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The Whirligig of Time

Margaret Oliphant in Her Later Years


Judith van Oosterom

A writer’s literary fame is fragile and popularity enjoyed in life is seldom sustained after death. From time to time their work re-emerges, is revalued and their talents recognized. Such a writer is Margaret Oliphant. To facilitate a full appreciation of her work, this book offers a comprehensive overview of Oliphant’s life and work in the 1880s and 1890s, an important period in her career, not previously singled out for closed scrutiny. It explores the diverse genres she handled with skill and alacrity during these two decades characterized by innovation and change.
This talented Victorian female author is more commonly associated with works published early on in life, yet it was after the age of fifty that some of her finest, most perceptive prose came to be written. Erudite and a shrewd observer of the world around her, Margaret Oliphant, rather than slowing down in these years, went on to produce rich numbers of fiction, non-fiction and review articles, which capture eloquently life at the close of the century. The inclusion of material contributed by the author in her later years, hard at work in a man’s world, is essential in any evaluation of Oliphant’s status as a Victorian author.
Contents: Introduction to the work and an outline of its contents – A brief biography of Oliphant’s life from 1828 to 1897 – Her (over)productivity related to fiction in the 1880s and 1890s – A synopsis of Oliphant’s later and, in particular, less well known novels – A selection of short stories and their importance as a genre – Margaret Oliphant’s connection with the Blackwood family and their company – The female journalist and her place in the (male) world of the periodical – Life as a female contributor: a reviewer and critic in the late nineteenth century – An overview of her articles and journalism from later years – Autobiography, biography and Margaret Oliphant’s handling of it – Some thoughts on works of non-fiction from the 1880s and 1890s – The revelatory nature of Oliphant’s autobiography and some of her letters – Summary and conclusions regarding her position in the literary canon.