The Portrait


Short Fiction

Read it now

In Stories of the Seen and Unseen      or second source:   1 volume   

The Story

The narrator of this story, Philip Canning, has recently returned home from India in broken health. He has only ever known one parent, his kind but very reserved father, as his mother died when he was young. Soon various issues make him aware that his father is behaving oddly.

At this time a lovely painting arrives of his mother, sent by her dying relation - a man whom Philip's father hates. Shortly thereafter, Philip is seized with violent palpitations, and feels he is being propelled against his will into his father's presence. When it happens a second time, he realises there is a purpose.

Biographical and other notes

The description of the house appears to be that of Grove House in the Spital Road (now St Leonards Road), Windsor, around the corner from Margaret Oliphant's house in Clarence Crescent. Sadly this important house no longer stands. For many years Mrs Oliphant's neighbour and friend Leila Macdonald lived in Grove House, later moving to a much smaller house in the Crescent itself. Mrs Oliphant describes Mrs Macdonald in her Autobiography and Letters, pages 117-119. See also brief references on pages 227 and 230-231.

Similar to the fictional Philip, Margaret Oliphant's son Cyril had recently returned home from the Far East in very poor health. The 27-year-old Cyril had gone out to Ceylon in early 1884 as private secretary to the new Governor, but was soon sent home after a severe illness was followed by repeated fevers. Cyril's daily walk while recuperating was probably like Philip's in the story - "through the High Street, across the river, and back again."

British publishing information

Periodical:   Blackwood's Magazine   Jan 1885

First edition:   Blackwood and Sons (collected in Stories of the Seen and Unseen) 1902

Series and Themes

Male central character
Stories of the Seen and Unseen

Site creator / administrator:   Joan Richardson           Email:             © 2014     All rights reserved