Pre-Feminist Indicators in Margaret Oliphant's Early Responses to the Woman Question

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Margaret Oliphant's fiction has generated some interest in recent years, but her prose essays have been ignored. Critics contend her essays are unimportant and dismiss Oliphant as a hack writer who had little sympathy with her sex. These charges are untrue, however, because many influences complicated Oliphant's writings on the Woman Question. She suffered recurring financial difficulties and gender discrimination, she lacked formal education, and most of her work was published by Blackwood's, a conservative, male-oriented periodical edited by a close personal friend. Readers who are aware of these influences find Oliphant's earliest three essays about the Woman Question especially ... continued below

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iii, 205 leaves

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Spencer, Sandra L. December 1996.

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  • Spencer, Sandra L.

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Margaret Oliphant's fiction has generated some interest in recent years, but her prose essays have been ignored. Critics contend her essays are unimportant and dismiss Oliphant as a hack writer who had little sympathy with her sex. These charges are untrue, however, because many influences complicated Oliphant's writings on the Woman Question. She suffered recurring financial difficulties and gender discrimination, she lacked formal education, and most of her work was published by Blackwood's, a conservative, male-oriented periodical edited by a close personal friend. Readers who are aware of these influences find Oliphant's earliest three essays about the Woman Question especially provocative because in them Oliphant explored the dichotomy between the perceived and the real lives of women. Oliphant refined her opinions each time she wrote on the Woman Question, and a more coherent, more clearly feminist, perspective emerges in each succeeding article. In "The Laws Concerning Women," despite Oliphant's apparent position, pre-feminist markers suggest that she is tentative about feminist ideas rather than negative towards them. "The Condition of Women" offers even more prefeminist markers, Oliphant's ostensible support of the patriarchal status quo notwithstanding. In "The Great Unrepresented," an article cited by some as proof that Oliphant was against women's suffrage, she argues not against enfranchising women, but against the method proposed for securing the vote. In this article, many pre-feminist markers have become decidedly feminist. Scholars may have overlooked Oliphant's feminism because her rhetorical strategies are more complicated than those of most other Victorian critics and invite her audience to read between the lines. Although her writing sometimes lacks unity and focus, and her prose is often turgid, convoluted, and digressive, she creates elaborate inverse arguments with claims supporting patriarchy but evidence that supports feminism. A rich feminist subtext lies beneath the surface text of Oliphant's essays, demonstrating that her perspective on the Woman Question is far more complex than it initially appears.

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iii, 205 leaves

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  • December 1996

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  • March 24, 2014, 8:07 p.m.

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  • May 22, 2015, 10:07 a.m.

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Spencer, Sandra L. Pre-Feminist Indicators in Margaret Oliphant's Early Responses to the Woman Question, dissertation, December 1996; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278209/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .