One of my reading projects for 2020 was to read as many of Elsie J Oxenham's Abbey Girls books as possible. I have collected all of her books over the years, even the scarcest, and yet until last year, I had never managed to finish a single novel. I thought that I never would!
Many of my book collecting friends rave about Oxenham and rank her first in the Big Four writers of girls' fiction. Up until this year I always preferred all of the other three: Angela Brazil, Elinor M Brent Dyer and Dorita Fairlie Bruce.
However, this year all that has changed!
I started the year reading Girls of the Hamlet Club, and wonder of all wonders, I loved it. The characters all clicked, as did the beautiful setting of the Abbey (the real star of the series). As soon as I'd finished this book, I simply hoovered up the other titles in the series. There are 39 "pure" Abbey books, in addition, there are dozens of linking titles. I haven't yet ventured into the linking books or the stand alone novels. I think that I'll have a rest before embarking on these.
Having enjoyed these wonderful books I can't begin to understand why it took me so long to read them. I wonder if they seemed too grown up for me as a child. The original Abbey Girls - Joan and Joy, grow up through the series, as do all of their many, many friends. And there are so many friends, as well as so many names, titles and twins! As I read the books from the beginning this time, confusion was kept to a minimum fortunately. When I tried to read them as a child, I didn't start from the beginning as the books were so difficult to find, this probably caused me to struggle.
There are a few issues with the books. So many twins and Oxenham's obsession with titles are the main problems. In the early books Joy has twin girls - Elizabeth and Margaret. These twins are the only set for many, many books, but then twins kick in big time! Maidlin has twin girls and then Rosamund has two sets of twin girls! It all seems somewhat unlikely. To add to this, Oxenham marries almost every Abbey girl off to a title...Lady Joy Marchwood, Lady Jen Marchwood; Rosamund, Countess of Kentisbury, Lady Rosalind and so on and on it goes!
Aside from these minor irritations the stories are wonderful. There's a bit too much folk dancing in the early and middle books but this tails off in the later books. Also, the characters have too many names: real names, nicknames, queen’s names (I haven’t mentioned the preponderance of May queens and the annual crowning ceremony), married names, titles and so it goes on. Also the habit of the first generation of Abbey girls naming their children (so many children) after their friends gets confusing....So many Roses that my head started to spin....
But these are all details, I loved the books and they kept me sane during a horrible year. A short break, I think, and then I’ll start reading Oxenham’s other books.