Arguably, of all Victorian novelists Mrs Oliphant is the one whose reputation is most grossly out of proportion to her true merits. Even though she was greatly admired in the last decades of her career, sometimes being described as second only to George Eliot among women novelists,1 yet her obscurity during the first half of the twentieth century could hardly have been more complete. The consensus of opinion, where she received any comment at all, was that she was a dauntingly prolific writer who inevitably wasted her talents by over-production.2 Yet the correctness of this assumption, current from George Saintsbury to Valentine Cunningham,3 must be challenged. If it is true that she wrote far too much, if it is frequently also true that writers who do this become mechanical and repetitive and increasingly tend to aim at popularity by lowering their standards, it is also true that no generalization on literature remains valid for all instances. If we concede that there is much slovenly writing and reliance on stereotyped imagery and diction in her work, that the dialogue at dramatic moments tends to grew shrill and overwrought in all too predictable ways, that the plotting relies too often on forced coincidences, unjustifiably impenetrable mystery and wildly stagey confrontations, nevertheless in almost all of Mrs Oliphant’s novels her coolly ironic vision, her individual and intelligent approach to life, make far more impact than these weaknesses— which scarcely affect the basic fabric of her work. Trollope wrote less than half as much as Mrs Oliphant wrote, and yet he lapsed into false and conventional language and stereotyped plots and character patterns more frequently than she did.
Only very recently—largely in the last quarter century —has Mrs Oliphant begun to be assessed at her true merit, although her books remained obstinately out of print, apart from Miss Marjoribanks (published by Zodiac Books in 1969, with an introduction by Mrs Q.D. Leavis). But in 1984 two more of her novels, Hester and Kirsteen, came into print;5 and two writers have said of her that “she is not a lesser Trollope. She has her own voice and writes unique novels”, that “she was in sane respects ahead of her time”, and that “her best novels. . .are only a little below the level of Jane Austen and George Eliot, and she is indispensable reading for anyone interested in women in the nineteenth century She had fresh and original things to say. . . .Her outlook is so much more sophisticated than that of her contemporaries that she often seems to belong to another age”.6 These tributes are not exaggerated; close examination of her work constantly confirms her originality, the sharp individuality of her voice, her freedcm from the prejudices and conventionalities of many of her oontemporaries. And her over-production never did more than damage the incidentals of her work, leaving largely unaffected the authentic Oliphant voice in style, characterisation and construction.
In this introduction some attempt must be made to summarize Mrs Oliphant’s career of nearly fifty years and some hundred volumes of fiction, and to characterize her special qualities as a novelist. But, in order to accommodate a long and complex bibliography, there is room only for the barest outline.
Mrs Oliphant’s first novel, Passages in the Life of Mrs Margaret Maitland of Sunnyside, Written by Herself , was published when she was barely 21, unusually young for a novelist starting her career. It is a nostalgic study of a rural Scottish community at the time of the Disruption of May 1843, when the Kirk of Scotland split in two over the question of lay patronage. But the book is not about ecclesiastical politics (by deliberate choice); it is simply a loving portrait of a community—although much disfigured by a melodramatic plot evidently intended to supply same dramatic excitement in an otherwise placid and uneventful story. It is a considerable achievement for a girl of that age, but in no meaningful sense does it make a convincing start to her career as a novelist. Scarcely any of the distinctive qualities which I shall be defining later make their appearance; and in style and detail the bock is self-indulgent, far too nostalgic to achieve a balanced view of its middle-aged heroine-narrator, and weakened by an uncertainty of tone, revealed notably in the frequent self-consciousness of style (formal sentences interweaving Scottish idiom with semi-Biblical diction), which cannot be consistently sustained and frequently lapses into a more relaxed and humorous tone. Yet one important virtue the novel does possess; and this was singled out for praise in an early review—its “unity of design and. . .harmony of colour”.7
Mrs Oliphant had not lived in Scotland since the age of ten; but shn grew up in an expatriate Scottish community in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool and she remained throughout her life fiercely proud of her Scottishness. Accordingly the greater number of the novels written during the first decade of her career have entirely or partly Scottish settings. Like Margaret Maitland these novels are motivated largely by nostalgia or by ill-digested autobiography, and there is little of interest in them. But she was consistently experimenting, attempting types of novel which she never again attempted, notably historical novels (Caleb Field, 1851, Katie Stewart, 1853, Magdalen Hepburn, 1854) and social novels portraying poverty and industrial unrest in Liverpool (John Drayton, 1852, The Melvilles, 1853).8 Mrs Oliphant’s gifts did not lie in these directions and she presumably recognised this for herself. She also wrote mystery novels (Merkland, 1850, The Athelings, 1857, The House on the Moor, 1861) and here unfortunately she was unable to recognise her failure and learn from it; many later novels are disfigured by heavy-handed plot mechanics, murky mystifications, and stagey climaxes. But meanwhile she was—during the 1850s—studying and developing several aspects of the type of novel that was to become characteristic of her: the patterns, tensions and pressures of a community (Margaret Maitland, Merkland, Adam Graeme, 1852, Ailieford , 1853, Lilliesleaf , 1856, Zaidee, 1856, Orphans, 1858); the complexities and paradoxes of human motivation (Adam Graeme, Harry Muir, 1853, The Quiet Heart, 1854, The Days of My Life, 1857); a tentatively developing ironic view of human nature (Adam Graeme, The Quiet Heart, The Athelings, and a trilogy of novels. Orphans, Lucy Crofton, 1860, and Heart and Cross, 1863);9 and a complex pattern of interlocking thanes, characters and plots (Adam Graeme, Zaidee, The Athelings, Orphans). She achieved little or nothing of value but she was practising her art.
One novel of this early period, The Days of My Life, deserves mention, not for its intrinsic merits, but because it was a first attempt at a theme to which Mrs Oliphant recurred many times in her later career. It is a study of perverse motivation, a first-person narrative by a self-tormenting, almost masochistic woman, whose neurotic, self-deceiving pride drives her to extraordinary lengths. The book is remarkable only for the boldness of its intention, not for its achievement. It is exaggerated and unimaginative and involves some of the most unbelievable plotting in all Mrs Oliphant’s work; but it is the predecessor of many far more interesting studies of illogical states of mind.
Even briefer reference must be made to two long novels, Zaidee and The Athelings, in which Mrs Oliphant decisively abandoned the Scottish themes that had dominated her work until this time and ambitiously produced complex plots with large casts of characters in an English country-house background which later she was able to handle with considerable skill. But conventional plotting and a largely unredeemed naivety of tone unsupported by irony ensure that these two novels have nothing serious to offer the reader.
In 1858 Mrs Oliphant published one more Scottish novel The Laird of Norlaw, in an approximation to her mature style, and the years of her apprenticeship were virtually over. But at about this time there was a slight gap in her career. In 1859 she published only an uninteresting children’s bock Agnes Hopetoun1s Schools and Holidays, with which began her association with Macmillan, the third of the three main publishing houses with whom she worked throughout her career. But 1859 was also the year in which her husband suddenly died while they were in Rome. The resultant anxiety, the sudden urgency of her need to find an income and a home for herself and her three children, was exacerbated by the tendency at this time for publishers to reject her work. A clear sense of strain shews in The House on the Moor, published in 1861. It is a mystery story, overstrained and overwritten almost to the point of caricature, even though the bock does at times achieve a sombre power.
Yet this very year, 1861, saw the appearance of the first of the Carlingford stories, which proved to be her true self-discovery as n novelist. In spite of The House on the Moor and its more interesting successor The Last of the Mortimers , 1862,10 Mrs Oliphant now moved decisively in the direction, not of Miss Braddon and Wilkie Collins, but of Trollope and George Eliot, by way of ironic objectivity, social observation, and complexity of character.
In the Carlingford stories the characteristic Oliphant flavour appears in its full complexity and richness, even though only the moat tentative hints of it are to be seen in previous novels. The series is a truly remarkable fruition of a decade of exploration. The idea for Carlingford came to Mrs Oliphant suddenly at a time of great stress, and in the short story “The Executor”, published in Blackwood’s Magazine in May 1861, the small town of Carlingford made its first appearance.12 Subsequent stories, “The Rector”, The Doctor’s Family, Salem Chapel, The Perpetual Curate and Miss Marjoribanks , were serialized in the magazine and subsequently published in book form between 1861 and 1866. Although Carlingford was unmistakably modelled upon Trollope’s Barchester, this need be no accusation of derivativeness; Carlingford is perceived in ways markedly different from Barchester, with a much sharper eye for the community as a whole and its relations with the individual, for the social gradations of the town from Grange Lane with its green doom symbolic of semi-gentility to Back Grove Street, which is a near-slim although in the sight of more respectable areas. The clergy are as important in Carlingford as in Barchester, although there is no bishop, no dean, no archdeacon. Mrs Oliphant’s special interest is the relationship between a clergyman and his parish, the conflict (especially in Salem Chapel) between his personal religious values and ideals and the more conventional requirements of his congregation and the “elders” of his church; the vulnerability of a clergyman above all people to scandalous gossip, however unjustified; and the pressures and party tensions set up between the two extremes of Victorian church practice. Evangelicalism (“low church”) and Ritualism (“high church”). These last two themes dominate The Perpetual Curate .
Miss Marjoribanks, the last and finest of this first series, which “has claims to be considered the wisest and wittiest of Victorian novels”, in the opinion of the late Mrs Leavis,13 is remarkable for a sophistication and a technical brilliance which Mrs Oliphant was never again quite to achieve (although several later novels are almost equally impressive). The religious theme is here of no importance (although there is a gently satirical study of a Broad Churchman); the novel is a systematic study of the Carlingford community, emphasising the narrowness and sterility of provincial society (especially for women), its power to frustrate individual talent with its pressures, subtle and unsubtle, towards conformity. The heroine, Lucilla, is initially intended as a challenge to the stereotypes of the Victorian heroine; she is full of tender idealising emotions and an apparent self-effacing devotion to her widowed father; but she is soon shown to be single-mindedly egotistical, never deflected by self-knowledge or a sense of humour from pursuing her own glorification as a queen of provincial society. She is thus, for about two thirds of the book, one of the great comic characters of literature; but in Volume Three a markedly feminist note subtly shifts the bias of Mrs Oliphant’s characterization of Lucilla—she is seen to be the victim of the frustrations endured by a woman of talent in Victorian society, and she “begins to ‘make a protest’ against the existing order of society, and to call the world to account for giving [her intelligence] no due occupation” and looks for “a sphere in which her abilities [would have] the fullest scope”.14 The explicit feminism of these and many other passages was to be very characteristic of Mrs Oliphant’s later work.
One final Carlingford novel, Phoebe Junior, was published ten years later than Miss Marjoribanks, in 1876, and although it is much admired by V. and R.A. Colby in their book on Mrs Oliphant,15 it is, like many of Mrs Oliphant’s books in the 1870s, lacking in the sheer force and imaginative energy of its predecessors and much less of a stylistic unity than The Perpetual Curate and Miss Marjoribanks. Mrs Oliphant was returning to Carlingford motivated by nostalgia rather than by an intense imaginative engagement with her themes. And as so often when she is not very deeply involved with her work there are many insipid love scenes.
Following Miss Marjoribanks Mrs Oliphant had another thirty years during which she was writing novels at the rate of roughly two or three a year. I have already indicated in my first paragraph that there is no justification for refusing to take her seriously as a novelist in view of this astonishing productivity. She never seriously lowered her standards, rarely surrendered to writing according to a formula, and was always ready to fulfil a commission and produce a novel as required by her publishers, always—or almost always—making sure that she satisfied her own artistic conscience. In particular, although she was always ready to supply the conventional ending in which two lovers are happily united after misunderstandings or the opposition of relatives, she was throughout her career consistent in her belief that “the love between mu and women, the marrying and giving in marriage, occupy in fact so small a portion of either existence or thought”16—and thus in her preference for dealing with other themes of more interest to her.
Agnes , the novel which Mrs Oliphant published during the serialization of Miss Marjoribanks, in many ways sets the tone for the rest of her career. It is as unlike Miss Marjoribanks as it well could be, a gloomy tragedy and not a comedy, a painful, raw, clumsy and incoherent book, suffering from Mrs Oliphant’s inability (in this instance) to detach herself from deeply felt autobiographical material but achievinq in its ending an almost Hardyesque pessimism. It reflects the bitter grief experienced by Mrs Oliphant after the sudden death of her daughtar Maggie; she was never again to be so bleakly despairing and rawly protesting in any novel. But to twentieth-century readers much the moat interesting aspect of Agnes is that it is, in the second of its three volumes, a sharply disenchanted study of marriage, the first of a series of such studies which are not unworthy to be compared with He Knew He Right or with Wives and Daughters— or even with Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. Notable novels in this series are At His Gates, 1872, Mrs Arthur, 1877, The Ladies Lindores, 1883, and its sequel Lady Car, 1889, A Country Gentleman and His Family, 1885, and its sequel A House Divided against Itself, 1886, The Marriage of Elinor, 1891 (the date of first American publication), The Railway Man and his Children, 1891, and Sir Robert’s Fortune, 1894, the last being the bitterest and most overtly feminist of the series. Agnes itself shows how the artificial euphoria of a romantic courtship between a naive but intelligent girl and a shallow, superficial aristocrat steadily fades into deep disillusion on the part of the girl. Agnes is one of a very long series of Oliphant heroines who are disillusioned with their men.
And here before proceeding any further I must go into more detail about the unmistakable feminism of Mrs Oliphant’s work. Many critics who refer to her describe her as being entirely unsympathetic to the women’s movement;17 and indeed in her earlier years she was deeply scornful of the campaign for the suffrage for women and of John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women. But her views were changing from year In year and she came to share most of the less extreme views of nineteenth century feminists. Her dramatic change of view is recorded in an article contributed to Fraser’s Magazine in 1880, “The Grievances of Women”.18 The article adopts a consistent tone of bitterness against male prejudice towards women and the refusal to treat women on equal terms. And in 1889 reviewing the anonymous feminist novel Ideala (in fact by Sarah Grand) she made it clear enough that she was now—by conversion—a sympathize with all the claims made by the women’s movement.19 But indeed as early as 1869 she recorded a change in her views on the suffrage for women.21
Mrs Oliphant’s novels are full of men who are riddled with prejudiced views of woven or see them according to rigid stereotypes, of weakly exploitative men or of domineering men who seek to crush the individuality of women; and they are full of frustrated and unfulfilled women, their talents undeveloped or despised, their personalities minimised by covert or overt male contempt; of women seeking full self-expression in as many ways as possible, perhaps by following a career, otherwise by choosing marriage merely as a means of self-development through a vicarious career; of women who find their greatest satisfaction in independence even if this is achieved by widowhood; of women driven to self-discovery through progressive disillusion with men, whether husbands or unsatisfactory lovers from wham escape is possible. In most of the novels where she shows true love triumphant over obstacles she discreetly undercuts this resolution in advance by ironies that call in question the naive values ostensibly endorsed by the story line of the novel. And the language of romantic love as used by men is viewed with sharp irony, frequently exposed as a masculine device (not necessarily a conscious one) for denying a woman the capacity for a nature and equal relationship, and for exploiting her yielding nature. Examples of novels which criticize romantic love in this way are The Primrose Path, 1878, in Trust, 1882, Hester, 1883, and Sir Robert’s Fortune, 1894.
After the imaginative high peaks of Miss Marjoribanks and Agnes Mrs Oliphant’s energies flagged a little; her novels of the late 1860s are of much less interest, though incidental details in thorn are memorable. But in the 1870s she seamed to find her feet again. In this decade she began to develop her interest in unusual states of mind, in obsessive monomania, and in particular in the experience of disorientation or loss of identity. This identity crisis is frequently precipitated by an abrupt change of environment or by being moved from a social background that is familiar to one that is very strange, often by a dramatic upward or downward move in class. Edgar Arden, afterwards Edgar Earnshaw, the hero of Squire Arden, 1870, and its remarkable sequel For Love and Life, 1874, is one of Mrs Oliphant’s most fascinating heroes. He is proved not to be the true heir to the Arden estate and must adapt himself to an altogether humbler status in society. His resultant disorientation, his bewildered melancholia and acute insecurity, especially when in active pursuit of his own identity in London (described in the second of the two novels), are perceived as finely and with as imaginative an intensity as Mrs Oliphant ever achieved in her career. Another interesting treatment of this theme is The Story of Valentine and his Brother, 1875, which deals with the theme of heredity and environment: two brothers, sons of a gipsy mother and an aristocratic father and brought up in widely contrasting backgrounds, experience sharp conflicts between the two strains in their blood. One brother in particular, abruptly thrust up the social ladder to his “true” position, experiences in consequence extreme difficulty in conquering the resultant sense of disorientation. Mrs Oliphant’s interest in this theme continued and appears, for example, in Joyce, 1888.
Other interesting novels of the 1870s are Innocent, 1873, a remarkable though not entirely successful study of a severely deprived mind, trapped in profound emotional anaesthesia; Whiteladies, 1875, whose middle-aged heroine, although a woman of scrupulous virtue and decency of character, is compelled to commiit a mean and dishonourable action which haunts her like a ghostly presence for the rest of her life; The Curate in Charge, 1875, a short novel (two volumes, rather than the usual three) about the death of a mildly ineffectual and self-effacing clergyman who has never been able to make a decision in his life and the consequent crisis in the life of his two daughters; here again the loss of socia1 status for one of the daughters is an important theme.
The 1880s produced some of Mrs Oliphant’s finest novels, even though she was now becoming aware of a younger generation of novelists with themes and artistic ideals that seemed strange and difficult for her In accept. She pursued on the whole the type of novel that she had nwV her own, the domestic novel enriched by acute psychological realism; lot in The Wizard’s Son, 1883, she deliberately set out to create a mn)oi novel, with resonant symbolism and a profoundly moral theme: no less than the conflict of Good and Evil within the soul of its hero Walter Methven. The novel is overwritten, at times embarrassingly so, and its use of a supernatural theme (Walter’s distant ancestor the Warlock Lord materializes to tempt him to evil ways) is a serious error in judgment. Far more interesting is Harry Joscelyn, 1881, a forceful treatment of the identity theme in which the hero, in rebellion against his family, a new name to reinforce his new identity and makes an entirely new life for himself in Italy. And in 1883 appeared Hester, one of the finest Mrs Oliphant’s novels, a quiet restrained tragedy with a very feminist theme. It is concerned with money, a topic which not unnaturally obsessed Mrs Oliphant, who was pressed by financial necessity all her life; the characters almost entirely belong to one family, connected with the principal bank in a provincial town. Of the two heroines one, Catherine, is one of the directors of the bank and is shown as a woman of talent, wealth and strength of character; the other, Hester, is young and of fiercely independent mind, demanding an equal relationship with the man who loves her, until finally her frustrations provoke explicit feminist views. The two women, initially hostile to each other, are driven to mutual understanding when the man they both love, one maternally, the other sexually, betrays them deeply. All the characterization in this remarkable novel is sharply observed and it is finely structured and unified in mood, theme and the interlocking of plot and sub-plot.
One of the most powerful, most deeply-felt motifs of Hester is maternal love (even though the love is in fact only for a foster son); and for Mrs Oliphant the love of parent for child is always far more significant, more preoccupying, more a true test of character, than sexual love. So it was in her life and so it is in her novels. Her two sons, Tiddy (Cyril Francis) and Cecco (Francis Romano), were in some ways the great passion of her later life, and a source of intense anxiety and frequently bitter disappointment to her; and their deaths in 1890 and 1894 were the crowning tragedies of a life plagued by sorrow. As early as Agnes she emphasised the intensity of the parent-child bond, and in a novel published in the same year, 1866, Madonna Mary, she dealt with the strains and stresses of parenthood. But by the 1880s she had lived through the adolescence and early manhood of her sons, who were still living with her, and a mother-and-son theme plays a minor, but significant, role in The Wizard’s Son, where interestingly the sympathies are equally divided, the reader being invited to understand not only a mother’s rather possessive anxieties but her son’s rebellious impulses. In Joyce, 1888, there is a study of the father-daughter theme. But the most forceful of the studies of parenthood did not appear until the 1890s, after Tiddy’s death, in The Railwayman and His Children, 1891, A House in Bloomsbury, 1894, Who Was Lost and Is Found, 1894, and Old Mr Tredgold, 1896. This last, virtually the novel with which her career ended, deals with father-and-daughters and is treated as a comedy. But A House in Bloomsbury is a much more remarkable work, containing a notable anticipation of the Anastasia theme: a mother, longing to be reunited to the son from whom she was long ago separated, persuades herself that on irrefutable evidence a young man who is clearly not her son is in fact so—and he and the other characters in the story collaborate in a benevolent deceit.
Two earlier novels deal with interesting aspects of the theme, although the parental relationship is not central. The Prodigals and Their Inheritance , 1884 (the date of its appearance in the Christmas issue of Good Words), is an economical, shapely, short novel about a father’s posthumous tyranny over his family by means of his will (a theme first handled as pure comedy in The Greatest Heiress in England, 1879). The Son of His Father, 1886, concerns a son haunted by his mother’s fear that he nay have inherited the criminal nature of his charming but feckless father.
By the late 1880s Mrs Oliphant was feeling the strain of constant work without relaxation, and in the world of Hardy, Meredith and Henry James fearing that she must seem irredeemably old-fashioned. Moreover she was more and more convinced that by converting artistic creation into industry, for the sake of an income, she had destroyed her true gifts as a novelist. This is reflected in her autobiography, which she began to write in 1885, and continued in 1891 in the shadow of Tiddy’s death. It is reflected also in a novella serialized in The Cornhill Magazine in 1888, Mr Sandford. (This was collected in 1897 with a similar story and a preface illuminating her theme, under the overall title of The Ways of Life.) It is the story of a middle-aged painter who discovers that his work no longer sells because a younger school of artists has begun to monopolize the interest of the public, a school that despises narrative painting in favour of painting that aim at the highest artistic principles. The story is almost as autobiographical in intention as Agnes had been and it inaugurates the final phase of her career in which she made various attempts to revitalize her special type of novel and in one instance, as I shall show, set out to break new ground. In 1980 she returned to Scottish themes which she had largely neglected since the beginning of her career and published Kirsteen, considered to be her finest Scottish novel.21 A Son of the Soil, published in 1865,22 a very fine Scottish novel on religious and educational themes with a specifically Scottish dimension, was the last of her novels before Kirsteen that could be described as specifically Scottish in theme. Subsequent novels, even though the scene was set, partly at least, in Scotland as often as possible, developed themes no different from those of her English novels; and the Scottish setting was no more than a gratification of her nostalgia. But Kirsteen (although many scenes are set in London) reflects certain specifically Scottish preoccupations; its central male character is a “bonnet laird”, a small landowner living in no more than a superior farmhouse, but fiercely proud of his social standing and family tradition, beside which the Duke of the nearby castle, though a Campbell, is a mere upstart. Drumcarro’s pride is reflected in the brutally authoritarian tone he adopts in his family, especially with his wife and daughters. The plot of Kirsteen charts the heroine’s progress towards self-discovery, stimulated by rebellion against her father, and ending in independence through a career, and not through marriage, the means by which her sisters, in escaping from their father, have diminished themselves. Kirsteen reflects Mrs Oliphant’s romantic and idealized view communities bound together by fervent loyalties and by “that mingling of aristocratic predilections and democratic impulses which belong to” the Scots.23
A later novel on a specifically Scottish theme is The Unjust Steward; or. The Minister’s Debt, 1896, which deals with the sensitive conscience of a Calvinist clergyman.
I have already referred to other novels belonging to the 1890s: those novels in which Mrs Oliphant took the parent-and-child theme into regions of deeper poignancy than ever before; and Sir Robert’s Fortune, the bitterest and angriest of her studies of marriage, in which a wife is systematically exploited, manipulated and humiliated by a husband trim never once recognizes the intolerable nature of his behaviour but seeks to smother his wife’s protests by tender love-making which in fact denies her the right to a mind of her own. It is a curious thought that Jude the Obscure, a much more famous onslaught on marriage, yet a novel which offended Mrs Oliphant deeply, was published just one year later than Sir Robert’s Fortune .
Other novels of interest published in the 1890s are The Cuckoo in the Nest, 1892, a comedy of the class war set in an English village, and Janet, 1893, the story of a governess in a suburban London setting, with many curious echoes of Jane Eyre, and a not entirely successful attempt to free the governess from stereotyped images of her. A much more interesting challenge to a stereotype occurs in The Sorceress, 1893, Mrs Oliphant’s most satisfying novel of the 1890s. The stereotype which she wishes to rehabilitate is that bugbear of the Victorian novel, the adventuress. After a prolonged build-up, reminiscent of Tartuffe, in which her heroine (or villainess) is frequently spoken of with horror and disapproval, she is brought “on stage” and is shown (quite unlike Tartuffe) to be a woman of charm, intelligence and a strong personality, needing only that security which, Mrs Oliphant implied throughout her career, Victorian society denied to women. Technically The Sorceress is one of Mrs Oliphant’s nest accomplished novels.
The 1890s were in many ways not a congenial decade to Mrs Oliphant. The younger generation of writers and artists were for her taste too strident, too aggressive, too flamboyant in their views, and she was duly shocked by those who set out to shock. The literary preference for brevity, the elliptical, the ambiguous, for mood rather than plot, for strict economy of means and the conscious shaping of fiction, fascinated her but bewildered her, making her feel inadequate in her old age. I have already noted the first signs of this anxiety in Mr Sandford. But she did make one attempt to write in an approximation to the literary manner of the 1890s, Two Strangers, 1894. This was published by Fisher Unwin in the Autonym Library, one of the many elegant publishing ventures of the 1890s, with fine typography, handsome vignettes and other decorations, and narrow areas of print on small pages. The content matches this visual sophistication: much conversation, little plot and an inconclusive conclusion, understated and “left in the air”. The whole action occupies less than 48 hours and concerns just seven characters; it is unmistakably Mrs Oliphant’s demonstration that she could if she chose adopt the new mood-and-theme, incident-without-conclusion type of writing, the new reaction against plot, which she had already recognized as typical of, for example, Henry James.24 It is not entirely successful; old-fashioned melodramatic rhetoric tends new and then to invalidate the quiet creation of mood and atmosphere. Nevertheless it is remarkable that Mrs Oliphant deliberately set out to write in this way after so long following much older models.
In 1896 Mrs Oliphant’s apparently inexhaustible energies wore at last feeling the strain and she had finally lost interest in writing fiction (though indeed in 1894 she had said that she hoped who was Lost and is Found would be her last novel).25 She pointed out in a letter to William Blackwood that “I have worked a hole in my right forefinger— with the pen, I suppose!—and can’t get it to heal”.26 And yet she was working on her most ambitious work of non-fiction, her history of the firm of Blackwood, Annals of a Publishing House. She was correcting proofs virtually on her deathbed, in the new heme on Wimbledon Common where she spent the last year of her life free fran the poignant memories of the house in Windsor where she had lived with her sons sincn 1869. And thus, in harness to the last moment, she died on 25 June, 1897—of the only serious illness she had ever had in her life—in the midst of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
In the space available it has not been possible to mention all of Mrs Oliphant’s work in fiction, though I am convinced I have named all of her work that is of the first importance in her characteristic manner. Many interesting but flawed books must regrettably appear only in the Bibliography. In particular I have ignored the mystery—or “sensation” — novels which usually betray Mrs Oliphant into her flabbiest, most overwrought writing; and the love stories which, though often subtly charming, show her working against the grain. (However one of these stories, Ombra, 1872, is worth brief mention since it has a very unorthodox heroine, sullen, difficult, egotistical, reserved.) But there is one group of stories which demand a description, since they were very much admired in her lifetime and have frequently been reprinted. These were the ghost stories, the Stories of the Seen and Unseen, written largely during the last twenty years of her life.
Ignoring an unimportant couple of stories of 1857 and 1876, the first and most important of the Stories of the Seen and Unseen was a Beleaguered city. (For the very elaborate full title refer to the Bibliography.) First published in New Quarterly Magazine in January 1879 and subsequently in one volume by Macmillan and Company at the end of the year (but dated 1880), A Beleaguered City is one of the most sophisticated of Victorian ghost stories. It uses the device of multiple narrators borrowed from Wilkie Collins and from Browning’s The Ring and the Book, and thus provides a kaleidoscopic view of an episode when the inhabitants of the French city of Semur are driven outside the walls by the spirits of the dead—the loved ones of the citizens—who wish to bring about a spiritual revival. It reflects Mrs Oliphant’s deep religious faith, and also her longing to be reunited with her own dead (her mother, her husband, her daughter). It has many moments of characteristic Oliphant irony, notably in the portrait of the very complacent mayor of Semur, and in the subtle undermining of the religious revival by the superstition and conventionality of the citizens. But on the whole it is a self-conscious, over-earnest book, too carefully worked over and thus lacking in spontaneity; it scarcely deserves the high enthusiasm of Mr and Mrs Colby, who consider it to be Mrs Oliphant’s finest work of fiction.27
After A Beleaguered City followed a series of stories in which Mrs Oliphant dealt with two themes: the experiences of the newly dead in the Afterlife, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and the return of the dead to this world in an unavailing attempt to communicate with the living. They all had deep personal significance for Mrs Oliphant and are almost entirely lacking in the characteristic Oliphant qualities which I have been chronicling. They are naively religious and at times sentimental— which one would not have expected from Mrs Oliphant—but at their best they deserve a high rank among Victorian ghost stories for their quietly delicate atmosphere. The finest of them is “The Library Window”, first published in January 1896 in Blackwood’s Magazine. It is a richly poetic study of a highly imaginative heroine who has a semi-mystical communion with the spirit of a distant ancestor, and it is not so much a ghost story as an analysis of heightened sensitivities.
One other of these stories deserves special mention. It was published anonymously in 1895 with the title “Dies Irae”, The Story of a Spirit in Prison. It is, like seme of its predecessors, the story of a journey into the next world from a death bed; but, unlike any of its predecessors, it views the next world with a coolly ironic eye as an echo of this one (Hell is remarkably like the East End of London), and forces the first-person narrator to learn a sharp lesson in human communication. Only in “Dies Irae ” among the Stories of the Seen and Unseen is the authentic Oliphant voice heard.
In this brief survey of Mrs Oliphant’s career it has not been possible to make more than the barest analysis of any of her novels. Thus it is new necessary to give a more systematic and detailed account of the characteristic Oliphant voice in a novel, “an identifiable Oliphant manner and attitude and tone”.28
The most distinctive characteristic of Mrs Oliphant as a novelist is her disillusioned, anti-romantic stance expressed by the sort of irony that derives largely from Jane Austen and yet is distinctly her own. In her nature work she again and again challenges any naively oversimplified view of life, any surrender to uncomplicated, undiscriminating emotions which fails to do justice to the complexity of life, any false intensification or heightening of reality for dramatic effect or to gratify the complacent prejudices of the reader. This is in many ways an un-Victorian trait and it was not really recognized by the Victorians; reviewers tended to see only the apparently more conventional qualities of her work. This is part of the reason why her work has not been valued at its true worth until the late twentieth century.
On many occasions Mrs Oliphant’s irony seems to be a form of ambivalence, in which she seems both to confirm the positive, high- rhetorical values which many Victorian novelists were prepared to stress, romantic love, parental love, the anguish of death-bed scenes and so on, and elsewhere to call them into question. Indeed in spite of her predominant anti-romanticism there is a powerful undertow of romantic lyrical feeling, especially in her Scottish novels and above all when writing about Scottish scenery (in, for example, The Wizard’s Son and Kirsteen). Yet she frequently achieves a detached, ironic vision by a constant offsetting of one point of view by another, leading to a balanced and partial resolution of two sharply contrasting views. This is seen particularly in her handling of the “happy ending”. There may be enough to satisfy the conventional reader: lovers reunited, straying sons forgiven, deaths averted, cruel relatives softened. Yet in subtle ways it may be suggested that this happy ending is not very satisfactory at all. At the end of The Ladies Lindores, to give a striking example, the heroine, happily widowed, is united to the man she has always loved. And yet the novel ends on a note of anti-climax, of disappointment: perhaps Lady Car’s second marriage will not be happier than her first. (And indeed it is not, as the sequel Lady Car shows.)
If we examine Mrs Oliphant’s handling of those major themes of the Victorian novel, love, parenthood and death, we will find that she is constantly challenging the stereotypes of both life and fiction. I have already given details of her analysis of the emotional traps into which love decoys women (and sometimes men). And she can also be very perceptive—notably in Agnes—about the deceptively euphoric state of lovers, in which each partner is liable to create a largely false of the other. Her novels are full of young women who make bitter journey from innocence to experience, who grow sadder and wiser no experience proves to them that life (or men) cannot fulfil their idealistic expectations. In consequence they seek bleak consolation in a sort of stoical pessimism, a mood that is discernible in many of her earliest novels, written before any signs of her mature style appeared in her work.
I have already made reference to those novels in which she deals with parenthood, so it is enough here to comment on her treatment of death and mourning. Her approach is notably different from that of most Victorian novelists, although occasionally, notably in the Stories of the Seen and Unseen, she does adopt the characteristic high-rhetorical, poetic-biblical, tear-soaked atmosphere of deathbeds and subsequent grief so much favoured by her contemporaries. Mrs Oliphant, however, when writing about death, normally adopted muted, ironic tones. Dying people approach the next world without any rhetorical heightening of feeling, often in a muddled state of mind incapable of speaking profundities, let alone understanding them. They are often surrounded by relatives who are bored, embarrassed, or distracted by egotistical matters, and the servants take advantage of the relaxing of discipline consequent on the time spent by the family in the sickroom. A similar contrast between inflated expectation and prosaic reality occurs in the treatment of mourning. Widows, sons and daughters—even if they loved the dead man—do not always find they can convincingly perform the elaborate rituals of grief, nor even experience the emotions they are expected to feel. A particularly fine example is in A Country Gentleman and his Family , which opens with two deaths producing two widows. Neither marriage had been a success and each widow feels much more a sense of release than grief. One widow, Mrs Warrender, is very subtly observed. Her irrepressible energy is contrasted with the stereotypes of grief (lying dcwn to rest, the gown covered with crape, the tears). There is a decorous conversation between mother and son, each of when harbours fewer grieving thoughts than he or she conscientiously tries to show. Each of them begins to drift towards making long-needed changes in the house— and then accepts a reproach from the other that “It is too soon to think of that”. Notable novels which contain a restrained treatment of death are Madonna Mary, 1866, May, 1873, A Rose in June, 1874, The Curate in Charge, 1876, Carita, 1877, The Primrose Path, 1876, Grove Road, Hampstead , 1880,29 A House Divided Against Itself, 1886, The Son of his Father, 1887, Old Mr Tredgold , 1896.
One might examine other themes which Mrs Oliphant handles ironically, indeed at times satirically. Lack of space makes it impossible to do more than make brief reference to her view of English society, the view of a Scotswonan who felt herself to come from a more democratic, less class-obsessed society.30 She refers frequently, with relish, to the stratification of the English class system, to the obsession with social status, to the adulation of the aristocracy; and to the conditioned reflex of exclusivism found among people of rank—or alternatively their self-conscious anxiety to condescend from their privileged world in quest of pseudo-democratic contacts which they are scarcely equipped to sustain. She wrote frequently about the new aristocracy of trade and money, the nouveaux riches with their ostentation, their vulgarity, and their largely unsuccessful attempts to acquire social graces appropriate to their status. A satirical theme to which she recurred several times (notably in Squire Arden and its sequel For Love and Life, and in It Was a Lover and His Lass) was the futility of the London “season” with its endless round of dinner parties, balls, receptions, rides in Rotten Row and dancing attendance upon the aristocracy, its feverish concern for keeping up the ritual no matter what it costs, notably in erosion of personality.
Structurally, Mrs Oliphant’s novels belong to a characteristic pattern of Victorian fiction—as exemplified in, for example, Middlemarch and Can You Forgive Her? —a complex, intricate plot pattern designed to illustrate a particular theme or themes, themes which are reinforced by parallels between plot and sub-plot, by ironic heightenings through contrast, by antithetical or symmetrical pattemings of the characters, by episodic intensification and—more obviously—by specific thematic discussion among characters, both principals and choric characters. Mrs Oliphant was aware of the value of “self-restrained closeness of . . . construction”31 in novels and she made free use of the devices to which I have referred. For exanple, she elaborated the use of the choric character in a short novel Mrs Clifford’s Marriage (1863 in Blackwood ‘s Magazine and never republished), presumably to practise the technique before making more imaginative use of it in The Chronicles of Carlingford . Choric characters are an obvious enough device; but in all her finest novels she achieves a complex and often rich structure which entirely contradicts the myth that her over-production fatally weakened her artistic gifts. The very late novel Sir Robert’s Fortune has as its main plot, as I have already indicated, the progress of the initially trusting wife of an exploitative husband towards bitter disillusion; the sub-plot echoes thin with another couple, lovers who marry only at the end, where again the ran is openly exploitative; but the woman is willing to understand this and to accept it while guiding her lover to better behaviour. The two plot’s and the two heroines provide ironic commentary upon each other. The Wizard’s Son is the most elaborately—indeed self-consciously— structured of her novels, making use of very lyrical symbolism (a device which she uses occasionally but with none of the imaginative power of Dickens, for example) to reinforce her central theme, into which all the characters fit with neat and complex logic. The Wizard’s Son is a contrived artefact and lacks the spontaneity of Hester, in which the theme of money is illustrated directly or indirectly through all the characters, who involve one another in financial threats and temptations, who reveal their obsession with money in ways trivial and serious, who echo and parallel one another and comment upon one another’s actions, all with no sense of forced contrivance or over-ingenuity, since the characters are in any case interlocked in emotional and familial bonds (they are all members of one single family), as well as financial ones.
Two other interesting novels call for brief moment. The Curate in Charge, 1876, (to which I have already referred) examines the crisis in the lives of the daughters of a clergyman who dies never having made adequate provision for himself or for their future. The book resolves itself into an ironic analysis of class consciousness in a rural parish and a study of one of Mrs Oliphant’s obsessive themes, the need, and indeed obligation, to be of some use in the world, which preoccupies both of the heroines and also the young clergyman who canes to replace their father. The central moral issue is a dilemma of choice, involving the young curate but also echoed in one of the heroines; and ironically echoed by the total inability of the heroine’s father to make any choice, or even to recognise the existence of his own dilemma. The Greatest Heiress in England, 1879, is an elegantly structured comedy on the theme of fortune-hunting. Five young men, each directly or implicitly sponsored by a female relative, pursue the “greatest heiress” of the title, and their wooings interweave neatly towards a series of proposals in which the seemingly least likely of the candidates is the one who succeeds. But the book is in fact a sustained examination of English society in a small town. Characters involved in the pursuit of a fortune are perpetually assessing each other according to a complex code of social determinants: professional status, religious sect, educational background, income, and even such lesser matters as the timing of meals, the decoration of one’s home, the particular locality in which one lives. And an education theme, implying a possible antidote to the class-obsession which preoccupies the characters, counterpoints the themes of class and money.
Like many nineteenth-century novelists, particularly the women, Mrs Oliphant was interested in the inner life of her characters, and there are many elaborate analyses of thought processes, especially of those characters who are trapped in a tangle of self-deceptions: morally inadequate young people caught in emotional traps, lovers unable to acknowledge the meanness of their deceits or their evasions of honourable motive, even cynical self-justifying amoralists (when only with difficulty can she draw into the circle of her sympathies). At times, her delight in examining complex thought processes was such that she could fill four pages or more with them, or unexpectedly analyse the thoughts of a character when previously the reader had supposed to be entirely shallow and superficial. At other times she likes to examine the turmoil in the feelings of a character who, faced by a sudden crisis, is obliged to cane to terms both with the situation and with his own nature. It was her conviction that what we call thinking is not real thinking at all but a complex pattern of daydream, random images, disjointed fragments of ideas blowing at random into the mind, “a kind of panoramic contemplation of everything hovering within one mental range”;32 this view recurs several times in her work. If then people are incapable of coherent rational thought it follows that self-deception is inevitable and that crises of self-discovery are very disturbing mental phenomena, some times precipitating acute emotional excitement and sometimes echoed by a phantasmagoria of the external landscape which provides a setting for the character’s self-examinations. A notable instance of this is the hero of It was a Lover and His Lass, who experiences a powerful mental upheaval when forced to acknowledge to himself the dishonourableness of his previous conduct; he wanders through the London parks “which gave a kind of unnatural background, familiar yet strange to his thoughts”.33 The external world becomes a purely subjective reflection of his mental crisis. As a result of his crisis he achieves clearer self-knowledge and a matured ability to make a decision, and this is a characteristic moment in the mental life of many of Mrs Oliphant’s characters, especially her heroines.
In conclusion, there is one feature of Mrs Oliphant’s work that deserves brief mention, her sensitivity to environment. One could scarcely compare her to Hardy or the Brontës; her art was only intermittently a poetic one (though on occasion, as in “The Library Window”, there is an unforced lyricism in her writing). The environment to which Mrs Oliphant responds is above all a human one, the community of Carlingford or of a house divided up into flats (in Hester) or of the villages in which she delights to set so many of her novels. She stresses the tensions and pressures within a community, the sense that all activities are performed under the perpetual critical eye of immediate neighbours, the inter-involvement of people in each other’s lives, the maintenance of external standards of behaviour, the loyalties, and the tendency to a suspicion of outsiders. A particularly interesting example is within the Precincts, 1879, set in the precincts of a great abbey church, with its musicians, choristers and other people whose lives depend upon the serving of the abbey. (It is unmistakably inspired by St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and its adjacent cloisters.) At times Mrs Oliphant can communicate a sense of environment, especially in her Scottish settings, through a sharp particularity of detail—the interiors of rooms, people engaged quietly in the performance of their daily routines, houses in the setting of streets and so on. But to pursue this theme any further would be to make a study of Mrs Oliphant’s style, which would be beyond the scope of this introduction.
An exhaustive bibliography of Mrs Oliphant’s work would be a very long bock. Of necessity I must here confine myself to her fiction, ignoring her biographies, her topographical works and all her articles (even those in which she reviewed fiction), but including nevertheless the Autobiography and Letters, which is an essential sourcebook for her worn as a novelist. Excluded also, unfortunately, are the reviews of her work, the obituaries and the books from the late nineteenth century to our own time which make detailed reference to her work. The one book about her before 1986, The Equivocal Virtue, by V. and R.A. Colby, is included in the Abbreviations that precede the Bibliography.
The novels and collections of shorter fiction are listed in strict chronological order, the chronological sequence being settled by a book’s first appearance, whether this was in a periodical or in volume form, for if a book was first published in volume form many years after its initial serialization then, both stylistically and thematically, it belongs to the earlier date. Unfortunately, there is one unavoidable exception to the strict chronological sequence: The Chronicles of Carlingford (apart from the final book Phoebe Junior) must be treated as one uninterrupted sequence, running from “The Executor” of May 1861 to Miss Marjoribanks , serialized from 1865 to 1866 and published in three volumes in 1866. The Chronicles overlap at the beginning with the earlier and more mature novels, including The Last of the Mortimers of 1862 and Heart and Cross, which belong stylistically with the earlier work, not with Carlingford; and at the end with A Son of the Soil of 1863 to 1865 and Agnes of 1865, which nark distinct new departures in her work, and thus appropriately inaugurate the uninterrupted sequence of novels of the last thirty years of her career. Also the Stories of the Seen and Unseen, being works of an essentially different kind fran her other novels and short stories, are given separate chronological treatment.
Unlike most Victorian novelists who remained faithful to one or two publishers throughout their careers, Mrs Oliphant worked with a bewilderingly large number of publishers, and this is made clear in the Bibliography, while it has been thought useful to index in Appendix E all the publishers of wham she made use or who republished her work, including those who did so in the present century. Throughout her life she retained her link with three publishers: Hurst and Blackett, successors to Colburn the publisher of her first four books, Blackwood and Sons of Edinburgh and London, who enabled her to maintain close Scottish connections, and Macmillan and Son, who published A Son of the Soil, one of her most deeply-felt Scottish books, and subsequently many of her most interesting books. But from the 1870s onwards other publishers took one or more of her books. Smith, Elder published Carità, within the Precincts and The Ways of Life (respectively in 1877, 1879 and 1897); Longmans, Green and Co. published In Trust, Madam, Lady Car and Old Mr Tredgold between 1882 and 1896; and Methuen & Co. published The Prodigals and their Inheritance, Sir Robert’s Fortune, The Two Marys and The Lady’s Walk between 1894 and 1897. It is noteworthy that sometimes a novel and its sequel were published by different publishers—for example The Ladies Lindores, 1883, by Blackwood, and its sequel Lady Car, 1889, by Smith, Elder. This is a sad comment on how difficult it was for Mrs Oliphant to rely on the consistent loyalty of her three main publishers.
Starting in the 1860s, but mainly between 1875 and 1878, the two publishers Chapman and Hall and Ward, Lock in a joint venture began to publish several of Mrs Oliphant’s novels as yellowbacks or railway novels, including them in the Select Library of Fiction—and probably also publishing them simultaneously in a more austere style. In the Bibliography all editions of these novels that can be traced have been included—usually under the name of only one of these two publishers, where the evidence is only that name; but without any doubt all books in the series were published by both firms. In most instances the novels published by Chapman and Hall and Ward, Lock remained the property of the two firms and not of the publishers who had originally published the books.
After an initial period in which most of Mrs Oliphant’s novels appeared first in volume form, she began more and more to serialize them in periodicals. As with publishers so with periodicals: she remained at first loyal to the periodicals published by two of her main publishers: Blackwood’s Magazine and Macmillan’s Magazine. Hurst and Blackett had no periodical of their own and the majority of her books published by that firm appeared first as three-deckers. But during the last three decades of her career she was constantly being asked to contribute a novel—or short story—to a new periodical or to one which needed a boost to its circulation. She describes in her autobiography how a representative of The Graphic called on her at a time of financial crisis and asked her for a contribution—which became Innocent, serialized fran 4 January to 28 June 1873 and subsequently published by Sampson Low in 1873.54 Three other periodicals which took much of Mrs Oliphant’s fiction were The Cornhill (from 1868), Good Words (from 1866) and Longman’s Magazine (from 1882). The complete list is indexed in Appendix F.
Pressed throughout her career by the need to find an income for herself and her male dependants, Mrs Oliphant scarcely ever experienced financial security and she was always willing to respond when publishers approached her for a contribution, even when she had doubts of her ability to fulfil a commission in time. Yet such was her professionalism that; she invariably completed what she had undertaken even when she had several projects running concurrently. Not even her recurrent emotional crises, the series of bereavements which tragically punctuated her life, could interrupt the flow of her work; indeed she used her work as a drug to deaden the pain.35
One of the most interesting outlets for her fiction from the 1880s was the firm of Tillotson and Son of Bolton, who, from 1873 when their Fiction Bureau was founded, pioneered the serialization of fiction in newspapers, initially those published in the northern counties of England. By the 1890s many famous English novelists (Hardy, Wilkie Collins, Ouida, Miss Braddon and many others) had been or were being serialized in weekly newspapers (or in Friday or Saturday editions of daily newspapers) throughout most of England and in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Tillotsons approached Mrs Oliphant in 188136 and in due course six novels and two short stories appeared in a wide range of newspapers taking Tillotson naterial: Sir Tom, Oliver’s Bride, The Son of His Father, The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow, The Heir Presumptive and the Heir Apparent , and The Sorceress, and the stories “The Golden Rule” and “A Chance Encounter”. Much of this is inferior work, apart from Sir Tom and The Sorceress, and perhaps The Son of His Father ; but it remains clear evidence of Mrs Oliphant’s professionalism.
Almost from the first American publishers and periodicals took an interest in Mrs Oliphant’s work. In particular the magazine Littell’s Living Age of Boston, Massachusetts, which reprinted almost exclusively articles and serialized fiction from British periodicals, reprinted the entire Chronicles of Carlingford and the greater part of those novels of Mrs Oliphant which were serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine, Macmillan ‘s Magazine, Good Words, The Cornhill Magazine and Others during the 1860s and 1870s. And these British periodicals were themselves readily available across the Atlantic. As a consequence, where there was in Britain a delay between the serialization of a novel and its publication in volume form it frequently happened that an American publisher brought it out in print in advance—sometimes several years in advance— of British publishers. Or at least the novel was published concurrently by British and American publishers. In view of this the Bibliography uses extensive details of American publication. But no attempt has been made to provide details of American publication as complete as those of British publication. Where the first American edition was later than the first British edition it is usually ignored; equally so are later American editions, unless there is something of interest in them.
Also included in the Bibliography are details of all editions published by Bernhard Tauchnitz of Leipzig, that most famous of all continental markets for English books, and also those (all that I have traced) published by another Leipzig firm, Heinemann and Balestier.
I have avoided the use of the terms “Second” and “Third Edition” and so on, except in inverted commas, since it is never entirely certain that what was called a new edition was truly an edition in the bibliographical sense, rather than an impression. For example, The Cuckoo in the Nest was printed four times in 1892, always in three volumes, in September, in October, and then twice in November, and these were described as the First, Second, Third and Fourth Edition, while the first one-volume edition in February 1893 was described as the Fifth Edition. Yet, although it has not proved possible to examine all four three-volume “editions”, it seems almost certain that they were identical with each other, simple reprints, issued in this way by Hutchinson and Co. to give a misleading appearance of an unprecedented demand for the book.
As I have already indicated, the books appear in as precisely chronological an order as I can manage; and this entails a number of changes from the sequence of books presented in the existing bibliographies, notably that of Mrs Coghill, included in the Autobiography and Letters of 1899, and that of Mr and Mrs Colby in The Equivocal Virtue, which is copied frcm Coghill with only minor modifications. One example of the changes I have made will be enough. A very early novel, Merkland, appears in Coghill and in Colby as Mrs Oliphant’s third novel, following Margaret Maitland and Caleb Field . But it must be her second . The first edition of Caleb Field in 1851 is described as being “by the Author of . . . Margaret Maitland, Merkland &c.” and includes a review of Merkland in an advertisement supplement. What is more, a copy of Merkland at the National Library of Scotland contains a different advertisement supplement opening with the words, “On the 1st of January 1851 will be commenced . . . .” Thus Merkland was evidently published late in 1850, although the date 1851 appears on the title page. According to British Library date-stamps Caleb Field was received by the library three months before Merkland; but there have always been great variations in time between dates of publication and dates of reception by the British Museum Library In her autobiography Mrs Oliphant states that she started Caleb Field the night after she had finished Margaret Maitland 37—but Caleb Field, though very short, is a historical novel and would clearly have required much longer time to finish than Merkland, a story of Scottish life, owing to the need for historical research.
One final feature of the Bibliography needs explanation. Early in her career, in the 1850s, Mrs Oliphant worked on a few novels with her brother William Wilson. To be precise, what seems to have happened is that Wilson attempted a novel on the theme of industrial poverty and unemployment, John Drayton, but could rake no progress with it, and he evidently handed it over to his sister to complete. John Drayton and it»» two successors (forming a loose trilogy). The Melvilles and Ailieford, are unmistakably almost entirely by Mrs Oliphant. Subsequently Wilson made a new attempt to turn himself into a novelist, and five novels were published anonymously but undoubtedly by him between 1854 and 1871. Though utterly feeble, they have qualities in common that mark them as being by the same author, and their autobiographical content proves them to be by Wilson. Further details will be found in Appendix D, where these five novels are listed. All eight novels, plus one other written by Mrs Oliphant at the age of about sixteen, are attributed to Wilson in the British Library catalogue, but the true authorship of the ones listed in this paragraph has been established in articles in Notes and Queries, between 1955 and 1981, respectively by Sara Keith, Vineta Colby and myself.30 Accordingly it has seemed right that all these novels should be included in their appropriate place in the Bibliography.
The explanation of Abbreviations will be found in the preamble to the Bibliography.
1. For example Meredith Townsend, Obituary of Mrs Oliphant, The Spectator 79 (3rd July 1897): 12-13; “Mrs Oliphant and her Rivals” by One Who Knew Her (William Wallace), The Scottish Review 30 (October 1897): 282-300. And here is the American writer Harriet Waters Preston: “In their manner of treatment, midway between the demure conventionalism and half-unconscious drolleries of Miss Austen and the labored intellectuality and excessive research of the more imposing George Eliot, [The Chronicles of Carlingford ) seem to me among the soundest, sweetest, fairest fruits we have of the unforced feminine intelligence”. (Obituary of Mrs Oliphant, The Atlantic Monthly 80 (September 1897): 425.)
2. A severe judgement to this effect appeared in The Saturday Review in a review of the Autobiography and Letters dated 20 May 1899 (88: 627-8). The reviewer calls Mrs Oliphant a “trades-union author” who reduced the creation of fiction to an industrial process and wrote only for money (an entirely misleading statement). Similar views were expressed by Leslie Stephen and his daughter Virginia Woolf, the latter with a specifically feminist bias: MOWO is a victim of the system which “enslaved (the] intellectual liberty” of women writers (Leslie Stephen, The National Review 30 (July 1899): 741; Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, London: Hogarth Press, 1938, p. 166).
3. George Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century Literature (London: Macmillan, 3rd ed., 1901), pp. 347-8; Valentine Cunningham, Everywhere Spoken Against; Dissent in the Victorian Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 232.
4. The rediscovery seems to have been initiated largely by Lucy Stebbins in a chapter of her book A Victorian Album (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1946). But little of significance is here said about MOWO’s work.
5. See items 417 and 520a (Addenda) in the Bibliography.
6. R.C. Terry, Victorian Popular Fiction 1860-80 (London: Macmillan, 1983), pp. 72, 73; Merryn Williams, Women in the English Novel 1800-1900 (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 159.
7. “A Triad of Novels”, Fraser’s Magazine 42 (November 1850): 574.
8. These two novels,along with Ailieford, were never acknowledged by Mra Oliphant, who allowed her brother Wilnam Wilson to take the credit for them. See the last paragraph of this Introduction, and Appendix D.
9. Since 1863 was a year in which The Chronicles of Carlingford were being serialized it may seem illogical to treat Heart and Cross as an early novel. But in style it belongs entirely with the novels of the 1850s, being very naive and plotted in very conventional ways. Lt, along with Lucy Crofton, nay have originally been composed at the time of Orphans . Accordingly it appears in the Bibliography as the last of the early novels.
10. The Last of the Mortimers, though it has its admirable qualities, notably a subtle interweaving of two first-person narratives, belongs in style to the 1850s, and is included in the Bibliography a« the last but one of the early novels, even though it overlaps with the beginning of The Chronicles of Carlingford.
11. A&L, pp. 69-70, 84.
12. “The Executor” was not republished in Great Britain. This was because MOWO later rewrote the story as a full-length novel, Brownlows, published 1868 after serialization in Blackwood’s Magazine, the setting of the story no longer being Carlingford. However it was republished in America in collected editions of The Chronicles of Carlingford . See items 110, 111 and 114 in the Bibliography.
13. Mrs Q.D. Leavis, Introduction to A&L (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1974), p. 22.
14. Miss Marjoribanks III, 106? II, 282-3. These views resemble those expressed later by Virginia Woolf. See note 2 above.
15. Colby, pp. 67-74.
16. A&L, p. 67.
17. For example Mrs Leavis, A&L, Leicester UP ed., p. 454, note to p. 70; and Patricia Stubbs, Women and Fiction (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1979), pp. 39-44.
18. Fraser’s Magazine 101 (n.s. 21) (May 1880): 698-710.
19. “The Old Saloon”, Blackwood’s Magazine 146 (August 1889): 257-8.
20. Review of The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Women’s Work and Women’s Culture, a Series of Essays, Edited by Josephine G. Butler, The Edinburgh Review (October 1869): 572-602. Although the article is severely critical of Mill, MOWO eventually finds herself adopting a view markedly sympathetic to the suffrage movement for women householders.
21. Two contemporaries who thought so were W.E. Henley and J.M. Barrie. Henley’s view is recorded in the Diary of A.C. Benson (ed. Percy Lubbock, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1926), p. 47. Barrie gives his view in his preface to MOWO’s posthumous collection of short stories, A Widow’s Tale and Other Stories (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood & Son, 1898), p. vii. Merryn Williams considers Kirsteen MOWO’s masterpiece, a view that I cannot share (Williams, see note 6 above, p. 163).
22. A Son of the Soil appears in the Bibliography as the first of the post-Carlingford novels, although it coincided in its serialization and two-volume publication with The Perpetual Curate and Miss Marjoribanks . It was published anonymously, since it meant a very great deal to MOWO.
23. Kirsteen II, 173.
24. See for exanple “New Books”, Blackwood’s Magazine 126 (July 1879): 88-107. The article includes a review of three works by James.
25. A&L, p. 417.
26. A&L, p. 427. (Letter dated 6 October, 1896).
27. Colby, pp. 86, 95. See also Vineta and Robert A. Colby, “A Beleaguered City : A Fable for the Victorian Age”, Nineteenth Century Fiction 16 (1962): 283-301.
28. Mrs Q.D. Leavis, Introduction to A&L, Leicester UP ed., p. 26.
29. This is the date of the first appearance of this story, in Good Cheer, the Christmas number of Good words.
30. However, she also stresses the “aristocratic predilections” of the Scots. See above page 10 and note 23.
31. Review of Hurrish by Qnily Lawless, The Spectator 59 (30 January 1886): 148.
32. Sundays (London: Nisbet, 1858), p. 20. Sundays was MCWD’s first work of non-fiction.
33. It Was a Lover and His Lass III, 176.
34. A&L, pp. 127-8.
35. Letter to Mrs Harry Coghill, 30 November, 1890, A&L, p. 379.
36. Macmillan MSS, BL Add MS 54919, ff. 33-4. (In a letter to George Lillie Craik dated 25 November 1881 MDWO refers briefly to the agreement with “the newspapers”, i.e. Tillotson and Son.)
37. A&L, p. 23.
38. Sara Keith, “Margaret Oliphant”, Notes and Queries 200 (1955): 126-7; Vineta Colby, “William Wilson, Novelist”, N&Q 211 (1966): 60-6; John Stock Clarke, “Mrs Oliphant’s Unacknowledged Social Novels”, N&Q 226 (1981): 408-12.