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Review: Miss Marjoribanks, by Margaret Oliphant

Pages: 547 (with index and notes)
Original date of publication: 1866
My edition: 1998 (Penguin Classics edition)
Why I decided to read: It’s been on my TBR list for ages
How I acquired my copy: through Amazon with a gift card, September 2009

Miss Marjoribanks is the story of Lucilla Marjoribanks, a young woman who endeavors to improve the social life of the town of Carlingford and “be a comfort to [her] dear papa.” Lucilla admits freely that she has no sense of humor; but at the same time she has an infallible desire to organize things to her own satisfaction. Whether she’s choosing draperies (to match her own complexion, of course), arranging her neighbors’ marriages, or electioneering, Lucilla is an spirited woman who inevitably learns that she “had to undergo the mortification of finding out that many of her most able efforts turned to other people’s profit and went directly against herself.” This book is not only a story of Lucilla, but the middle-class town she lives in, filled with people who have social and professional ambitions.

What I love about Margaret Oliphant’s writing is that she really knows and understands her characters’ thoughts and motivations. Lucilla could easily turn into a easily-disliked character, except for the fact that her flaws are what make her so lovable. This novel is intended to be a satire; how I laughed when in all seriousness Lucilla says, at age nineteenth, that she will have begun to “go off” at age 29! And Lucilla isn’t the only character who is so well-defined; the other young ladies and gentlemen of Carlingford easily leap off the page. Margaret Oliphant’s writing style is easily readable, even for modern readers. It’s a long book, and there are some parts in the middle where the action starts to flag; but in all this is a wonderful novel, containing as it does wonderful characters and writing—as well as a little mystery involving mistaken identities.

By the way—tomorrow is Margaret Oliphant’s birthday—she’d be 182!


Kristen M. said…
This one has been on my wishlist for a long time as well. I definitely need to add it in to my next book order!
Joanne said…
Interesting that yesterday you reviewed a recent book published by the title, "Hester." I read Margaret Oliphant's book "Hester" long ago and enjoyed it. I agree--this Victorian novelist's works can still be read and enjoyed by today's modern reader.
Teddy Rose said…
I hadn't heard of this book or author before. Thanks so much for bring it to my attention. It sounds like a must read for classics lovers.

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