Image of Margaret O. Oliphant


Lifetime: 1828 - 1897 Passed: ≈ 126 years ago


Novelist, Writer



Margaret O. Oliphant

Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant was a Scottish novelist and historical writer, who usually wrote as Mrs. Oliphant. Her fictional works cover "domestic realism, the historical novel and tales of the supernatural".

Margaret was born at Wallyford, near Musselburgh, East Lothian, as the only daughter and youngest surviving child of Margaret Oliphant (c. 1789 – 17 September 1854) and Francis W. Wilson (c. 1788–1858), a clerk. She spent her childhood at Lasswade, Glasgow and Liverpool. A street, Oliphant Gardens in Wallyford, is named after her. As a girl, she continually experimented with writing. She had her first novel published, Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland, in 1849. This dealt with the relatively successful Scottish Free Church movement, with which her parents sympathised. Next came Caleb Field in 1851, the year she met the publisher William Blackwood in Edinburgh and was invited to contribute to Blackwood's Magazine – a tie that continued for her lifetime and covered over 100 articles, including a critique of the character of Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

In May 1852, Margaret married her cousin, Frank Wilson Oliphant, at Birkenhead and settled at Harrington Square, now in Camden, London. Her husband was an artist working mainly in stained glass. Three of their six children died in infancy. Her husband developed tuberculosis and for his health they moved in January 1859 to Florence and then to Rome, where he died. This left Oliphant almost bereft. She returned to England and took up literature to support her three surviving children.

She had become a popular writer by then and worked notably hard to sustain her position. Unfortunately, her home life was full of sorrow and disappointment. In January 1864 her one remaining daughter Maggie died in Rome and was buried in her father's grave. Her brother, who had emigrated to Canada, was shortly afterwards involved in financial ruin. Oliphant offered a home to him and his children, adding their support to already heavy responsibilities.

In 1866 she settled at Windsor to be near her sons, who were attending Eton. That year, her second cousin, Annie Louisa Walker, came to live with her as a companion-housekeeper. Windsor was her home for the rest of her life. Over more than 30 years she pursued a varied literary career, but personal troubles continued. Her ambitions for her sons remained unfulfilled. Cyril Francis, the elder, died in 1890, leaving a Life of Alfred de Musset, incorporated in his mother's Foreign Classics for English Readers. The younger, Francis (whom she called "Cecco"), collaborated with her in the Victorian Age of English Literature and won a position at the British Museum, but was rejected by Sir Andrew Clark, a famous physician. He died in 1894. With the last of her children lost to her, she had little further interest in life. Her health steadily declined and she died at Wimbledon on 20 June 1897. She was buried in Eton beside her sons. She left a personal estate worth a gross £4,932 and a net value £804.

In the 1880s Oliphant acted as literary mentor of the Irish novelist Emily Lawless. During that time, Oliphant wrote several works of supernatural fiction, including a long ghost story A Beleaguered City (1880) and several short tales, including "The Open Door" and "Old Lady Mary". Oliphant also wrote historical fiction. Magdalen Hepburn (1854) is set during the Scottish Reformation, and features Mary, Queen of Scots and John Knox as characters.

Books by Margaret O. Oliphant

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 1 Cover image

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 1

Marriage Love History Young Fortune Family Life Disappearance Literary Fiction

Hester is an 1883 novel written by Margaret Oliphant.[1] It examines the cycle of history through the lives of the Vernon family. The book was published in three separate volumes corresponding to three parts of the story. The novel was adapted (and t...

The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow Cover image

The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow

Fiction Novel
History Mystery Children Communism

The location is the English Lake District and the characters very ordinary people. Mrs. Blencarrow is a widow with five children and control of her late husband's small estate. She is eminently respectable and is involved with the usual round of tea...

Oliver's Bride Cover image

Oliver's Bride

Family Prison Escape Death Romance Life

This is Zoey Ebron and Oliver Gentry's story, and the character development is excellent. Zoey's stepfather insists she must marry her stepbrother when he is released from prison and to make sure she does he locks her in a room. Zoey makes plans to e...

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 2 Cover image

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 2

Marriage Love Contemporary Money Fortune Conflict Family Life

Hester is an 1883 novel written by Margaret Oliphant. It examines the cycle of history through the lives of the Vernon family. The book was published in three separate volumes corresponding to three parts of the story. The novel was adapted (and the...

For Love and Life Vol. 1 Cover image

For Love and Life Vol. 1

Family Love Young Sacrifice Life

The novel opens with Mrs. Murray walking with two of her grandchildren along the banks of Loch Arroch in the Scottish border country. They appear to be well-to-do and distinguished, but all is not well within the family and sacrifices are necessary.

The Marriage of Elinor Cover image

The Marriage of Elinor

Family Marriage Love Young Society

It follows the life of Elinor Dennistoun, a young woman who must navigate the complexities of love, marriage, and societal expectations in Victorian-era England. Oliphant's masterful storytelling captures the essence of the time period, highlighting...

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 3 Cover image

Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 3

Love Young Challenges Success Struggle Society Life Women

It tells the story of Hester, a young woman who faces challenges and struggles in her life. The novel was first published in 1883, and it is considered one of Oliphant's best works. In the third volume, the story of Hester continues as she tries to...

For Love and Life Vol. II Cover image

For Love and Life Vol. II

Love Sacrifice Self-Discovery Friendship Explore Life Children Fiction

This compelling book delves into the complexities of human relationships and the transformative power of love, guiding readers through a remarkable journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Written by Margaret O. Oliphant, a renowned writer of...

Phoebe, Junior Cover image

Phoebe, Junior

Dream Power Spirit Adventure Journey London Manipulation Independent Adversity

In the quiet town of Carlingford, Phoebe Beecham, a spirited and intelligent young woman, finds herself entangled in a web of familial intrigue. As the daughter of a successful lawyer, Phoebe is expected to follow the path laid out for her—a life of...

Open Door and The Portrait Cover image

Open Door and The Portrait

Two stories "of the seen and unseen" with mysterious occurrences by Margaret O. Oliphant, originally published in 1881. (Summary by Gesine)

Miss Marjoribanks Cover image

Miss Marjoribanks

One of the so-called "Chronicles of Carlingford", of which there were two short stories and five novels written from 1861 to 1876 by Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant. The Chronicles originally appeared in the famous Blackwood's Magazine. Mrs. Olipha...

Jeanne D'Arc: Her Life And Death Cover image

Jeanne D'Arc: Her Life And Death

The story of Jeanne d'Arc, or Joan of Arc , has passed into folklore and has been retold by many. The young teenager was sent by an as-yet uncrowned Charles VII of France to relieve Orleans from siege during the 100 Years' War with England, following...

House Divided Against Itself Cover image

House Divided Against Itself

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." So said Abraham Lincoln in 1858. Here we have the irascible Mr. Waring, an elderly English ex-patriot, living in Italy with his charming daughter, Frances. Mr. Waring was there long before the hotels and...

Great Ghost Stories Cover image

Great Ghost Stories

A great collection of 12 classic stories about ghosts and the supernatural. Included are stories by Thomas Hardy, Fitz-James O'Brien, and Margaret Oliphant. Recommended for fans of classic ghost stories of yesteryear. - Summary by Phyllis Vincelli