Tuesday 21st December

Margaret Oliphant, by Frederick Augustus Sandys. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Born at Wallfyord, near Musselburgh, writer, Margaret Oliphant led a determined, yet sometime tragic life. She wrote her first novel in 1849 and would become a prolific creator, penning over 100 novels and many articles. 

In 1857, Oliphant had married stained glass artist, Frank Wilson Oliphant, but he sadly passed away seven years later from tuberculosis. This left Oliphant as the breadwinner, supporting her three children and later her alcoholic brother, Willie, and the three children of her other brother Frank. 

During the 19th Century there were few career options for women and Oliphant’s writing was able to provide for her families needs. While her short stories and novels make her one of the most important writers of Victorian fiction, her reputation suffered due to her financial burden that meant she needed to write continuously to survive. 

Oliphant covered many themes in her work, from stories of the supernatural, to the injustice faced by women, as well as historical fiction. Magdalen Hepburn written in 1854 is set during the Scottish reformation and features Mary, Queen of Scots and John Knox as characters. 

Image of Oliphant’s memorial in St Giles’ writer’s corner