This early novel tells the story of Willie Mitchell, a bright young man with romantic dreams. His greatest flaw is that he is not assertive; he feels he is only a spectator to life. His younger brother Jamie, who is lively and charming, joins him in Edinburgh, where they each are apprenticed to businesses as clerks. Jamie tends to drink too much, and has a "secret marriage" which results in a girl's pregnancy.
Willie is himself very much in love, but is expected to postpone his own dreams while helping Jamie, whose downward spiral creates havoc around him. This is a sad novel, following the unassertive Willie through a series of disappointments over nearly 30 years. Finally he does find fulfillment in an unexpected way.
In America this novel was published under the title The Lost Love.
Biographical and other notes
This novel opens in the village of Ailieford, near the town of Moulisburgh, near Edinburgh. By the novel's descriptions, it is clear that Ailieford is a fictional name for Wallyford, Margaret Oliphant's birthplace, which was near the town of Musselburgh. The character of the mother bears a strong resemblance to Mrs Oliphant's own mother. Like the character Jamie, Mrs Oliphant's brother Willie was an alcoholic.
The character Willie Mitchell also appears briefly in the novel John Drayton. Willie writes that novel's introduction, and tells us that he is the novel's author.
Fyi, this novel is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Margaret Oliphant's brother William Wilson.