The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 14. Mrs. Oliphant
Another region which Mrs. Oliphant’s art explored was the unseen world. In A Beleaguered City (1880), with eerie imaginative power she depicted the city of Semur in the department of the Haute Bourgogne, “emptied of its folk” by a visitation of the spirits of the dead, who move about in the streets with a disconcerting purposefulness not to be fathomed by the grosser intellects of men. A Little Pilgrim in the Unseen (1882) and other books illustrate, again, this control of the springs of mystery, compared with which Lytton’s rosicrucianism seems frigid and mechanical. Setting and place serve Mrs. Oliphant well, again, in her stories of her native land, which follow in the established tradition of Mrs. Hamilton, Susan Ferrier, Galt and Moir. We pass from the mere facile inventiveness of White-ladies (1876) or The Cuckoo in the Nest (1892) (their scenes being laid in England) to people whose dialect, manners and affections derive from roots deep fixed in their native soil, in the Scots stories which begin with Margaret Maitland in 1849. One of the best of these stories, Kirsteen (1890), which paints the dour pride and passion of a Douglas, the silent affection, quick temper and humorous practicality of the daughter Kirsteen and the fidelity of the old retainer Margaret, gives a living picture of an Argyllshire interior. To the mere volume and miscellaneous nature of her work, undertaken, somewhat apathetically, as the plaintive Autobiography (1899) shows, in a heroic effort to provide for a family fated to disaster, must be set down Mrs. Oliphant’s failure to win a place nearer to George Eliot and Mrs. Gaskell.