Mr Sandford is an extremely gifted painter of the "historical" school. It is a shock when he fully realises that his style of painting is no longer popular, and has lost its value in the marketplace. No new orders are coming in; and as he thinks of his family, who take for granted their very comfortable lifestyle, he wonders what will become of them all.
This moving novella follows Mr Sandford's thoughts while he is temporarily apart from his family, haunted by the further realisation that his family would be better off if he were dead.
Biographical and other notes
Like her central character, Margaret Oliphant was approaching sixty when she wrote this story. In a letter to her son Cecco, while she was proofreading it, she writes that it is "a story which embodies a great many of my own thinkings in recent times . . . . I am afraid you will not like it, or at least that it will vex you." (Autobiography and Letters (1899, page 352.) Like Mr Sandford, Margaret Oliphant had a whole household of young people dependent on her. This novella reflects her own anxiety that her writing career might come to an end prematurely.
Mrs Oliphant's late husband Francis Wilson Oliphant had described himself as a "historical painter" (per section 7, item 34 in The Family Tree of Margaret Oliphant). This school of painting overlapped with the PreRaphaelite school. None of Frank Oliphant's paintings or drawings appear to have survived; but he must have had considerable talent, as he exhibited at the Royal Academy five times before his early death in 1859.
British publishing information
Periodical: Cornhill Magazine Apr - May 1888
First edition: Smith, Elder and Co (collected with another story in The Ways of Life) 1897