/Littlejan/Joan-Two/Jansy/Jean/Jen, for instance. Who are all these people?
In Reading Order, we dealt with the seven titles that form the Retrospective Titles, A4 through A10, long, long ago—way back in July of 2020. These titles focus on the exploits of young Jen Robins and her pal Jacky and the still teenaged Joan and Joy Shirley as they uncover the many secrets of the Abbey: Lady Jehane’s jewels, the Monk’s Path, and other treasures hidden by Ambrose, the lay brother who loved Jehane and who became a saintly emblem—a Guardian as it were, and I don’t use that word carelessly—of both the secrets of the Abbey and its spiritual heritage. You’ve forgotten about them, right? I know I have. [Read more…]
Published in 1941 and set in June of 1932, Abbey Time, A29_Jandy Mac Comes Back is simultaneously an important book and, I’m sorry to say, one of the two or three weakest in the EJO canon: almost as bad as A Camp Mystery (published in 1932, set circa 1924 and part of the Camp Keema series; this installment features international Bad Guys as well as Maribel Ritchie, Rosalind Firth, and Cecily Perowne (remember them?)) or A Princess in Tatters (1908; a stand-alone that featured a neglected child and an attempt to illegitimize her). Frankly, Oxenham didn’t know how to write either roles or plots for Bad Men as opposed to benign brothers, fathers, and lovers, and Jandy Mac features a car crash, a sensationalistic kidnapping attempt by sneering thugs, and a ventre à terre gallop to the rescue. Awkward though it is, however, it is important to read in the sequence as it introduces a key character and establishes the context for what are known as the Second Generation novels. And, while it does not feature any dancing set pieces, it does bring up an intriguing dance point, one which reinforces Elsie J. Oxenham’s reliability as a reporter about the folk-dance scene in England at the time.
The only extenuating thing I can say about the kidnapping plot is that 1932 was a busy year in Abbey Time, under the rule of May Queen Mirry Honor (“Forget-me-not”). Jandy Mac is set in June of 1932, and the famous kidnapping and murder of the baby of American aviators Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh had occurred in March of that same year. Could EJO have drafted this book or at least outlined the plot as early as 1932, real time?
However, to reiterate, A28_Jandy Mac Comes Back was not published until 1941, and there is nothing in that book (or, really, almost any other) to tie it to a particular year. Since no list of EJO’s complete works, in reading, publication, or any other order, was published in her lifetime, the average reader picking up this work would have had no way of knowing when the actions were to have occurred. It is only after several re-reads and puzzlings over the plot and perusing Ruth Allen’s invaluable timeline that I made the timing connection and, again, this would not have been possible to contemporary readers unless they had been making their own private timelines.
Before moving on, I want to stress this point about the listing. Back in the 1960s when I was reading and acquiring those shiny-covered Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series books, I could turn to the back of any of them to see the complete listing of all the titles, since they were all published by the same publisher. I distinctly remember going down such lists and thinking that I hadn’t read this or that one—and this frame of mind was for books that had no long story arc! But Oxenham’s books were published by many publishers, some of whom only published one title, and no such helpful list—at least in its entirety—was accessible. And, remember, the first in the Abbey Girl world was published in 1914 and the last in 1959—you would have had to have been an avid reader with an extensive collection to put all the pieces together!
Back to Jandy Mac. This is where it gets a little confusing. If we are the Reader who is buying or being given the books as they are published, we met her in 1938, real time, in the title numbered A04_Schooldays at the Abbey that appeared in the same year as A27_Rosamund’s Castle. Schooldays is a good read, and Jandy Mac is, as Waring and Ray observe, a true Abbey heroine. In that first story we heard about the ring with seven sapphires that the lay-brother Ambrose made for his love, Lady Jehane. Jandy Mac, who was eighteen in that installment, was adopted as an honorary cousin by Joan and Joy Shirley, and ended that book sailing off to be married to Alec Fraser and to live in Samoa.
The brilliance of this move, as Waring and Ray note, was that EJO had simultaneously opened up a fruitful line of novels featuring young Jen, Joan, and Joy having adventures at the Abbey, and created a character who, marrying at eighteen or nineteen, can now plausibly have a thirteen-and-a-half year old daughter, older than Joan’s or Joy’s girls, who can enter fully in the life of Miss Macey’s School. Up to this point EJO has given us peripheral younger girls—Gail Alwyn, Benedicta Bennett, Belinda Bellanne—but they are either on other career or marriage trajectories or they are too old for school and cannot take on the mantle of May Queen.
My edition is a 1959 Collins imprint with the modern cover, and I do not know to what extent it was abridged from the original. The cover of this (above) depicts Littlejan with her mother, who wears a jaunty neckerchief, with the Abbey behind them. Farther down this post we’ll see what was probably the original 1941 cover showing Jandy Mac in rather Aussie-looking garb on her horse with the castle in the background. EJO often had little or no control over illustrations of her works. The publisher probably included the horse because of the craze for riding that was sweeping over English girls in the Thirties, but, other than Jandy’s ride and some later references to Littlejan’s pony, EJO did not participate in this craze: riding remained for her an upper-class activity. Remember that even Jane Austen’s Dashwood family cannot afford a horse: they would need a stable, a groom, a second horse for the groom (since no girl or woman rode unaccompanied, even in the 1930s), feed, etc. EJO’s heroines much more plausibly, by middle-class standards, learn to drive cars!
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Mrs. Janice Fraser is arriving by car to a big house with her thirteen-year old daughter, named Joan after Joan Shirley Raymond.
—The young Joan has been called “Littlejan” by her father since she is the spitting image of her mother. However, she wishes to leave this baby name behind and be known in England as Joan. After she meets up with her namesake Joan Shirley Raymond, however, it becomes quickly apparent to all that this isn’t going to work, so the little girl is, for this book at least, called “Joan-Two” or sometimes “Joan-Too.” However, she will end up being called Littlejan in the rest of the books and for the sake of our sanity that is how we will refer to her throughout.—
The pair are visiting England and Scotland from their home on Samoa in the South Pacific. Jandy Mac explains to Joan that they are going to visit Mrs. Raymond, with whom she has somewhat lost touch—it will be a surprise. Jandy Mac inquires at the door and finds out that Joan has just had a baby boy that morning and is not receiving. They then go to a phone booth in the village and -call up Abinger Hall and ask for Lady Quellyn (the former Joy Shirley). Maidlin answers and tells her that Lady Quellyn is in New York City with her husband and baby boy. A young woman in riding kit, who has been sitting on the ground while her groom waits to make a telephone call, hears Jandy Mac’s side of the conversation and asks who she is, and why she is referring to the Ladies Marchwood and Lady Quellyn as Jen and Joy. All is revealed. The young woman is Rosamund Kane, Countess of Kentisbury. Rosamund had been out riding, but the ride was too much for her, so the groom has phoned for the castle car. In the true spirit of the Abbey, she invites the Frasers to come and stay with her, since Jandy Mac is an old friend of Joan, Joy, and Jen. The Frasers stay for one night and then go with Rosamund to see Jen, who greets Jandy Mac joyfully.
As she so often does, EJO uses Littlejan’s unfamiliarity with the Abbey world to give us a family news update, including ages. Let’s pause for a minute and have a baby recap. Deep breath.
Jandy Mac Fraser is around 33. She has Joan, thirteen, and two boys not named or aged in this story.
Joan Shirley Raymond, who was 16 when Jandy Mac was 18, has Janice (named after Jandy Mac), who is ten-and-a-half and goes by the name of “Jansy”—she also is the image of her mother, with dark, copper-red hair, and much will be made of the fact that Joan and her cousin Joy and their three girls all look alike—John, who is eight, Jennifer, who is two, and the newborn, Jim, named after Joan’s father. (It is rather unfortunate that EJO was so fond of alliteration!)
Jen Robins, now Lady Marchwood, married at twenty and has Andrew, Anthony (who goes by Tony), Rosemary, who is five and delicate, Michael, who is two, and Kathleen Jane, who is six months. Kathleen Jane is named after the eighteenth-century Kitty Marchwood, whose story was told in A06_Stowaways at the Abbey, published in 1940.
Countess Rosamund, who is 26, is bringing up her half-brother, Roderick-Geoffrey (Roddy), who is three. Rosamund’s son, Geoffrey-Hugh, little Lord Verriton, is two months old.
Maidlin di Ravarati, the singer, is 25 and had her romance in March through May of Abbey Time 1932, though she is not yet married. She is off-stage in this installment.
Joy Shirley Marchwood, now Lady Quellyn, has her nine-year-old twins Elizabeth and Margaret Marchwood, and a two-month-old son David with her conductor husband, Sir Ivor Quellyn.
After tea, the phone rings with bad news—Sir Kenneth Marchwood, who had taken Andrew, Tony, Jansy, and John to the moors for a holiday, has had a terrible car accident. The children weren’t with him, fortunately. A village child ran out into the road and to avoid her he swerved into a ditch. Everyone rallies: Jen, baby, and Nurse race to Yorkshire in Lady Kentisbury’s big car and Jandy Mac, Littlejan, and little Rosemary and Michael are whisked away to the Castle. Before Jen departs, a second message comes saying that Ken has regained consciousness, so our anxiety is somewhat allayed.
While at the castle, Littlejan is allowed to explore and discovers a wonderful playroom filled with toys for older children. She asks the Countess who says to wait until tomorrow when all will be explained. The next day, fifteen-year-old Tansy Lillico arrives to keep Littlejan company. Tansy shows Littlejan the grounds, include a camping sight outside the castle walls by the river. She also explains about the playroom and the children who played there, which we heard about in A27_Rosamund’s Castle. Rosemary and Jandy Mac join them briefly, mounted on beautiful horses. Littlejan had not previously known that Jandy Mac could ride—go, mom!
Since the castle’s regular head-chauffeur is up in Yorkshire with Jen, Jackson, formerly the head, returns. Tansy doesn’t like or trust him. Young Bob, the under-chauffeur whom everyone likes, also has problems with Jackson. Bob overhears Jackson’s side of a mysterious phone conversation and tells Tansy about it. The two girls think that perhaps Jackson is going to try to steal My Lady’s jewels.
The Earl and Countess have to go to a function. Jackson suggests that he drive the children for a picnic to honor little Rosemary’s birthday. The girls suspect something and make sure they attend. Against orders, Jackson drives them outside the property, to the campground. Bad Men are there—they want to kidnap Lord Verriton, but they don’t know which of the three boys—Roddy, Michael, or the baby—he is. Tansy tackles Jackson, who could have told them, and he hits his head and falls unconscious. Even though a bad man is twisting her arm, Littlejan refuses to tell which child is the heir, and he throws her, unconscious, to the ground. The men take Tansy, Nurse Agatha, and all three boys (Rosemary actually stayed at home as she was starting a cold), onto a fast launch.
On horseback, Jandy Mac has seen the scene unfold and her daughter lying dead or unconscious. She must put duty before motherly instinct, though—Lord Verriton must be saved at all cost! —and gallops the horse to the police station. Tansy knows that she must protect Roddy, who, if Lord Verriton dies and there are no further sons, will be the next Earl. The men abandon her and the little boys on an island, and she struggles to get them back to the castle.
—And here one has to say that, though this is a parent’s nightmare, little Lord Verriton is not, after all, a royal prince! It is not as if the kingdom will fail and fall if he dies. But the Lindberghs’ prominent position in society and the notoriety of the case—the biggest story since the Resurrection, according to newspaper writer H.L. Mencken—might have made the situation particularly resonant for EJO. Finally, she needed a strong reason to tie Jandy Mac and her daughter even closer to the charmed circle of the Abbey. Littlejan is a prominent character in the next ten episodes and a worthy Daughter of the Abbey.—
Well, as you can imagine, everything turns out all right. The men are apprehended; Jandy Mac, Littlejan (who is fine), and Tansy are all heroines (Agatha, too). To reward them, Lord Kentisbury gives the girls a beautiful horse each—Chestnut and Black Boy; these are very common and obvious names based on their colors—and Rosemary gives Jandy Mac seven sapphires for a ring like Ambrose’s that she gave up in A04_Schooldays, and which will tie Jandy Mac to the Abbey and its circle. Littlejan will stay in England and attend Miss Macey’s school with Jansy.
For Folk Dancers
While Lord Kentisbury gave the already-named horses to the girls, it is his wife Rosamund who observes that they are named after country dances. This is the only reference to dance and one that is easy to skim right over.
Chestnut is the name of a three-couple dance interpreted by Cecil Sharp in The Country Dance Book II published in 1911. The full title is “Chestnut, or, Dove’s Figary.” It was originally published by John Playford in 1651 and continued in his and his son’s collections until 1690, by which time dance tastes had changed. It is a pretty minor tune. Today in the U.S. the tune is more commonly used for a longways dance called All Saint’s Day written by David Ashworth in 1991.
Black Boy has a more interesting story behind it. While it is in the Barnes “Blue” book of English country dance tunes, meaning the one that contains most of the dances done when May Gadd was alive—i.e., it is heavily oriented to the Sharp repertoire—it is not frequently danced today, if at all! I have only danced it once, at a dance camp back in the seventies. It’s a shame, because it is interesting: it is a 64-bar tune with 32 bars of reel time (4/4) in A major followed by 32 bars in jig time (6/8) in D major. Fun for musicians!
“The Black Boy” was published only once in the eighteenth century, by John Johnson in 1753 in his “A Choice Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, vol. 8.” The version that Rosemary was undoubtedly thinking of comes from a booklet of dances reinterpreted by the Sheffield branch of the English Folk Dance Society which published in 1927 a booklet titled Five Country Dances together with their Tunes circa A.D. 1764 as recorded by David Wall, Ashover, Derbyshire. but more commonly just called “The Ashover Book.” (Sheffield is fifteen miles from the village of Ashover.)
David Wall was a bassoonist and apparently a popular local figure in Ashover. There is a memorial plaque to him in All Saints Church there that reads:
To the memory of David Wall
Whose superior performance on the bassoon endeared him
To an extensive musical acquaintance.
His social life closed on the 4 of December 1796 in his 57 year.
Mr. Wall made a hand-written manuscript of sixteen dance tunes, some with figures set to them. Wall’s dance instructions are below the tunes; another hand wrote their interpretation above them. See the manuscript here.
The dances included in the Ashover booklet are:
The Russian Dance
The Duchess of Hamilton’s Rant
The Black Boy
Dance leader, choreographer, composer, and dance re-constructor Colin Hume notes that in the introduction to the pamphlet the booklet’s creators acknowledge the assistance that the re-constructors derived from the country dance books of Cecil Sharp, who had died in 1924. He adds wryly that he is not sure that Sharp “would have appreciated this acknowledgement, as some of the interpretations are fanciful in the extreme.” He notes that the most blatant example of this is in The Black Boy, where in the “C” music (that is, the first strain of the jig time), the first corners (first man and second woman) change places, “right foot and right shoulder leading (step close up 4 times), left hand on hip and right hand up, a wrist wave with right hand for each step. Colin adds that “By the time I learnt the dance, a snap of the fingers had been added to the wrist wave” —
—Yes, Sharp would not have approved of this fancy!
—and notes that the original was just “Rights and Lefts.” He provides his very workable alternative, so now the dance caller can choose between two interpretations of this dance: one nearly 100 years old and the other more modern. Read Colin Hume’s anaysis of the Sheffield branch’s interpretation of The Black Boy and the other dances from the manuscript, as well as his own reconstruction.
And here’s one more fascinating tidbit which is part of why I consider Oxenham to be a reliable observer: the Ashover book was published in 1927 and Jandy Mac Comes Back is set, in Abbey Time, in June of 1932. It is therefore entirely feasible in the Abbey world that the older girls could have danced The Black Boy. (Littlejan is not yet a dancer, and Tansy doesn’t dance.)
Hear Pete Castle (concertina) and Derek Hale (guitar) play The Black Boy and see some beautiful Derbyshire scenery
A27_Rosamiund’s Castle left Elsie J. Oxenham in a bit of an authorial pickle: four of the five key Abbey Girls—Joan, Joy, Jen, and Rosamund—are not only married but have set up their nurseries. You can scarcely expect them to be dancing much! In addition, their stories are essentially finished: while a few more things will happen to them, they are essentially in safe harbor. Maidlin di Ravarati, the last one left, has said that she’ll never marry until she can find someone that she cares for more than the other girls, and, although the Careful Reader with 2020 hindsight—Sorry! No more 2020!—retrospective vision can see what is being planned for her, most of us cannot. In addition, EJO’s last few titles had been shopped about among publishers; perhaps there was a sense that she was losing her younger, girl-reader with all the romances.
But where to go next? Even if Maidlin is married off, the Abbey Girls’ own children are too young to support a plot; the eldest of them, Janice (“Jansy”) Raymond, Joan’s daughter, is just ten-and-a-half, and the Marchwood twins are about two years behind her.
Sheila Ray and Stella Waring in Island to Abbey, a study of EJO’s works in publication order, point out that this is where the author brilliantly and seamlessly turned to writing what are known as the Retrospective Titles, set between the events of A03_The Girls of the Abbey School (1921) and A11_The Abbey Girls Go Back to School (1922). These titles feature the younger Jen, Joy, and Joan uncovering many exciting secrets of the Abbey, and affirming strongly the spirit of sanctuary and helpfulness that the Abbey has come to represent. We’ll discuss this more next week when we re-encounter a pivotal character from that Series, but for now, let’s look at the publication timeline of the current books, in reading order as prepared by Ruth Allen of the EJO Society:
Set in Published in
A27_Rosamund’s Castle November 1931 – February 1932 1938
A28_Maid of the Abbey March – May 1932 1943
A29_Jandy Mac Comes Back June 1932 1941
Thus while A28 was published after A29, it predates it in Abbey Time, although a reader who wasn’t keeping close track of time would scarcely notice it. And between A27 and A29, EJO published five more novels: three retrospective Abbey Girls titles, one retrospective Kentisbury family novel, and one “sideways” novel, as Ray and Waring term it, that looked at characters who intersect with Rachel and Damaris Ellerton, Maidlin’s cousins.
—Here let us just remark that Elsie Oxenham published 88 titles between 1907 and 1959, and there were only six years in that fifty-three-year period in which she did not publish at all. That means that she published no fewer than one and often two, three, or even four titles in all the other years! And this was in the days when type was still set by hand and there were no spell-checkers or computers: she drafted everything in long-hand, then typed it or had it typed, corrected it, presumably doing this process repeatedly, then sent it to the publishers, then received the long sheets of galleys that had to be proofed by hand in blue pencil, then possibly saw and gave input on illustrations (often not), perhaps saw and corrected a second proof, and finally received the finished product. And all this while she corresponded with fans, wrote the next installments, oversaw her Camp Fire or Guide patrol, and did everything else that one does. Amazing! Personally, I find one long blog post a week on top of a full-time job just about enough to do me in.—
This has been a long detour before we finally turn to A28_Maid of the Abbey! Ray and Waring and others find many points that suggest that A28 was written before A29_Jandy Mac Comes Back—in fact, perhaps even in the late 1930s. Oddly though, while A28 and A29 almost overlap in Abbey Time, Maidlin does not appear in Jandy’s story, nor is the latter aware of the former’s romance.
Waring and Ray also suggest that EJO could have originally conceived of Maid of the Abbey as ending the Abbey Girls series, as it satisfyingly gives Maidlin, the youngest of the original Abbey Girls, her romance, and brings most of the former Queens together with the concluding coronation of the first Hamlet Club “grandchild”—
—this took me a while to parse: Mirry is the twelve-year-old daughter of Miriam Honor, the White Queen and the first Queen of the Hamlet Club. Surely that makes her the first “daughter” of the original group of girls to be crowned. But, although Oxenham doesn’t say this outright, I think that she thought that all club members are daughters of the Club and of the Abbey, and that therefore their own girls are the “grand-daughters.” What do you think?—
—taking the title as the “Forget-me-not” Queen in blue. There is a large procession of former Queens, most attended by one of their children or a girl that they have taken an interest in:
Miriam, the White Queen, attended by her second daughter, eight-year-old Cicely.
Cicely, the Golden Queen, attended by her nearly nine-year-old daughter, Cicely. Yes, that’s not a typo. Both Miriam and Cicely have named their eldest daughters after themselves, and Miriam her second after her friend. This is why you need to take notes.
Joy, now Lady Quellyn, the Green Queen or Traveler’s Joy, attended by her twins, Margaret and Elizabeth.
Joan, the Violet Queen, eight-months pregnant with her fourth child (this isn’t directly mentioned; we infer this from the fact that she holds a large bouquet of lilac in front of her at all times and her violet train is Wrapped Loosely around her), attended by her red-haired daughter, Jansy. This appearance so late in her pregnancy is an anomaly in EJO world, and a testimony to the ceremonial importance of the crowning of the first May Queen’s daughter.
Rosamund, Countess of Kentisbury and the Rose Queen, attended by Tansy Lillico.
Jen, Lady Marchwood, the Beech or Brown Queen with a crown of cowslips, attended by her eldest son, Andrew.
Maidlin, the Primrose Queen, attended by Belinda Bellanne.
Other Queens in the procession include the Blue Queen, the Silver Queen, Beatrice or Queen Beetle in “gaudy stripes,” Queen Barbara in cream with wild roses and more (not named).
In addition to this happy ceremony, Rosamund and Maidlin conclude their discussion of the role of torch-bearing: with her engagement, Maidlin is laying it down and the two agree that the Abbey will choose her successor. They also affirm that they will carry their own version of the Abbey spirit to their new homes, helping young people and those in need.
So, yes, the saga could have stopped here. Everything is tidily wrapped up. But it didn’t! Next week we’ll look at Jandy Mac Comes Back, which is an unconvincing and unsatisfactory episode but one that introduced (since it was already published) a key new Abbey Girl: Littlejan Fraser, the future Marigold Queen. In addition to her many excellent personal qualities—she is a thoroughly nice and thoughtful girl!—she will bridge the plot gap until Joan’s and Joy’s daughters as well as some other characters, at least one of whom hasn’t been invented yet, are old enough to be heroines themselves.
And, finally, the potential meanings of the title. Of course, one’s immediate response is that the Maid of the Abbey is Maidlin (the North Country version of Madeline or Magdalena, her real name, with its Biblical association as a follower of Christ). This is the story of her romance, after all, and for a long time other characters have affectionately nick-named her Maid or Maidie. But Lindy also acts as Maidlin’s maid-of-honor (called in the earliest books a “brides-maid,” as if the May Queen is becoming the bride of God; I find this a little uncomfortable) in the crowning that concludes the story. And, finally, perhaps the talk of carrying the torch of the Abbey refers to a ceremonial position that Rosamund and Maidlin feel that they have held although they do not employ the phrase: that they, in particular, have been “hand-maids” to the spirit of the Abbey and are now upon marriage officially relinquishing the position at the Abbey itself, though still vowing to express its spirit in their own homes and lives. Will Lindy be the new bearer of the torch? What about the Reader herself? Will you take it up? In all her works Oxenham never asks this question directly, but I think the gentle challenge is ever implicitly before the Reader.
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
The story opens with orphaned, seventeen-year-old Belinda (“Lindy”) Bellanne returning from school to live in London with her sister Anne, who is eight years older than she. Anne (“with-an-E” to quote another famous orphaned heroine) has had the flu. Her friend Nelly Jones, a typist living in the same apartment building, asked Lady Jen Marchwood if Anne could be sent to the Grange, in sort of hostel in Yorkshire, as a rest cure. Lady Jen sends working girls there for holidays, and the Grange is run by Ann-without-an-E (“Nan”) Rowney. Since Anne’s health has not improved after her cold two weeks in Yorkshire, Miss Rowney has asked that Anne and her sister both be invited to stay at a similar hostel in the warmer, southern village of Whiteways, which is where the Abbey, standing in the grounds of Abinger Hall, near Marchwood Manor, are located.
Soprano Lindy is passionate about music and wants to be trained to be a singer like contralto Maidlin, whom she has heard sing, but there is no money for training—Anne had put her capital into a cake shop that failed. The day before the girls are to travel to Whiteways, they receive a letter that says there are measles in the village (as I have commented before, Whiteways is the measliest village in England)—and measles means quarantine. Maidlin di Ravarati, acting as hostess for Abinger Hall, invites the Bellannes to stay at the Hall itself. Mary-Dorothy Devine is also living there with the Marchwood twins, as their mother Joy (now Lady Quellyn) is with her husband and new baby in New York City.
Anne and Lindy arrive and get the necessary over-view of the family news from Maidlin, who is expecting other visitors as well: Dr John Robertson, the famous conductor with whom she has been working, and his neephew Donald, a nice, boyish young man. Lindy escapes from the visitors and wanders into the Abbey where she saves feckless Margaret, who has climbed a tree and can’t get down. During the rescue Lindy suffers a slight concussion and a wrenched shoulder. Anne faints. A few days later she confides to Maidlin the story of the failed cake shop, and that Lindy wants training—though she does not specify in what—and can’t have it. Anne has no job and wonders if she should go into service as a maid in a big house—but would she ever be able to regain her social standing? Maidlin suggests that she be a cook, and that this would (somehow) be a better position. More on this topic later.
Maidlin offers Lindy a summer job as a governess to the twins, and she is delighted to accept. We see her taking on her responsibilities admirably. Anne and Mary notice how often young Donald Robertson has been visiting Maid and they agree that Maidlin is not at all interested in him. They conspire to not let them be alone together so that he has no chance to propose. While Mary keeps saying that it would not be right to gossip about Maidlin, Anne is quite nebby, and manages to find out or deduce much of the plot. Perhaps EJO felt that she needed the character of Anne to telegraph the romance for the young reader.
Mary reports that the cook, Mrs. Spindle (Susie Spindle, who we met in another Retrospective title, married a cousin, who died two years ago leaving her with a baby who is boarded in the village), has gone to bed with a headache and fever. Anne suggests that it could be the measles. Susie had visited her baby two weeks earlier, right after the first case of measles in the village was discovered. The twins have spent time with her—will they measle, too? Everyone is very angry at Susie and she is sent off to the hospital. They say that Joy will never allow her to come back. (The Abbey girls are sometimes not as nice and generous as you’d think! Susie has just as much right to be worried about her baby as Joy does hers. After the crisis is over a character is able to admit this.) Anne offers to cook, and Lindy offers to stay with the twins and tells Maidlin that she cannot go into quarantine so that she can nurse them, as she is needed for Dr. Jock’s concerts. We see Maidlin thinking about Dr. Jock and his kind eyes. Donald writes requesting a private meeting with Maidlin and this startles her into knowing her own heart. Mary urges Maidlin to reject Donald so that the older man (he is only about thirty-five!) will know that he has a chance. She does.
Seeking refuge in the Abbey after her rejection of Donald’s unwelcome proposal of marriage, Maid hears Lindy’s beautiful but untrained soprano voice. She offers to send Lindy to Joy’s music school and says that they will sing together someday. The next day Dr. Jock shows up and asks Maidlin to accompany him to the Abbey, and when she agrees we all know what that means! We don’t see the proposal, but Maidlin returns changed and glowing. Jock and Maidlin think that when Donald gets over his disappointment and returns to England from South Africa perhaps he’ll marry Lindy—they are the right age for each other. They go to Kentisbury Castle and tell Rosamund, then call Joy in New York (long-distance phone calls then were very expensive and also very short). Jock buys Maid a little ring with daisies and forget-me-nots on it at the Rose and Squirrel. The twins admire the ring very much.
The next day the twins start measling. The more excitable Margaret is very ill indeed, and the adults are very worried. They cable Joy the news and she telephones (over-seas!) to say that she is going to come home for a short time as soon as she can find a berth in a ship; baby David can do without her for a while (meaning that she is no longer nursing him). Jock and Maidlin talk about where to live—this is one of the nicest of EJO’s romances, and the gentleman has more dialogue than perhaps all the other husbands put together—and Jock says they’ll build a nice house in Sussex and call it The Pallant. There is a lot of discussion as to what this old Sussex word means—EJO was very interested in local dialects and words! He also says that until it is built they will live in a little house near the sea. He reveals that he plays the viola (the alto of the violin family) and Maidlin reveals that she is Camp Fire. They visit the charming little cottage, and, because there is a deep step behind the front gate, they decide to call it “Step Down.” (The house is described in loving detail and it was clearly modelled after EJO’s own, as the book is dedicated to her sister Maida (Marjorie) “on the day we bought our little house.”
The girls recuperate, and Maidlin buys them little rings like her own (Jock has since given her a ruby engagement ring). Joy comes home. Careless Margaret has squashed her ring and Joy instantly offers to get her another one. (Joy! So impulsive and thoughtless, using her money instead of her head.) Lindy corrects her, saying that Margaret should save her own money to buy it, not just be given it. Margaret then asks Elizabeth to not wear her ring to the upcoming coronation of the May Queen and, after a brief struggle, Elizabeth agrees. Please note their characters: Elizabeth, though often the instigator of whatever madness they are up to, is the more mature and balanced girl; Margaret is immature and impulsive. Margaret’s more challenged character will come up as a key element in their final story A38_Two Queens at the Abbey.
Rosamund and Maidlin go to the Abbey for a heart-to-heart and talk about carrying the torch of welcoming people who come to the Abbey in trouble. Maidlin wonders if she is a deserter for getting married and moving away and Ros laughs at her and reassures her that it’s all right for her to lay down the torch—the Abbey will find another person to “interpret” for it. We infer that it might be Lindy for a while, given her thoughtful care of the twins.
For Folk Dancers
After the crowning, the Hamlet Club dances Newcastle, The Geud Man of Ballangigh, Chelsea Reach, Oranges and Lemons, Haste to the Wedding (Jen dances this symbolic dance with Maid, as Doc Jock is not a dancer), The Old Mole, Hey, Boys, Up Go We, the Merry, Merry Milkmaids, and finally Sellenger’s Round. All but Haste and Geud Man are the older set dances “for those who know” —not party dances or ones that are taught at the event itself. While they are undoubtedly more interesting than the longways dances for spectators like Doc Jock and the Earl to observe, they are rather exclusive. This issue will present itself towards the end of Queen Mirry’s reign, in A31_An Abbey Champion, when the older girls of the school make it clear that they are bored with the complicated pattern dances that take so long to master.