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 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 every Oliphant heroine.

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 Ladies Lindores,  The Lady's Walk,  Elinor,  Joyce,
Mary's Brother

The "virtue" of self-sacrifice was a popular concept in Victorian times - expected of women much oftener than of men. In some Oliphant novels a woman sacrifices her own life out of love for her family and out of her conviction that she is the only capable person;  but in others such as My Faithful Johnny, The Ladies Lindores, and Joyce, she is being bullied or manipulated by someone selfish. Margaret Oliphant often questioned the wisdom and necessity of self-sacrifice: "Don't you see that to accept this giving up of your life is barbarous, it is wicked, it is demoralizing to the others?" (My Faithful Johnny.)

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]
Adam Graeme of Mossgray
Orphans, a Chapter in Life
The Doctor's Family
Mrs Clifford's Marriage
Heart and Cross
Miss Marjoribanks
Madonna Mary
The Curate in Charge
Phoebe, Junior - a Last Chronicle of Carlingford
My Faithful Johnny
Short Fiction1880
In Trust, the Story of a Lady and Her Lover
The Ladies Lindores
The Lady's Walk
Sir Tom
Hester, a Story of Contemporary Life
Short Fiction1884
The Prodigals and Their Inheritance
A Country Gentleman and His Family
The Marriage of Elinor
A Girl of the Period
Short Fiction1892
Mary's Brother
Short Fiction1892
Sir Robert's Fortune, the Story of a Scotch Moor
Old Mr Tredgold, a Story of Two Sisters

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