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.)
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