Part of Elsie J Oxenham’s Abbey series, Damaris Dances (1940) is about two sisters, Rachel and Damaris. At sixteen, by chance, Damaris is found to have talent as a ballet dancer, which upsets her as she had planned to be a bee and chicken farmer. The book explores the effect of Damaris’s new career on the sisters’ lives.
It’s not the best of Oxenham’s books, being more than usually unbelievable, and Damaris is not a particularly likeable character, but it’s important for an understanding of Rachel’s story in the later book A Dancer from the Abbey.
“‘She is still only a child. But for an untrained child, who has never seen the ballet, who knows nothing of what could be, they [Damaris’s made-up dances] are amazing – I say it – amazing!'”
Damaris: You really think I can put off deciding and just have a good time?
Rachel: I think you must.
Damaris: Right-oh! I’ll do it!
“‘All this gorgeous new dancing, and all this ghastly new worrying!'”
Rachel to Damaris: Don’t you think I’ll be proud, when your huge crowd is shouting for Mary Damayris [Damaris’s stage name], to say to myself, “It’s all very well to clap, but in an hour or two I shall have her to myself, and I’ll be rubbing her legs”?
Damaris, in response to Rachel writing a short story: So that’s what you’ve been doing! I thought she was in love, Mary. I am bucked! It’s far more thrilling than a man in the background.
Oxenham is the queen of instant gratification. She often sets up situations where her characters want something to happen, and then gives it to them in a few pages. On page 44 Damaris’s mentor learns that a ballet company will be performing nearby, and says “‘It breaks my heart to think that Les Ballets Russes will come as near to us as Aix, and I cannot take Marie [Damaris] to see them! I am desolated at the thought'”. He has already “wept” once about this, and plans to do so again, but by page 48 he has tickets. Oxenham cannot leave her characters in suspense for long.
Cover of Damaris Dances
Notice the seams on her stockings. In fact nylon stockings, with seams, only began to be sold in 1940, so this shows that my copy is the undated 1960 edition. [My grandmother has suggested that this is wrong – will follow it up when I’m home again.] I’m a bit surprised that Maidlin, in the red dress, is showing her petticoat. Racy stuff.