Friday, December 10, 2010

Hearth and Home: Mrs. Oliphant

This afternoon I jogged around the neighborhood, something I'm not often tempted to do.  It was great to see the sun, and in its honor I dashed out in a light sweatshirt and the inevitable stretchy pants, feeling brisk and almost flexible, running and then extending my run because I didn't want to return to hearth and home.  

I could have kept walking.  Run two and a half miles.  Then walk two and a half miles.  I was tempted.  I haven't spent a whole day walking in a while.  

And you know I should have kept walking, because I didn't get that much done today anyway.

I do have a cold-weather plan.  Victorian women writers.  Right?  And I am quite happy to read Margaret Oliphant.

I read some Mrs. Oliphant yesterday.  The first Chronicles of Carlingford book:  The Rector and the Doctor's Family.  The Rector is a short story, only 35 pages long, and The Doctor's Family is a novella.  The first time I read this volume I wasn't particularly impressed.  This time I was rapt for most of a chilly day.  Perhaps I have overcome my prejudice against the shorter forms of fiction.

The Rector is not so much the story of the rector, as a story of the town.  

"It is natural to suppose that the arrival of the new Rector was a rather exciting event for Carlingford." 

We learn about the religious and class demarcations of Carlingford as Oliphant sketches the differences between Carlingford, whose late rector was evangelical and appealed to the working people, and St. Roque's, the high-society church where the "perpetual curate" is a young, handsome Anglican.

Mr. Wentworth, the Anglican minister, chats with Miss Wodehouse and her beautiful younger sister, Lucy, in the Wodehouses' yard, speculating about the identity of the new rector.  The apple trees are blossoming and Mr. Wentworth and Lucy's unspoken romance is budding. They are both very practical as well as affectionate.   Both frequently visit the poor, do what has to be done, and are not afraid of death. Lucy's middle-aged sister, Miss Wodehouse, is too self-conscious to work with the poor.  The new rector, an academic and Fellow of All-Souls, is also too shy to to do good in his parish.  Oliphant not only delineates the rector's dilemma, but illustrates the importance of social and charitable interactions that define and preserve the spirit of the town.

I love to make plans for reading, but then realize I'm not reading for work and can actually skip from one genre to another if I feel like it.  So I'm not sure how many of these Victorian women writers I will read, though I've said I'll read them.  I tried to read Elizabeth Gaskell's Cousin Phillis and found it a little dry.

More on Oliphant later.  I also read The Doctor's Family.  A classic.


Buried In Print said...

"The first time I read this volume I wasn't particularly impressed. This time I was rapt for most of a chilly day."

This happens to me so often that I've started to think that many of my first-reads are compromised by expectations, one way or another.

Sometimes I think it works in their favour (I'm expecting very little and end up thrilled), but frequently I think I must have had something else in mind and then just end up miffed to find it otherwise (which I realize is hardly fair to the book).

Frisbee said...

Sometimes it is mood. If only we had time to read them all twice...