Margaret Oliphant Criticism - Essay

Vineta and Robert A. Colby (essay date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Seen and the Unseen," in The Equivocal Virtue: Mrs. Oliphant and the Victorian Literary Marketplace, Archon Books, 1966, pp. 88-107.

[In this excerpt, Vineta and Robert Colby review the varied qualities of Oliphant's supernatural tales.]

Early in her career, in her novels and in her biography of Irving, Mrs. Oliphant had revealed a sympathy for the visionary mystic, the prophet without honor in his country—just such a figure as is represented in the tragic Paul Lecamus of A Beleaguered City. Her study of Montalembert brought her into contact with the French monastic revival, the continental counterpart of the Oxford Movement. The interest she...

(The entire section is 7818 words.)

Douglas Gifford (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Scottish Short Stories, 1800-1900, edited by Douglas Gifford, Calder & Boyars, 1971, pp. 12-13.

[In the following excerpt, Gifford gives a brief analysis of "The Library Window. "]

Margaret Oliphant's "The Library Window" is a deceptively slight story. At first it seems close to James's Turn of the Screw in method; but it becomes even more disturbing and demoniac on reflection, and its links are rather with the ambiguity of Wandering Willie's Tale or Hogg's frequent tales with dual interpretations.

On one level, it is almost a modern version of the good fairy, bad fairy tales; with Aunt Mary set against Lady...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Robert and Vineta Colby (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mrs. Oliphant's Scotland: The Romance and the Reality," in Nineteenth-Century Scottish Fiction, edited by Ian Campbell, Barnes & Noble Books, 1979, pp. 89-103.

[In this essay, Robert and Vineta Colby discuss Oliphant's mission to educate her readers to the ways of Scottish life in her stories and novels.]

The wandering Scot, patriotic and energetic, pushing his fortunes at the ends of the earth, canny and practical, yet moved always by the memory of his old home, is a familiar figure in the real life of experience and in the imaginary life of literature.

Lionel Johnson, "R. L. Stevenson",


(The entire section is 6950 words.)

Margaret K. Gray (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Selected Short Stories, by Margaret Oliphant, edited by Margaret K. Gray, Scottish Academic Press, 1985, pp. vii-xii.

[In the following excerpt, Gray explains Oliphant's conception of evil in relation to her supernatural tales.]

Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant was born on 4 April 1828 in the small village of Wallyford, East Lothian, the youngest of the three surviving children of six born to the Wilson family; she died on 25 June 1897 in Wimbledon. In almost half a century of literary production Mrs Oliphant published ninety-three novels, at least thirty-six short stories, several biographies and histories—notably Annals of a Publishing...

(The entire section is 2261 words.)

Gerald Mangan (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Earthy and the Unearthly," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4,349, August 8, 1986, p. 870.

[In this review of Selected Short Stories, Mangan finds the stories sometimes interesting and probing, though the prose is often padded.]

During a career spanning almost half a century, Margaret Oliphant (1828-97) published a prodigious body of fiction which included, among ninety or so other novels, The Chronicles of Carlingford and Kirsteen. In her introduction to six of Oliphant's supernatural tales, Margaret K. Gray portrays a strong-willed literary workhorse, widowed in her youth, who was obliged to support a family of ailing and feckless...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Forward Into the Past," in No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, 1988, pp. 172-73.

[In this excerpt, Gilbert and Gubar explore the theme of the "literary father" in Oliphant's story "The Library Window. "]

In 1896, Mrs. Margaret Oliphant published a semi-autobiographical Gothic fantasy that seems to define the literary father as no more than a ghostly precursor. "The Library Window" recounts the obsession of an imaginative young woman with a hallucinatory male figure whom she thinks she glimpses in the window of a men's college across the road from the home of some relatives she is visiting. Night and day, brooding on the absent presence of this literary father, whose intellectual labors she consistently associates with the work her own "papa" does in his library, she watches him "writing, always writing. . . ." Like Hardy's passionately imaginative heroine, she becomes so completely fixated on the phantom man of letters who is her hero that her aunt must explain that the female line of her family has been haunted for generations by visions of a "Scholar [who] liked his books more than any lady's love," and who was evidently murdered by the brothers of a female ancestress of the girl, who seductively "waved to him and waved to him" from her own window.

Like Hardy's Robert Trewe or, for that matter, Huxley's Richard Greenow, Oliphant's scholar seems uncannily insubstantial. Indeed, alluding by implication to the nineteenth-century female novelistic tradition in which heroines are haunted by demonic masters and their mysteries, Oliphant suggests that the imaginative woman may all along have been constructing a fiction of the heroism of the man of letters in order both to romanticize and to rationalize her own sense of secondariness. Nevertheless, if one compares Oliphant's man of letters to Hardy's Robert Trewe, whose story "The Library Window" might almost be glossing, one perceives at once that Hardy's hero is still aesthetically supreme, despite the urgency of his struggle with "John Ivy," while Oliphant's male author is anxiety-producing precisely because he is no more than a figment of the female imagination.

Esther H. Schor (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Haunted Interpreter in Margaret Oliphant's Supernatural Fiction," in Women's Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, 1993, pp. 372-86.

[In this excerpt, Schor compares A Beleaguered City and the story "Earthbound," finding that each uses the confrontation with the supernatural as a metaphor for reading and interpretation.]

In this essay, I will consider two of Oliphant's supernatural fictions from the late 1870s as highly experimental narratives about interpretation. In both "Earthbound" and A Beleaguered City, the encroachment of the Unseen on the Seen causes an interpretive crisis. While Oliphant's haunted interpreters enact our task as readers by...

(The entire section is 6663 words.)

Elisabeth Jay (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Scottish Widow's Religious Speculations," in Mrs. Oliphant: 'A Fiction to Herself,' Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 157-68.

[In this excerpt, Jay asserts that Oliphant's supernatural tales challenged Victorian constructions of gender.]

It was in the world of fancy, or fantasy, in her Stories of the Seen and the Unseen, in the liminal spaces between the here and the hereafter, in the uncharted regions of the hereafter itself, that Mrs Oliphant discovered a place to ponder further upon irresolvable paradoxes and genderrelated confusions. These uncolonized spaces permitted an indirectness of approach that itself proves disruptive of reader expectation. Within...

(The entire section is 6352 words.)