This early novel has many story lines. Central character Anne Ross is still young at age 23, but her maturity and reserve lead some to think she is already a confirmed spinster. Anne is determined to clear up a mystery about a murder, and thereby to clear the name of her brother Norman who vanished long ago. She goes for emotional support to Mrs Catherine, a strong single woman who is at the head of a large estate (in effect she is the laird), and who has a positive influence on the lives of those about her.
Anne's friend Marjory Falconer is a tomboy who does what she pleases, wears what she pleases, and preaches women's rights. The reserved Anne encourages Marjory to be more "womanly" - which seems to be the young author's point of view too!
In America this novel was published under the title Self-Sacrifice.
Biographical and other notes
As will be seen by the conclusion to Marjory's story, the still young Margaret Oliphant did not yet embrace feminist issues, though she puts forward Marjory's arguments most persuasively. And Marjory is drawn as a delightful person, one who is not afraid to take action - as when she uses her horsewhip to defend someone. In fact throughout the novel, it is usually women who solve problems, women who come to the rescue.
For more information on Margaret Oliphant's evolving views, see the theme "Women's Issues" below.
Note also the Related Story Line entry below, which discusses two other novels with a similar plot line to the story of Anne's brother Norman.
British publishing information
First edition: Henry Colburn 1850 (1851 on title page)