Margaret Oliphant's Chronicles of Carlingford 2: The Doctor's Family

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Margaret Oliphant's Chronicles of Carlingford 2: The Doctor's Family

maj 2, 6:23pm

Redigeret: maj 2, 6:34pm


This is the second in a series of planned group reads encompassing the works by Margaret Oliphant now known as the "Chronicles of Carlingford":

The Executor (1861)
The Rector (1861)
The Doctor's Family (1862 / 1863)
Salem Chapel (1863)
The Perpetual Curate (1864)
Miss Marjoribanks (1866)
Phoebe Junior (1876)

The discussion thread for the short stories, The Executor and The Rector, may be accessed here.

This thread also contains background information about Margaret Oliphant and the writing of her Carlinford series.

This month, we will be examining the novella, The Doctor's Family.

This story was originally serialised in Blackwood's Magazine between October 1861 and January 1862.

It was first released in book form in 1863, when it was released in omnibus format with The Rector. These two works have frequently been reissued together since, including in the Virago edition of 1986.

In addition to a number of hard-copy editions, The Doctor's Family may be accessed as a free ebook through Project Gutenberg. The entire Carlingford series may also be found inexpensively on Kindle as part of the Delphi "Complete Works" series.

Redigeret: maj 2, 6:47pm

We have the whole month to address this short-ish work, so feel free to read and comment whenever you like.

Please note that I am currently wrestling with a difficult alternative read, so that it may be a week or so before I begin commenting here myself. Don't let this hold you up! - go ahead and begin the conversation, and I will catch up just as soon as I can.

Again, please let me encourage as much commenting as possible: it is an important and enriching part of these reads, so please speak up. Even if you feel you don't have much to say, say it anyway! :)

Also, as we start, please check in and let us know if you will be participating or lurking.

maj 2, 7:18pm

I'm here! I'm reading something else right at the moment, but I will turn to The Doctor's Family within the next week. And I promise to have something to say!

maj 3, 4:06am

I shall be reading this - I have my copy ready!

maj 3, 8:09am

I'll be reading also. I just had a couple library books come in, but I should be able to start this toward the end of this week.

Redigeret: maj 4, 7:02pm

>4 NinieB:, >5 CDVicarage:, >6 japaul22:

Welcome! - great to see you here. No hurry about starting: I have just finished my difficult read but I think I need something else in between (the lurch otherwise would be just too much!) so it will probably be a couple more days before I settle into this.

maj 5, 6:57am

I have a copy downloaded and hope to start this weekend.

maj 5, 11:33am

I started last night. First thought--I'm glad we read The Executor first. Second thought--I don't understand the distinctions that are made about surgeons (M.R.C.S.) versus physicians. Was there a social standing attached to being a surgeon rather than a physician?

maj 5, 4:49pm

>8 MissWatson:

Thanks, Birgit!

Redigeret: maj 5, 5:30pm

>9 NinieB:

That's a very good question and in fact a very a complex one and I will add more explanation later, but briefly, originally physicians were the upper-class and surgeons the lower-class of doctors. That changed over the 19th century after the founding of the College of Surgeons in 1800; though it wasn't "Royal" until the 1840s. To underscore the point, there had been a Royal College of Physicians since the 16th century.

(I should add that this was the case in England, not Scotland, where medicine and surgery were more advanced.)

maj 5, 7:24pm

I'm also fascinated by the Australian connection in this one. Crocodile Dundee came to mind at one point.

maj 5, 7:35pm

>12 NinieB:

I can't say you're encouraging me but I'll be making a start today so We'll See. :D

maj 5, 8:22pm

>13 lyzard: Oh no! Not my intention, sorry.

I'm finding the plot very engaging so far, and I'm not at all sure how things will turn out.

maj 5, 8:23pm

I'm about to start as well. Probably tomorrow. Intrigued to find out what it's all about!

Anyone have a page count? My kindle edition is not well formatted and I can't tell at all how long this is.

maj 5, 9:02pm

>14 NinieB:

I'll survive! :D

>15 japaul22:

The "World's Classics" paperback edition has it at 139 pages.

maj 5, 9:03pm

Speaking of the latter, I didn't realise before that The Doctor's Family And Other Stories collects our three short works together. (Apologies if anyone mentioned that at the outset and I've forgotten.)

Redigeret: maj 5, 9:09pm

>17 lyzard: I think I did because that's the edition I'm using from my library. It's how I figured out that The Executor was the first Carlingford installment.

Will re-read in the next day or two.

maj 8, 1:26am

I have finished. The first time I read this, I didn't like Nettie (or really anyone in the story, besides Miss Wodehouse). This time, I had more compassion for her, but not sure why.

maj 8, 8:12am

I've started and I feel very much like I was dumped in the middle of a story that I don't know the background of! Oliphant really does get right to it, doesn't she? As I read, things are becoming clear, though, so I'll just remain patient. :-)

I also needed help with the MCRS designation and difference between surgeons and physicians, so thanks for that.

I feel like I'd love a map of Carlingford! Her descriptions of the layout of the town and the desirable and undesirable sections is interesting.

I wonder if we need a character list between the different stories and novels? I am terrible with remembering names and had to go back to The Executor to make sure these were the same people I was remembering.

maj 8, 11:26am

I have finished the first four chapters and cannot pin down whom Nettie reminds me of. Such an unusually forceful and competent character.

maj 8, 11:32am

>20 japaul22: I am terrible with remembering names and had to go back to The Executor to make sure these were the same people I was remembering.

Right--I kept mixing up Wodehouse and Wentworth!

maj 8, 11:35am

Also, a note in my book says that Marjoribanks (as in the Doctor and his daughter) is pronounced "Marchbanks."

maj 8, 5:29pm

>22 kac522: Wodehouse and Wentworth - Jane Austen character names. An influence or just common British names?

maj 10, 5:57pm

Oof! - what a horrifying few days!

Apologies for my absence, people, and thank you for carrying on. I have some catch-up time now and will try to get things on track here including responding to your comments---including Ninie's question about the different branches of the medical profession.

maj 10, 6:27pm

Okay, then---

We need to understand that for a long time, in England specifically the medical profession was much more disorganised and undertrained than the rest of Europe---and this includes Scotland, which had strong ties to France at the time: Edinburgh and Paris were the peak medical training-grounds. OTOH the vast majority of English "doctors" had no formal qualifications: most of them trained by apprenticeship. Only a small percentage went through university training and held a degree.

The medical profession generally was massively overhauled across the 19th century but a lot of historical associations and prejudices remained.

Physicians were and long had been the "aristocrats" of the profession---although for reasons that now seem totally perverse, i.e. physicians didn't touch their patients. Originally a physician's job was to listen to symptoms and dispense advice and drugs ("physic"); although the one medically thing they did do was urinalysis, although only looking and sniffing. It took a very long time for radical notions like actually examining the patient or even using a stethoscope to catch on.

Surgeons, meanwhile, ranked with - and often were - barbers: the two were literally classed together professionally until the mid-18th century. Along with dentists, they got their hands dirty. This was perceived as "low" and "ungentlemanly".

Things began to change from the 18th century, with surgeons forming their own body and working to raise their standing, including raising training standards. However, this caused all sorts of new problems in that it required anatomical training---and there was a lot of prejudice against autopsies and dissection which further damaged the public perception of surgeons. (Not entirely without cause, in the body-snatching scandals.)

But as I say things changed over the 19th century---and with the coming of disinfectant and anaesthesia, surgery was elevated from a form of butchery to a high skill.

Training for both sides of the profession changed radically, in fact, and for the first time physicians and surgeons underwent training together, before specialising later. A doctor could train as a physician or a surgeon or as both...and could be a member of either or both of the Royal College of Physicians or the Royal College of Surgeons.

But the old prejudices remained: physicians were gentlemen, surgeons were not. (This is the root of the Dr / Mr thing with surgeons.)

BUT---physicians often proved their gentleman-status through their fees; so that poorer and working-class people tended to shun them.

This is (to finally get back to the point!) why Dr Rider, who is a physician and a surgeon, and has trained at a university, nevertheless hangs out his shingle with his surgeon's affiliation - M. R. C. S. - so that he won't frighten off his potential patients in the 'burbs of Carlingford; whereas physician Dr Marjoribanks has the upper-class part of the town to himself.

This is perceived by people of his own class (including Rider!) as "lowering" himself; as is advertising his willingness to make house-calls at night. This is why, in the first instance, we hear---

His own establishment, though sufficiently comfortable, was of a kind utterly to shock the feelings of the refined community: a corner house, with a surgery round the corner, throwing the gleam of its red lamp over all that chaotic district of half-formed streets and full-developed brick-fields, with its night-bell prominent, and young Rider's name on a staring brass plate, with mysterious initials after it. M.R.C.S. the unhappy young man had been seduced to put after his name upon that brass plate, though he was really Dr Rider, a physician, if not an experienced one. Friends had advised him that in such districts people were afraid of physicians, associating only with dread adumbrations of a guinea a visit that miscomprehended name; so, with a pang, the young surgeon had put his degree in his pocket, and put up with the inferior distinction. Of course, Dr Marjoribanks had all the patronage of Grange Lane...

maj 10, 6:29pm

Sorry, I'm sure that's TMI! :D

Redigeret: maj 10, 6:48pm

>20 japaul22:

Yes, you're probably right that we're now at a point where a character list is both useful and practicable: I will put one together.

The little ways that Oliphant links her stories is one of the things I like about them.

Redigeret: maj 10, 7:31pm

This isn't exactly in the right place, but I will copy it forward as we go:

List of Carlingford residents:

Mr John Brown - attorney {The Executor}

Mrs Christian {The Executor
Bessie, her daughter {The Executor / The Doctor's Family

Dr Marjoribanks - physician {The Doctor's Family}
Miss Marjoribanks - his daughter {The Doctor's Family}

Mr Bury - former rector of Carlingford {The Executor / The Rector}
Mr Morley Procter - his successor {The Rector}
Mr Frank Wentworth - perpetual curate of St Roque's {The Rector / The Doctor's Family}

Mr Wodehouse - a gentleman of Carlingford; a churchwarden {The Executor / The Rector}
Miss Mary (Molly) Wodehouse - his elder daughter {The Rector / The Doctor's Family}
Miss Lucy Wodehouse - her much-younger half-sister {The Rector / The Doctor's Family}

Dr Edward Rider - physician and surgeon {The Executor / The Doctor's Family}
Dr Fred Rider - his older brother {The Doctor's Family
Susan Rider - his sister-in-law {The Doctor's Family}
Nettie Underwood - her sister {The Doctor's Family}

maj 10, 7:28pm

>23 kac522:

"Marjoribanks" is indeed one of those baffling bits of British pronunciation HOWEVER that note may not be entirely correct, as Oliphant mentions that Dr Marjoribanks is Scottish, and I believe the Scottish pronunciation is "MarSHbanks". :D

maj 10, 7:30pm

>24 japaul22:

Bit of both? :)

maj 10, 8:46pm

Thanks for all this great information, Liz! One other little detail you might be able to help on: There are mentions of both a red light and a blue light outside the doctor's surgery. I've heard of the red light being a sign of a doctor. What about the blue light?

Also, exciting news! I have tracked down a book that is supposed to have a map of Carlingford--I'm just waiting for the library to let me know it's available for pickup.

maj 10, 9:23pm

>30 lyzard: ah, OK.
>32 NinieB: Yes, I was baffled by the red light/blue light refernces--not familiar with either.
And oooh! Love to see the map!

maj 10, 9:43pm

>32 NinieB:, >33 kac522:

That's more of the same thing: a red light indicated a surgeon, a blue light indicated a physician. However it came to be considered advertising and therefore vulgar; hence Dr Marjoribanks does neither---

Already the rapid winter twilight had fallen, and before them, in the distance, glimmered the lights of Carlingford---foremost among which shone conspicuous the large placid white lamp (for professional reds and blues were beneath his dignity) which mounted guard at Dr Marjoribanks's garden gate.

However I may say that while the doctor's light system persisted in Australia for much longer than, it seems, it did anywhere else (which is to say, into my childhood), they were always red. Perhaps this represents a translation of Dr Rider's attitude, a reassurance of lower fees amongst "colonial" doctors?

maj 10, 9:44pm

If you can find a map, Ninie, that would be brilliant!

maj 11, 3:29am

Thanks for all the info, Liz! It's the kind that I tend to forget and it's nice to have it repeated.
And a map would be brilliant, indeed!
My first thought on meeting Edward Rider's brother Fred was: is this a relationship like the one between the Hamley brothers in Wives and daughters?

maj 11, 5:58pm

>36 MissWatson:

Ultimately very different, although as the oldest son Fred would have been handed everything, and conversely had high expectations placed upon him.

(Disclosure: I have a crush on Roger Hamley as the first scientist-hero. :D )

maj 11, 6:09pm

It's interesting that despite The Doctor's Family being a much longer work than our previous entries, Oliphant leaves enough gaps in her narrative to keep us guessing about some things.

She doesn't draw attention to it but we're dealing with two pairs of very different siblings. As per >36 MissWatson:, >37 lyzard: we can work out how the Rider brothers ended up at such odds; however, we're not given enough information about the sisters to be certain how this situation came about.

It is significant that there's no mention of any other family, and we are left to ponder how long the two were on their own, how the marriage came about, and how old Nettie was when she realised she would have to be the head of the household.

It's also interesting that despite its title this is really a story about the two sisters.

We should of course discuss the way Nettie is presented, and how we're supposed to react to her; but I have to say that I find Susan horrifyingly believable. Oliphant's portrait of (her own term) "a fool" who nevertheless gets her own way almost all the time through the water-dripping-on-stone method is pretty devastating. Her helplessness is a very effective weapon---particularly of course in terms of the 19th century view of womanhood.

I wonder how Oliphant meant her readers to respond to this? Would they have disapproved Nettie's headstrong, managing ways? Would they have understood Susan as a criticism of the "helpless female" paradigm?

maj 11, 7:18pm

>38 lyzard: I was dying with curiosity about the Underwood sisters' past. I was also wishing Mrs. Oliphant would tell us more about how Fred lost his position as a doctor.

I found a quotation from a contemporary review about Nettie: "Nettie . . . is only one of those girls whom most men have met once in life, who add a manlike efficiency and decision to their feminine acuteness of perception and capacity for enduring love, and who, when once understood, make those to whom that fortunate comprehension is given, listen to arguments about women's want of capacity with a smile which has in it some tolerant scorn."

I'm picking up the book with the map tomorrow!

maj 12, 2:52am

>37 lyzard: Yes, matters between the brothers have gone in a completely different direction. I did not expect this. And I am very much afraid that women like Susan, who get their way by constant moaning, are still around.

maj 12, 5:26pm

Hello all, if you are interested in seeing the map, please post a private comment on my wall and I will give you a link!

Redigeret: maj 13, 7:23pm

The map is from Margaret Oliphant's Carlingford Series: An Original Contribution to the Debate on Religion, Class and Gender in the 1860s and '70s by Birgit Kämper, which isn't (as of today) in LT.

maj 12, 6:57pm

>42 NinieB: I found it on and added to my Wishlist, so you should be able to find it.

Redigeret: maj 12, 8:50pm

Hey all,
I'm not really satisfied with how the image looks as I'm sharing it with you, so I'm going to have to come up with another solution. Stay tuned :)

Update: Problem solved!

maj 13, 5:05am

What a small world this is... it's a PhD thesis from Dortmund University. I think I can get this with ILL once our library is open for that again. Might be an interesting read.

Redigeret: maj 13, 6:00pm

>42 NinieB:, >43 kac522:, >45 MissWatson:

Not available here at all (not surprising, I guess) so any help would be greatly appreciated!

maj 15, 7:05pm

I've finished this. I enjoyed the contrast between the brothers and sisters' relationships. I thought the plot was fairly predictable, but I was intrigued by Nettie. I was curious what the culture of the time would have thought of her. My 21st century impression was that she enjoyed being a martyr and the self-respect that comes with taking care of others at your own expense. And that some part of her wanted the community to see her as capable and self-sacrificing. But I wondered if Oliphant meant her to come off as interfering or alternately as sort of angelic for taking charge of a family that presumably wouldn't be doing well on its own?

I'm not saying that all very clearly, but I'm curious what everyone thought of Nettie, both with our modern day perspective and if that aligns with what Oliphant was trying to say with the character?

Redigeret: maj 16, 7:04pm

The question of how we're meant to take Nettie seems to me the key to the story.

Oliphant, I think, leaves it an open question: we are free to admire the way she takes these awful burdens on her own shoulders, or to see it either as self-martyrdom or simply as "asking for it" through being "managing" (that terrible descriptor!).

However it's easy enough to imagine less extreme versions of Susan and Nettie when they were younger, and the way that the more forceful Nettie began to assume responsibilities at an early age.

And she may have had to: by implication the two are orphans and alone in the world, so someone had to do the heavy lifting and clearly, it wasn't going to be Susan.

Redigeret: maj 16, 7:26pm

One of the touches I found most interesting in The Doctor's Family is the way that Miss Wodehouse is used.

We know from The Rector what her destiny is to be; but this story is set in what we might call the "interregnum" of her life: we find her dissatisfied and seeking a greater purpose, particularly in the face of Lucy's energy and hard work, but uncertain how to go about it and doubtful of her own abilities.

(Thought: are we meant to see Lucy as a "correct" version of Nettie, devoted to duty but not getting carried away; or conversely as another example of how young women were capable of serious work?)

Yet Oliphant gives her two vital bits of dialogue---which may function as a hint of how we are meant to react to Nettie's choices. In fact she uses Miss Wodehouse literally as a catalyst: her words end up contributing to the resolution of the situation, though she never knows it.


    "But, Nettie, Nettie, what of yourself? will it be best for you?" cried Miss Wodehouse, looking earnestly in her face.
    "What is best for them will be best for me," said Nettie, with a little impatient movement of her head. She said so with unfaltering spirit and promptitude. She had come to be impatient of the dreary maze in which she was involved. "If one must break one's heart, it is best to do it at once and have done with it," said Nettie, under her breath.
    "What was that you said about your heart?" said Miss Wodehouse. "Ah, my dear, that is what I wanted to speak of. You are going to be married, Nettie, and I wanted to suggest to you, if you won't be angry. Don't you think you could make some arrangement about your sister and her family, dear?---not to say a word against the Australian gentleman, Nettie, whom, of course, I don't know. A man may be the best of husbands, and yet not be able to put up with a whole family. I have no doubt the children are very nice clever children, but their manner is odd, you know, for such young creatures. You have been sacrificing yourself for them all this time; but remember what I say---if you want to live happily, my dear, you'll have to sacrifice them to your husband. I could not be content without saying as much to you, Nettie. I never was half the good in this world that you are, but I am nearly twice as old—and one does pick up some little hints on the way. That is what you must do, Nettie. Make some arrangement, dear..."

Of course Miss Wodehouse is wrong about Nettie's marital plans; but she's right enough in general to touch a nerve:

Instinctively there occurred to Nettie's mind a vision of how it would be on the sea, with a wide dark ocean heaving around the solitary speck on its breast. It did not matter! If a silent sob arose in her heart, it found no utterance. Might not Edward Rider have made that suggestion which had occurred only to Miss Wodehouse? Why did it never come into his head that Susan and her family might have a provision supplied for them, which would relieve Nettie? He had not thought of it, that was all. Instead of that, he had accepted the impossibility. Nettie's heart had grown impatient in the maze of might-be's. She turned her back upon the lights, and clasped Miss Wodehouse's hand, and said good-night hastily. She went on by herself very rapidly along the hard gleaming road. She did not pay any attention to her friend's protestation that she too was coming back again to St Roque's to join Lucy---on the contrary, Nettie peremptorily left Miss Wodehouse, shaking hands with her in so resolute a manner that her gentle adviser felt somehow a kind of necessity upon her to pursue her way home; and, only when Nettie was nearly out of sight, turned again with hesitation to retrace her steps towards St Roque's. Nettie, meanwhile, went on at a pace which Miss Wodehouse could not possibly have kept up with, clasping her tiny hands together with a swell of scorn and disdain unusual to it in her heart. Yes! Why did not Edward Rider propose the "arrangement" which appeared feasible enough to Miss Wodehouse? Supposing even Nettie had refused to consent to it, as she might very probably have done with indignation---still, why did it not occur to Dr Edward?


    "I should be sorry to bring you out again, dear, if it's a trouble," began Miss Wodehouse, turning her face with a sense of relief from the hard inspection of the children to their little guardian.
    Nettie made no reply, but carried off her children to the cottage door, turned them peremptorily in, and issued her last orders. "If you make a noise, you shall not go," said Nettie; and then came back alert, with her rapid fairy steps, to Miss Wodehouse's side.
    "Does not their mother take any charge of them?" faltered the gentle inquisitor. "I never can understand you young people, Nettie. Things were different in my days. Do you think it's quite the best thing to do other people's duties for them, dear?"

That last remark looks at first glance like our touchstone for reading the story---except that Oliphant is realistic about how these things can happen, setting that seeming criticism against Edward's gloomy summation of his brother:

When Dr Rider reached home that night, and took his lonely meal in his lonely room, certain bitter thoughts of unequal fortune occupied the young man's mind. Let a fellow be but useless, thankless, and heartless enough, and people spring up on all sides to do his work for him, said the doctor to himself, with a bitterness as natural as it was untrue. The more worthless a fellow is, the more all the women connected with him cling to him and make excuses for him, said Edward Rider in his indignant heart. Mother and sister in the past---wife and Nettie now---to think how Fred had secured for himself such perpetual ministrations, by neglecting all the duties of life!

Edward has not at this point taken Susan's measure. :)

maj 16, 7:32pm

Another thought---

Nettie must have thought she had rid herself of Susan* when she married, only to end up with not just Susan but the three children back on her hands.

(*I am very sure Nettie never used that expression, even in her secret thoughts!)

If we think about that, we can imagine the spirit in which the journey from Australia to England was undertaken.

It also shines an interesting light upon Nettie's introduction to the story and her attitude to Edward: again, I'm sure Nettie never put it this way to herself but she is hostile to Edward because she sees him as standing between Fred and Susan---and between herself and the possibility of freedom.

Re-reading with that thought in mind makes those scenes appear very different from how they do at first glance.

maj 16, 9:32pm

At the risk of revealing I'm not thinking critically enough about the characters--I thought that Mrs. Oliphant wrote Nettie as a positive model of what a woman could do. Susan and the elder Miss Wodehouse are varieties of less effective women--Susan almost malevolently so. Granted, Susan accomplishes things but usually the wrong things!

Redigeret: maj 17, 1:14am

My edition The Doctor's Family and other Stories (Oxford's World Classics) has an interesting introduction by Merryn Williams (and yes, I read it after I read the book). I thought she had insightful remarks about Oliphant's life and work:
All through her adult life she had to support various hard-up relations--husband, children, brothers, cousins, nephew and nieces--and she could only do this by turning out books for sale. She sat up far into the night, like the heroine of "The Doctor's Family", writing articles, translations, biographies, travel books and nearly a hundred novels...But her professional success was overshadowed by domestic troubles. Her brother, Willie, kept falling into debt and had bouts of drinking; when she was a teenager, Margaret and her mother sometimes sat up all night waiting for him to come home...Fred Rider in "The Doctor's Family" is obviously based on Willie, although the latter had no wife or children.
p. vii-viii

Margaret Oliphant had had some very hard experiences by the time she began to write the "Chronicles of Carlingford." She had given birth to six children and buried three, got Willie out of various scrapes, undergone some painful domestic conflicts, and nursed her husband and mother through their last illnesses...Like all middle-class women at the time, she employed servants, but she still had to do a great deal of the child-minding and housework herself. She was acutely aware that however much she might have liked certain things, such as a perfect marriage or a life of pure intellectual activity, there were pressing jobs which had to be done, no matter how she felt.
p. xi

The author's considered opinion was that people did have a responsibility to one another, especially to their blood relations. But she did not pretend that this was easy, or even that it had a good effect on the character....the person who avoids responsibility is generally much better liked than the person who takes it on and is soured by it....People who make sacrifices should not expect gratitude (this is a constant theme in Oliphant novels), for they will not get it.
p. xiv-xv

Redigeret: maj 18, 12:23pm

I would say that Oliphant had definite opinions on "givers" and "takers", and it is made starkly clear in these stories. I think that Miss Wodehouse represents a sort of "middle-ground" between these poles. Whether Lucy is Oliphant's "correct" version of Nettie, I'm not sure, but Miss Wodehouse has the ability to see where Nettie can't, and can gently provide guidance to Nettie.

But I was cheering Nettie on in Chapter VII. Dr. Rider has just come from a conversation with Mrs Smith the landlady, and has promised to "do something" (so the landlady won't turn them out).
He discusses this with Nettie, and she replies:

"...Nobody has a right to interfere with me; this is my business, and no one else has anything to do with it."
"You mistake," cried the doctor, startled out of all his prudences; "it ought to be my business as much as it is yours."
Nettie looked at him with a certain careless scorn of the inferior creature--"Ah, yes I daresay; but then you are only a man," said Nettie....

And then near the end (can't find the passage now) when Nettie starts packing the family's things for Australia, and basically waves everybody off, because she can do it faster herself. Been there, done that....

maj 17, 8:55am

These are all really helpful, Kathy. Building on the idea of Mrs Oliphant's own experience--wasn't it to some extent wish-fulfillment for Mrs. O that the Australian came and took Susan off Nettie's hands? Mrs O plays it ironically--Nettie's upset because she's had her project taken away from her! But in the end Nettie realizes it's a gift.

maj 18, 2:35am

>53 kac522: Yes, I loved that, too.
She also says "A woman is, of course, twenty times the use a man is, in most things." while packing up and I think that pretty much sums up her view of life. And maybe Mrs O's?
Anyway, I have finished reading this. It was pretty obvious that they would end up together, but it feels too much like standard procedure.
I think if this had been longer there would have been more room to explore the differences between Lucy and Nettie, the effective managers, and Miss Wodehouse and Susan as the helpless hangers-on. As we know, Miss Wodehouse goes on to an active life. I can't even guess what becomes of Susan.

Redigeret: maj 18, 12:24pm

>53 kac522:, >55 MissWatson: Oh dear--thanks for your comment Birgit, I can see that I'm getting "Miss" Wodehouse and Lucy Wodehouse completely confused.

I think if I had to put all four women on a scale, I'd say Nettie and Susan represent the two extremes, and Lucy Wodehouse and Miss Wodehouse are in-between, with Lucy more like Nettie and Miss Wodehouse more like Susan. Compared to each other, Lucy is more the manager, and Miss Wodehouse appears more helpless, but neither of the Wodehouse sisters are as far apart in temperament as the Underwood sisters.

I have edited my brain and my message in >53 kac522:.

maj 18, 6:32pm

Yes, I think on the whole we are supposed to approve of Nettie; but I think the narrative also carries a warning - one likely based on Oliphant's own experiences, as Kathy points out in >52 kac522: - about the dangers of being sucked into taking on too much, or assuming other people's duties.

That said, I think there's also an admission - also based on Oliphant's experiences - of how difficult it can be to avoid the development of such a situation, once a "giver" is obliged to start taking charge.

The comparison of Nettie / Susan with Lucy / Mary is interesting and valid; though the Wodehouse's personal circumstances mean that they can choose their extra duties rather than having them thrust upon them.

I love the idea (>56 kac522:) of an expanded comparison of the four women. It is intriguing and rather amusing how what starts out as a seeming male-focused narrative turns into an examination of women's roles at this time.

maj 18, 6:33pm

BTW the huge thank-you to Ninie for sharing the map! It makes many points in the narrative clearer, such as Nettie's walk home with Mr Wentworth, and I'm sure will be a great help going forward.

maj 20, 7:06pm

One more thought about Nettie---

---to go back to Ninie's original comments! :D

While Oliphant makes the travel to/from Australia part of her plot, do we think that she also makes Nettie "a colonial" in order to excuse or explain her behaviour? That her managing ways wouldn't be acceptable for someone raised in England?

I wonder if she was a bit torn between how she thought women could / ought to behave and what was perceived as appropriate female conduct.

Redigeret: maj 21, 12:54am

>59 lyzard: Maybe. But does that apply to her colonial sister Susan's behavior, too? Were the two extremes both unacceptable?

Actually, both sisters are not too far from sisters Mrs Norris and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Certainly Nettie is a lot more positive and useful than Mrs Norris, although Mrs Norris always _thinks_ she's doing what's best for everyone. And Lady Bertram doesn't whine quite as much as Susan.

maj 21, 2:34am

>59 lyzard: Probably yes.

maj 21, 6:42pm

>60 kac522:

That's a very interesting comparison! - and the fact that you can make it adds to the slight questionable feeling surrounding Nettie.

Still---I don't think it quite holds up: yes, Lady Bertram was every bit as useless and inactive as Susan, but then she had plenty of money and a houseful of servants. She wasn't lying around when there was work to be done and sucking dry her sister's income.

So even if we think of Nettie as a more positive Mrs Norris, I don't think we should see Susan as a more negative Lady Bertram. (Fancy being more negative than Lady Bertram!)

Sadly, being completely helpless *was* an acceptable form of womanhood at this time---but I think we can be very confident that the hard-working Oliphant thought differently.

In that respect, I suspect that Richard Chatham has a very rude awakening in store. Even allowing for some men finding "helpless femininity" appealing, you did not want a useless woman on your hands in the colonies, trust me. :D

maj 25, 6:57pm

Allrighty! - we can probably start wrapping things up here.

Can I please ask people to check in and let us know where you're up to, if you haven't?

Thank you to those who have contributed to the discussion. It will be interesting to see how Oliphant moves from these shorter works to the novel format, and whether she is able to maintain her ability to leave gaps in her narratives for interpretation and argument. :)

maj 25, 7:06pm

Speaking of moving forward---

For those of you who may be interested, we have a group read of one of Anthony Trollope's minor works, The Struggles Of Brown, Jones And Robinson, slated for July. All welcome, of course, and I'll hope to see at least some of you there.

Regarding Oliphant, I would like to move on to Salem Chapel, the first novel in her Carlingford series, after that; perhaps in September? Personally I would like to address the whole series, but my plan is to go back to doing things chronologically, which should naturally space them out and mix them up with other projects.

If you have any thoughts to add, or preferences for when any of this might happen, please post here.

Thanks, everyone!

maj 25, 7:34pm

>64 lyzard: Salem Chapel in September would work for me. I wouldn't want to wait too much longer than that or I'll forget details of these first short works. But I don't have any big reading plans this year, so I can fit these in whenever the group prefers.

maj 25, 9:05pm

>64 lyzard: Salem Chapel in September works for me, as well. Like Jennifer, I don't want to wait *too* long, but I can wait a few months. I have plenty of reading projects to keep me busy (Trollope, for example!).

maj 25, 9:58pm

>64 lyzard: September is fine.

maj 26, 6:37am

September is fine for me, too.

maj 26, 11:13pm

>65 japaul22:, >66 NinieB:, >67 kac522:, >68 MissWatson:

Thanks! We'll consider that a plan.

Yes, it can be tricky getting the timing right with group reads. You don't want to leave too much of a gap but not leaving any tends to backfire. :)