- The Selected Works of Margaret Oliphant, Part IV: Chronicles of Carlingford ed. by Joanne Shattock and Elisabeth Jay
The publication of the ambitious Selected Works of Margaret Oliphant continues with Part IV, which includes five of what will ultimately be fifteen volumes of Oliphant’s fiction. Appropriately, these first volumes of fiction comprise an expertly annotated edition of Oliphant’s most popular and enduring work after her Autobiography, the Chronicles of Carlingford. Most of the Carlingford stories and novels were originally published between 1861 and 1866 by Blackwood’s, first in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and then in volume form. The exception is the final book, Phoebe, Junior, which was published in three-decker format in 1876 by Hurst & Blackett. As with previous installments of the Selected Works, these latest volumes are edited by notable Oliphant scholars, in this case general editors Joanne Shattock and Elisabeth Jay, as well as Muireann O’Cinneide, Lyn Pykett, and Joseph Bristow.
As noted in reviews of Parts I through III, this collection features a comprehensive general introduction, chronology, and selected bibliography for the entire series (published in volume 1). Each four- or five-volume installment also includes a general introduction to the part; volume-specific introductions and bibliographies; introductions to the particular texts included in each volume; and rich and carefully edited endnotes. (NB: Parts I and II of this collection were reviewed in the spring 2013 issue of Victorian Periodicals Review and Part III in fall 2015.) Since Part IV was released, the original publisher, Pickering & Chatto, has been acquired by Routledge. Fortunately, Routledge is committed to completing the series. Part V has [End Page 171] already been issued in the United Kingdom and will shortly follow in the United States. The series will culminate with Part VI, which is scheduled for publication in 2016.
As Jay and Shattock note in their general introduction to Part IV, the Chronicles of Carlingford marked a watershed in Margaret Oliphant’s career. Most of her writing prior to the Carlingford stories—the “general utility woman” occasional journalism that she had been generating for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine—was anonymous. But the Carlingford tales were published under her own name. The popularity of the tales eventually helped to establish her reputation as a novelist, but Jay and Shattock point out that their success had more immediate and personally significant consequences. In the first place, the first story in the series, “The Executor,” helped to set Oliphant on a new footing with her editors, John and Major William Blackwood. The story was written in the bleak period after her husband Frank’s death and almost immediately in the wake of the Black-woods’ rejection of her offer of a serialized novel. Had Oliphant given up or had the tale she generated been again rejected, who knows what might have happened to her relationship with the House of Blackwood. But as it happens, the success of “The Executor” not only helped to solidify her relationship with the publisher but also provided evidence that she could support herself. As Jay and Shattock explain, Oliphant had been contemplating remarriage to an “eligible young clergyman based in an attractive loch-side manse” (15:xiv). But her awareness of the impediments of her own drunken brother and young children, “together with a certain contempt for a suitor whose passion could not quite surmount such difficulties,” strengthened her resolve to remain single (15:xiv). Not incidentally, the failed romance also inspired what would become the third tale in the Carlingford series, “The Doctor’s Wife.”
While a new annotated edition of these popular works will be welcomed by any Victorianist, readers of Victorian Periodicals Review will likely find the editorial apparatus of particular interest and utility. The introductions and notes situate the works within their serialized periodical contexts and provide interesting details about the interconnected composition and editorial processes. For example, in volume 16, Lyn Pykett defends the sensationalist elements of Salem Chapel (1862–63) by reminding readers...