Women's issues / women's rights


Virtually every fiction work by Margaret Oliphant touches on women's issues;  and thus the selection given below is only representative, not by any means complete. The issue at the root of all others is whether a woman has the right to make her own decisions, control her own life.

In many Oliphant novels, an intelligent woman faces a serious issue affecting herself and/or those close to her, and must do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem. Soon she discovers that by virtue of her sex, she is not taken seriously, even sometimes treated with contempt. At first she looks for cooperation from others, but at some point she concludes that all must depend upon herself - the ironic realisation of nearly all Oliphant heroines.


Here is a sampling of women's issues in Oliphant fiction:

- Women held back from attending university or doing meaningful work:

Merkland,  Orphans,  Heart and Cross,  Miss Marjoribanks,  Phoebe Junior,  Carità,  In Trust, Hester


- Women who lose caste by going to work:

Adam Graeme,  The Curate in Charge,   Hester,  Kirsteen


- Women expected to obey fathers or husbands against their own better judgment:

The Ladies Lindores,  Sir Tom,  Madam,  The Prodigals and Their Inheritance,  Sir Robert's Fortune,  Old Mr Tredgold,  A Girl of the Period (comic treatment)


- Women whose concerns for their children are overridden by their husbands:

Mrs Clifford's Marriage,  Madonna Mary,  The Ladies Lindores,  Sir Tom,  A Country Gentleman,  Madam, The Marriage of Elinor,  Sir Robert's Fortune


- Women with money or property whose husbands consider it lawfully theirs:

Mrs Clifford's Marriage,  Sir Tom,  Sir Robert's Fortune


-Women who sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of others:

The Doctor's Family,  My Faithful Johnny,  The Lady's Walk,  Elinor,  Joyce,  Mary's Brother



The "virtue" of self-sacrifice was a popular concept in Victorian times - nearly always applied only to women. In some Oliphant novels a woman takes on this role out of love for her family (usually younger siblings), and out of a conviction that she is the only capable person;  but in other cases, such as in My Faithful Johnny and Joyce, she is being manipulated by someone selfish.

An interesting analysis of Margaret Oliphant's evolving views on women's issues and women's rights can be found in Margaret Oliphant, A Critical Biography (1986) by Merryn Williams, especially in chapters 7 and 11.

(Several other themes overlap with this theme, including Working Women, Unmarried Women, and Widows.)


Merkland, a Story of Scottish Life   [Self-Sacrifice]
(Marjory)Novel1850
Adam Graeme of Mossgray
Novel1852
Orphans, a Chapter in Life
Novel1857
The Doctor's Family
Novel1861
Mrs Clifford's Marriage
Novel1863
Heart and Cross
Novel1863
Miss Marjoribanks
Novel1865
Madonna Mary
Novel1866
The Curate in Charge
Novel1875
Phoebe, Junior - a Last Chronicle of Carlingford
Novel1876
Carità
(Agnes)Novel1876
My Faithful Johnny
Short Fiction1880
In Trust, the Story of a Lady and Her Lover
Novel1881
The Ladies Lindores
Novel1882
The Lady's Walk
Novel1882
Sir Tom
Novel1883
Hester, a Story of Contemporary Life
Novel1883
Madam
Novel1884
Elinor
Short Fiction1884
The Prodigals and Their Inheritance
Novel1884
A Country Gentleman and His Family
Novel1885
Joyce
Novel1887
Kirsteen
Novel1889
The Marriage of Elinor
Novel1891
A Girl of the Period
Short Fiction1892
Mary's Brother
Short Fiction1892
Sir Robert's Fortune, the Story of a Scotch Moor
Novel1893
Old Mr Tredgold, a Story of Two Sisters
Novel1895

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