1828 – 1887
Scottish Novelist and BiographerMargaret Oliphant was one of the most prolific and versatile authors of the nineteenth century, producing a book a year for forty years in succession and writing over one hundred books. She is well-known for her works portraying Scottish and English life and character.
Born on April 4, 1828 in Midlothian, Scotland, Margaret Oliphant was the daughter of a businessman. She grew up in Glasgow and Liverpool, giving her the background necessary for depicting life in Scotland and England. She published her first novel, “Margaret Maitland”, in 1849, which was well received.
She married her cousin Frank Wilson Oliphant, but was left a widow with a young family to support in 1859 when Frank died of tuberculosis. She relied on her writing, which included journalism and serialization in “Blackwood’s Magazine”, writing novels, and writing biographies, to support her family. During her lifetime Margaret wrote over a hundred novels and around thirty non-fiction books. Nevertheless, she strove to maintain a literary standard in her work. Her labors made it possible for her to educate her two sons at Eton and support her nephew Frank.
Though most of her books have Scottish themes, Margaret only lived in Scotland for short periods of time in her adulthood. Most of her time was spent living in London or Europe. Among her works depicting Scottish life are “Katie Stewart”, “The Laird of Norlan”, “The Chronicles of Carlingford” (which was in nine volumes), “The Ladies Lindores”, and “Mrs. Blencarrow’s Troubles”.
Margaret was not only a prolific writer, but extremely versatile, more, perhaps, than any other female novelist of her time. She could switch genre without effort. From pure fiction she could turn to psychological subjects and from these to historical themes and then to sketches of travel.
Her works on history and biography include “The Literary History of England”, “The Makers of Florence”, “Makers of Venice”, “Jerusalem, The Holy City”, and “St. Francis of Assisi”. She also wrote two volumes of “Historical Sketches of the Reign of George II”. These volumes consist of short biographies that were historical, political, literary, and fashionable. She also wrote a vivid description of George Whitefield and his revival work among the Bristol common man. It was her belief that portraying the lives of a group of leading individuals in the various walks of life was one of the easiest ways to study history.
Margaret continued writing throughout her entire life. In her later years, she worked on a history of the Blackwood Publishing House, which is a rich source of 19th-century literary gossip. She died on June 25, 1887 in London.