My Brother Frank

Written 1884-5

Short Fiction

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The Story

This highly autobiographical story is based on Margaret Oliphant's memories of her life in the Scottish village of Lasswade when she was five years old. In this story her family's last name is Sinclair (it was actually Wilson), and she is Marjorie; but she uses the real first names of her parents and brothers.

The story tells of the eldest boy Frank's first job as a clerk in nearby Edinburgh, and how pleased and surprised the family is when he is offered a partnership with the young owners. Frank is also attracted to the young men's sister, who seems to like him too. But in the end, nothing is what it seems.

Biographical and other notes

The story's background, with its vivid depiction of scenes from Margaret Oliphant's childhood, is based on fact, as can be seen by comparing these passages with passages in her Autobiography and Letters. But whether the story line is at all based on fact needs further research. The only indication that there might be some truth to the story is that in her Autobiography (pages 9-10), Mrs Oliphant refers to a time when Frank had been away from home (as happens in this story) - her mother very anxious, and her five-year-old self afraid he might be shabby and in need. In real life he returned after only a few weeks or months. The story's ending is entirely fictional.

The cottage known as "the Hewan" was remembered by Margaret Oliphant all her life - see the theme below on Lasswade.

This story was published in an American magazine, The Household, in 1894. However Margaret Oliphant seems to have written the story ten years earlier. On 29 November 1884 the American magazine Youth's Companion advertised it among their offerings for 1885. [Information from Graham Law.] It is not known what led to the delay, and to the change of magazine. (Perhaps the manuscript sat in a desk drawer, as happened with Mrs Oliphant's novel Diana Trelawny (1877), which lay forgotten in her publisher's desk drawer for almost 15 years!)

This hitherto unknown story was only recently discovered by Joan Richardson when one issue of the magazine appeared on Ebay. It took nearly two years to locate all five installments of this serialised story.

British publishing information

Periodical:   The Household (Boston)   Jan - May 1894

Series and Themes

Lasswade (childhood home)
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