This early novel tells the story of Clare Nugent, who lost both her parents at age 28. Despite the wealth she has inherited, she feels herself a lonely orphan with no purpose in life; and having turned away her true love almost a decade ago, she believes her future will be without love.
Clare observes that unmarried women are so often "not good for anything", leading constricted or self-absorbed lives. Thus she is determined to find an occupation, and to be of use to others. This leads to various experiments and mishaps before she settles her future way of life.
Biographical and other notes
Her entire life Margaret Oliphant was extremely generous with her time and money to others who needed help. She preferred to identify those in need personally rather than be a part of organized giving. This novel has a fine satirical scene in which a variety of charities have gathered in London for the day - their purpose being to elect orphans to various institutions, using an elaborate system of proxies. In at least one case a well-to-do woman is gathering proxies in order to rid herself of her own orphaned nephew!
British publishing information
First edition: Hurst and Blackett 1857 (1858 on title page)