Joan is offered a scholarship to go to Miss Macey's school with the girls in the picture but she gives up the opportunity in favour of her cousin Joy who "needs" school. Joan gets to go to school too in the end.
Joan is much too nice. Quite early in the series she is married off to nice and handsome but shy Captain Raymond and goes to Sussex (I think) to have a flock of children: Jansy, John, Jennifer, Jim and Jillian. She stays so much in the background that sometimes it's hard to remember she is still around. But she inherits the abbey from Joy's grandfather Sir Anthony Abinger and thus remains an important character even though thrust firmly into the background.
Joy gets engaged to the boy next door at the end of The Abbey Girls in Town (1925) only next door is Marchwood Manor and the boy is Sir Andrew Marchwood a famous explorer or big game hunter, and as soon as they are married they leave for Africa. After the honeymoon Joy comes home leaving Sir Andrew to lead a safari and he is killed with all his party. Joy immediately gives birth to twin girls Elizabeth Joy and Margaret Joan. Joy looks beautiful in mourning but she spoils the twins quite dreadfully. They grow up quite out of control and amazingly irritating. Joy admits the twins behave very badly but she never does anything about it and later this causes all sorts of problems.
Jen then marries Joy's brother-in-law Sir Kenneth Marchwood and has a load of children. Of course she does. Andrew, Anthony, Rosemary Jane, Michael, Katherine, Christopher and Bernard (I think) and maybe even Simon. Alone of all our heroines Jen prefers boys and determines to give birth to "a morris six'. Despite all her wealth and her happy marriage Jen's life is beset with troubles. Her children constantly have dreadful accidents, ghastly illnesses or dangerous operations. And eventually Ken has a terrible smash (old-fashioned speak for a car crash) and takes a long time to recover before being prescribed a year travelling around the world (how awful) in order to get fully better. In fact he only makes it as far as Kenya where he feels so well he is allowed to go home.
Meanwhile, Rosamund also has a tough time; in The Abbey Girls on Trial (1931) her father who lives in India cuts off her allowance as he has decided at the grand old age of 60 to marry Eleanor, a "beautiful girl", of Rosamund's own age. Having lived at Abinger Hall for years, Rosamund starts a craft shop in a tiny cottage next door to her new aunts' tea rooms. Her father dies at once and his new wife comes home to England, producing a son Roderic Geoffrey en route.
In Rosamund's Victory (1933) our heroine battles to adopt her half brother (always described as a step-brother) because Eleanor is deemed far too silly and selfish to care for him herself not to mention she is determined to travel back to India (where she soon remarries and is never heard from again). One of Rosamund's aunts (Audrey) and two gardener girls (Drena and Lizabel) are allowed to get engaged in this book, and Rosamund herself meets her distant cousin Geoffrey who is described as a cripple and an invalid who will never marry. We don't know precisely what Rosamund does with Geoffrey except that she takes him to some doctors in London who obviously help him a lot. He stops being a cripple and is much less invalidish. He remains delicate but they marry and produce Geoffrey-Hugh, Rosabel Joy and Rosalin Cicely (twins), Rosanna and Rosilda (also twins), and two more boys called Geoffrey John and Peter Geoffrey. Yes, really. Oh yes, and Geoffrey becomes Earl of Kentisbury so lucky Ros becomes a Countess and goes to live in Kentisbury Castle.
Some of these books are very highly sought after and difficult to find. My copy of Rosamund's Victory was bought by my mother in the early 1990s and she paid £165 for it. It's not even a first edition although the cover is in nice condition. Originally it cost 2/-. That's 10p. Most of my books cost £2 or £3 but the more scarce the book the higher the price. My mother had a copy of Biddy's Secret (1932) when she was at school but was unable to replace it as the only copy she could track down was offered at £500.
The lovely cover shows Ruth, a minor character who marries a wealthy business man and is shipped off to live in Paris, with Joy's twins Elizabeth and Margaret.
Poor old Maidlin has been struggling to grow up but silly Joy won't let her. Quite by chance Maidlin has to save Biddy Devine, another minor character from a regrettable (and secret) marriage to a very unsuitable Frenchman. Luckily he sees the marriage won't work almost at once and runs away to South America where he soon dies. Anyway, poor old Biddy (unbelievably calling herself Madame Bidet) has a baby daughter but can't bring herself to confess all to her sister Mary-Dorothy or Joy or Jen or any of the usual suspects. Maidlin forces her to grow up and come home and in the process grows up herself. In due course she meets and marries a well-known musician Dr Jock Robertson and produces twin girls Marjory and Dorothy, and subsequently several boys. But obviously girl babies are better. And I mustn't forget she develops a wonderful voice and makes a name for herself singing in oratorio. (Biddy is later allowed to marry another Frenchman and have a proper marriage. And, naturally, another daughter.)
My copy of Robins in the Abbey (1947) is from the Collins Seagull Library. I've never been quite sure why the Seagull reprints are so despised by fans; I imagine they must be much abridged. But I'd sooner have a poor reprint than no copy at all.
This is the book where Rosamund has her two sets of twins, Maidlin has her twins, and uncountable characters have more daughters all seemingly named after either Joy or Rosamund.
I think it's the weird obsession with having children and naming them all after each other that makes these books so fascinating. I know my mother, who obviously introduced me to the Abbey Girls, thought this was very funny. She used to roar with laughter at the thought of producing two sets of twins in one year!
And the names, which start out fairly normal just get stranger and stranger. Eventually Jandy Mac (Janice MacDonald), who named her first daughter after Joan but always called her Littlejan, has a third daughter and names her Jantyjoy. Seriously? Jantyjoy? What was Elsie J Oxenham thinking?
|The Testing of the Torment (1926) signed by Elsie J Oxhenham|
In addition to the all important folk dancing there's the May Queen ceremony. All our really important characters get to be May Queen and much time is given to describing their costumes which are all based on flowers. So when Maidlin becomes Queen she chooses primroses as her flower and confusingly becomes known as Primrose. Jen chooses beech leaves and little yellow flowers that dance and becomes Brownie even though she is always described as very fair. Littlejan chooses Marigolds and therefore is known as Marigold. As her name is really Joan she is also known as Joan-Two to distinguish her from the original Joan. It's all rather like a Russian novel where all the characters have six names each.
Probably from Elsie J Oxenham's point of view the most important part of these books is about growing up and helping people. All the characters advise and help one another but Mary-Dorothy Devine becomes the chief family advisor and helper. She is one of the characters thought too old to get married (or as a friend pointed out to me, unlikely to find a husband in the wake of the disastrous WWI) so she becomes a writer of books for school girls, and dispenser of good advice. So practical help or sensible advice is lavishly handed out to people in trouble, like Robertina Brent in Robins in the Abbey (her father is badly injured in a plane crash), or anyone less lucky than our heroines. New characters are invited to the Abbey, to stay at the Hall or in the village and whether they like it or not their lives are turned around. The lucky ones start new careers and find wealthy husbands (no point in a poor one obviously) and have children, and those less likely to marry become successful authors. Well, why not?
Having written all this it's still a mystery why I have read and reread these books so often. Perhaps it's because they are set in a perpetual 1920s/1930s where rich people lead charmed lives and help those less fortunate than they are and the sun always shines. Although the early books hark back to WWI it seems that WWII never impinges on our heroines' lives. But for all their fur coats and large houses and chauffeur driven cars our heroines have plenty of disasters to deal with. And they usually do manage to triumph over disaster in the end. Perhaps that's the thing?
Who knows? The fact remains that I've read them so often I know great wodges of plot off by heart!