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What's so intriguing about The Abbey girls books by Elsie J Oxehnam?

Updated on July 8, 2023
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A librarian, family historian and artist, Jen loves to travel and take photographs

Here you will find information on the The Abbey girls series of books by Elsie J Oxenham.

Elsie Jeanette Oxenham was the author of the Abbey girls series. Her real name was Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley, she used her fathers pen surname when writing. Elsie wrote childrens books especially for girls.

There are Abbey girls books on ebay and links to the appreciation societies for Elsie Oxenham and the Abbey girls books are included. Take part on a fun poll on your favourite Abbey girl.

The Abbey girls books

Throughout the Abbey Series the main characters find themselves in situations where they must make the right choice. This often means that they are having to put others before themselves, and are shown growing up and maturing by making difficult decisions.

The Abbey of the series is based on Cleeve Abbey in Somerset, its first appearance is in the second book of the series 'The Abbey Girls'. By the end of this book, cousins Joan and Joy Shirley are living in Abinger Hall. In the gardens of Abinger Hall are the ruins of the Abbey. Joy is the granddaughter of the owner, Sir Antony Abinger, and the Hall is left to her when he passes away. Joan, who was not Sir Antony's relation, has been left the Abbey "Because of her love for it, and because her knowledge of it was so thorough." The Abbey features prominently in the stories throughout the series.

The girls in the stories try to practice the philosophy of the early Cistercian monks who lived in the Abbey. The principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity have been taken to heart. After much deliberations they find that it is the influence of the Abbey which helps them find the right decision.

The inspiration for the Abbey is said to be Cleeve Abbey, a medieval monastery located near the village of Washford, in Somerset, England.

There are 38 books in the abbey girls series.

Main characters - warning spoilers!

who are the Abbey girls?

Joan Shirley - red haired, lives with her mother and her cousin Joy. Her father is deceased. Joy's father and hers were twins. Joan and her mother start out as the caretakers of the Abbey and much laterJoan inherits the Abbey. Nickname is Abbey girl.

Joy Shirley - red haired, close in age to Joan, full of music, loves to walk. Looks enough like Joan to be her twin. Joy's mother died when she was young and her father took off. Inherited Abinger Hall. Nickname is Travellers Joy.

Janice McDonald - Australian. Her almost stepfather was Tony Abinger, although she called him 'Uncle Tony' he was really Joy's uncle. Janice travels to visit the Abbey mentioned by Uncle Tony. Nicname is Jandymac.

Janet Robins (Jen) - blonde haired, younger than Joan and Joy. Shrieks a lot when excited. Her family home is on the yorkshire moors. She is a boarder at school. Nickname is Jenny Wren. Marries Ken Marchwood and lives next door to the Hall at the Manor. Becomes Lady Marchwood.

Rosamund Kane - Blonde haired, boarder at school who was not coping well with boarding. 'Adopted' by Joy to be a companion for Madelena. Nickame is Rose of the world. Rosamund marries a second cousin and lives in a castle as the Countess of Kentisbury.

Madelena - dark haired, English mother, Italian father. Sent to live with her aunt Ann Watson, current caretaker of the Abbey. Moody, temperamental, sensitive, a talented singer. 'Adopted' by Joy when Joy is 21. Nicname is Maidlin or Maid. Becomes one of the two "new" Abbey girls, with Rosamund.

Growing up an Abbey girl

These books are intriguing as they document the characters as they move through the most exciting stages of their lives.

The Abbey series starts with a group of girls aged 14-17 years old and ends with their children being about this age.


There are a number of themes which run throughout the series

Folk Dancing

English Country Dance is a form of folk dance. It is a social dance form, which has earliest documented instances in the late 16th century. The girls of the Hamlet Club originally learn their dances from books. After watching a group of dancers dancing Laudnum Bunches, Cecil Sharp became interested in making notations of the dances. This was around the turn of the 19th Century.

In 1905, the organiser of the Esperance Girls' Club in London, Mary Neal, made use of Sharp's notations in teaching the traditional dances to the club's members. In 1907 Sharp began writing books for publication on morris dancing.

May Queens

Another theme used throughout the series was that of May Queens. Each year the Hamlet Club gets to choose one of the girls as May Queen. The Queen rules for one year and has responsibilities such as making new girls at the school feel welcome. Each queen is attended by a maid of honor and selects a flower which is featured on their train and in their crown of flowers.

Christian Faith

Oxenham was brought up in the Congregational Church, and her beliefs and philosophy of life are demonstrated throughout the series. The characters discuss the reasons why good and bad things happen and as a result grow stronger in their own beliefs. In 'Selma at the Abbey' Selma speaks of herself as '"a dark daughter of the vikings' in a previous life". Does this mean EJO believed in reincarnation?

Maypole dance

Favourite Abbey girl

who is your favourite character in the 'Abbey girls' books

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Jenny Pluck Pears

Morris Dancing

The Abbey books included descriptions of Morris Dancing. Danced by girls and men. Highly decorative costumes using sticks, handkerchiefs and bells.

A form of folk dancing, Morris dancing was part of English traditions for hundreds of years. At the turn of the 20th Century it was being revived.

Morris dancing incorporates folk songs and the dancers are usually accompanied by a pipe or a fiddle. Jen will often play the pipe for the dancers in the stories. Other Minor characters will play a fiddle.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2009 Jen Wood


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