Thursday, February 7, 2013
The Marriage of Elinor by Margaret Oliphant
Why, when Chesterton recommended Oliphant’s finest novel to be The Beleaguered City, did I pick the first free Kindle title that came up on the screen? The Marriage of Elinor was one of over one hundred books written by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897) and, obviously, not her best work.
I tried very hard to like this book, but the main character, Elinor Compton, was so willful and headstrong that it was hard to root for her. Everyone knows she is heading into a disastrous marriage, but she refuses the counsel of her best and dearest friends and marries badly. George Eliot wrote two books about women with bad marriages (Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda) but the heroines endure, they grow, and they come out better than when they went in. But throughout Oliphant’s book, Elinor stubbornly denies the consequences of her bad choices and continues ignoring the loving advice of close friends. She goes her own way for the entire (very long) book. She suffers, but never shows signs of growth. In the end, when it all comes crashing down upon her, you almost don’t care anymore.
In The Victorian Age in Literature, G.K. Chesterton calls Oliphant a successful, but second tier author (George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, etc. being first tier). Interestingly, he labeled Oliphant “a much mellower and more Christian Eliot.” And he esteemed her for infusing her “timid Victorian tales with a true and intense faith in the Christian mystery.” (p. 116-117)
That said, I did not find Marriage of Elinor to be particularly preachy. (Thank goodness!) Although I did not love this book, I cannot write this author off. Because of Chesterton’s raves, I plan to give her another try, but probably not anytime soon.
This is the second title in my Personal Victorian Challenge.