Margaret Oliphant was one of the most prolific writers of the Victorian period. During her nearly 50-year career, the Scotswoman published more than 100 books and countless articles. The untimely death of her husband, in 1859, left her nearly destitute, pregnant, and the sole support of their two small children. She had, however, already embarked upon a literary career and had won some reputation with her first novel, "Some Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland of Sunnyside" (1849), a tale of Scottish life. Never in very secure financial circumstances, even while her husband was alive, she had continued to write, publishing a well-received historical novel, "Caleb Field" in 1851, and, six years later, the most highly regarded of her many domestic romances, "The Athelings." After her husband's death, both the speed of Oliphant's composition and her productivity increased dramatically. Although she published a number of nonfiction works - a biography of her distant relative, the novelist, bureaucrat, and adventurer Laurence Oliphant (1891), "Cervantes" (1880), her Autobiography (1899), "The Literary History of England" (1882), and "The Annals of a Publishing House" (1897), which commemorated her long association with Blackwood's. She is best remembered for two series of novels. The first, the "Carlingsford Chronicles," is sometimes likened to Anthony Trollope's "Chronicles of Barsetshire" or George Eliot's "Scenes of Clerical Life" in its subject matter of small-town intrigues and religious themes. The five novels in the Carlingsford series are "The Rector and the Doctor's Family" and "Salem Chapel" (both published in 1863), "The Perpetual Curate" (1864), "Miss Marjoribanks" (1866) and "Phoebe Junior" (1876). The other notable group is "Stories of the Seen and Unseen", a series whose central theme is death and the experiences of the soul; it begins with "A Beleaguered City" (1880) and continues with "A Little Pilgrim" (1882). Despite her incredible output, Oliphant never achieved first-rank status as a novelist, although her work has begun to generate a good deal of interest among critics and theorists.
Elisabeth Jay is Emeritus Professor of English at Oxford Brookes University. Her interests lie predominantly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and she has published widely on the fiction, prose and poetry of this period. She is on the Advisory Boards of the journals Literature & Theology (OUP) and English (OUP) and of the Institute of English Studies (University of London).