Working women


Nineteenth century novels often portray gentlewomen living protected lives, their needs met by fathers or husbands. In Oliphant novels, as in life, many women work because they must support themselves and their families.

The occupations available to gentlewomen were few. An early novel, The Quiet Heart, suggests that a young gentlewoman facing poverty is limited to " . . . some feminine occupation among the other seamstresses, teachers, poor craftswomen . . . ." Three decades later Margaret Oliphant portrayed two successful businesswomen in Hester and Kirsteen, though these highly respected women still face an undercurrent of sneers within their own extended families, for having lowered themselves by becoming working women.

Other women work because they are looking for more meaning in their lives: "To endure hardship and labour demands a kind of heroism - to endure to be useless is the hardest fate of woman." (The Melvilles.) For example in Diana the wealthy main character chooses to manage her large estate herself.

And some women work because they are creative, such as the artist Mrs Severn in The Three Brothers. They may put these talents to work to support themselves and others, but they would do this work in any case - though probably with a smaller output. This last category includes Margaret Oliphant herself, who as a young woman at home was delighted to find an audience for her early novels, but who in the end worked to support herself and a large extended family.


John Drayton
Novel1851
Adam Graeme of Mossgray
Novel1852
The Melvilles
Novel1852
Annie Orme
Short Fiction1852
Harry Muir, a Story of Scottish Life
Novel1853
The Quiet Heart
Novel1853
Zaidee, a Romance
Novel1854
The Athelings, or The Three Gifts
Novel1856
Eben, a True Story
Short Fiction1857
Orphans, a Chapter in Life
Novel1857
The Executor
Short Fiction1861
Salem Chapel
Novel1862
The Three Brothers
Novel1869
Mrs Merridew's Fortune
Short Fiction1869
The Two Marys
Novel1872
The Curate in Charge
Novel1875
The Story of Anne Maturin
Short Fiction1875
Diana Trelawny, the History of a Great Mistake
NovelWritten 1877
The Barley Mow
Short Fiction1877
Within the Precincts
Novel1878
He that Will Not When He May
Novel1879
My Faithful Johnny
Short Fiction1880
Harry Joscelyn
Novel1881
Hester, a Story of Contemporary Life
Novel1883
Old Lady Mary
Novel1884
A Country Gentleman and His Family
Novel1885
The Son of His Father
Novel1886
Cousin Mary
Novel1887
Joyce
Novel1887
The Story of an Anonymous Letter
Short Fiction1887
Kirsteen
Novel1889
Mademoiselle
Short Fiction1889
Janet   [prologue to the novel]
Short Fiction1889
Janet   [The Story of a Governess]
Novel1890
Lady William
Novel1891

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