Themes and Influences


Oxenham’s religious background was in Congregationalism. This gave a Protestant ethos to her writing and her expressed opinions. Many of her characters go through difficult periods in their lives, and their religious beliefs help them through. Several of the books written in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly, include discussions between characters as to the meaning of life and the reasons behind events. These in-depth conversations tend to appear less frequently in the later books, but even as late as 1948, in A Fiddler for the Abbey, Mary-Dorothy Devine, who has become “advisor-in-chief to the clan” talks to Rosalind Kane about the biblical concept of “rain falling on the just and the unjust” and the reasons behind the occurrence of both good and bad events.

Folk Dancing

Folk dancing is a strong influence in many of the books. From Girls of the Hamlet Club (1914) and At School with the Roundheads (1915) until The Girls of the Abbey School (1921), it was shown as a fairly easy thing for girls to do, and to teach each other. By the time of The Abbey Girls Go Back to School (1922) it is apparent that Oxenham herself had come into contact with the English Folk Dance Society and realised that the dances were not so simple after all. The books written from this time for the next six years or so, until Abbey Girls Win Through (1928) depict members of the EFDS hierarchy with affection and almost reverence. It seems that something happened to spoil this relationship, as after 1930 these characters do not appear in the books, and are hardly referred to again, certainly not in such glowing terms. The EFDS makes a brief appearance in An Abbey Champion (1946), but the personnel are no longer named. It may have been as simple as the move to Worthing and the impossibility of maintaining as close a friendship at a distance of some sixty miles, but it has been conjectured that ‘Madam’ (Helen Kennedy North) and ‘The Pixie’ (Daisy Caroline Daking) may have objected to the way they were being portrayed. Oxenham never lost the love of folk dancing itself, however, and always shows it as a healthy form of exercise, and a way of lifting oneself out of depression.

Camp Fire

Camp Fire plays a large part in several of Oxenham’s books published between 1917 and 1940. Oxenham was a Camp Fire Guardian when she lived in Ealing, but the attempt to form a group in Sussex failed. The Camp Fire ideals of Work, Health and Love–’Wohelo’–and the training for young girls in household tasks and cookery it provided, were integral to Oxenham’s own philosophy, and underlie the plots of several books. From the Camp Fire as an integral part of a school in A School Camp Fire (1917) and The Crisis in Camp Keema (1928) to the lone Camp Fire Girl, Barbara Holt, in The Junior Captain (1923) and Maidlin becoming a Torchbearer in Maidlin Bears the Torch (1937), Camp Fire is always shown as a way of developing character. As Oxenham became less involved with the organisation, and came more into contact with the Girl Guides, the contrast between the two organisations and their aims are shown, and eventually the reality of the changed situation in England at the time meant that Guides were more often mentioned in her books than Camp Fire.