Margaret Oliphant was born on the outskirts of Edinburgh in a village called Wallyford in 1828. Thanks to her mother, Oliphant was given an excellent education, and she wrote her first novel, Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland (1849), at the age of 17.
She spent time living in Glasgow and Liverpool, but always identified with her roots in Edinburgh. In 1852 she married her cousin Frank Oliphant, an artist, but lost him only seven years later to a bout of tuberculosis. This loss was unfortunately to become a theme in her life, and one that led her to writing as a means of sustaining her family.
Over the course of her career, she published nearly one hundred novels. She became a lifelong contributor to Blackwood’s magazine in Edinburgh, and is known for writing domestic realism, historical fiction, and the supernatural. Blackwoods Magazine published some of her best-received novels, such as the Chronicles of Carlingford, Kirsteen (1890), A Beleaguered City (1880) and A Little Pilgrim in the Unseen (1882).
As well as her fiction, she also published a great deal of critical work, including A Literary History of Scotland (1882), an extensive body of travel writing, a biography on The Life of Edward Irving (1862), and much more. Through most of her work, her interest in Scotland and Scottish themes is extremely apparent.
Sadly the sorrow in her life did not end with the loss of her husband. She out-lived all seven of her children, and went on to help her alcoholic brother and his family. By the end of her life in 1897, Margaret Oliphant had written
more than 90 novels, 50 short stories, 25 works of non-fiction and around 300 articles.
A bronze stone sits in St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, commemorating the life and work of Margaret Oliphant.
It has been my fate in a long life of production to be credited chiefly with the equivocal virtue of industry, a quality so excellent in morals, so little satisfactory in art.
– Margaret Oliphant