I was talking to Jane from Beyond Eden Rock the other day about the right books at the right time and in some weird Karma twist, it happened to me over the weekend! I had tried to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant more than a year ago, but I was not hooked in the first two chapters, and after a brief struggle completely gave up on it. It lay among my other unreads for many months and until last month, I had no desire whatsoever to pick it up again. However, as I had previously mentioned, the Women’s Classic Literature Event is about reading women authors and venturing into those works which I would never normally venture into! (For instance, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf) Therefore I decided to revisit Miss Marjoriebanks as part of February reading for the event. I had a really awful Friday with more disastrous and disappointments than I can usually handle and desperately need a distraction to regain my Zen self by Monday. Ms. Oliphant was ever gracious in providing that and more!
Miss Marhoribanks, Lucilla, as she was christened by her parents, Dr. Marjoribanks and his wife of Carlingsford at the age of 15 loses her mother to illness and decided that the aim of her her life is to be a comfort to her Papa. However Dr. Marjoribanks has a different opinion on this matter and sends Lucilla back to her school after the necessary period of mourning and keeps her there for 3 years and it is not until she is 19 that she actually returns to Carlingford to do her duty and be a comfort to her papa. Her plans include the reorganization of the Carlingford’s society to show them culture, beauty, brilliance and break down the provincial and parochial mindset and cliches!Considering her youth and her recent return to her home, it would have been a daunting task for any weak minded young lady, however Miss Marjoribanks goes about the whole venture with all the clearheaded ability of a born leader and manager as she orders upholstery for the drawing room that enhances her complexion and goes about organizing an “Evening” instead of party dressed in a white dress – “high”. There are vexations that daunt her enterprise – Tom Marjoribank, her penniless cousin who proposes to her and is sent of to India to better his fortunes by an unimpressed Lucilla; Mr. Cavendish the man about town from whom much is expected including becoming a member of the Parliament and marrying Lucilla to improve his candidature, but who instead is infatuated with the drawing masters pretty but absolutely unpleasant daughter Barbra Lake and the Archdeacon who has a a bone to pick with Mr. Cavendish stemming from a shared past! But Lucilla sees everything through with wit, grace and magnanimity, arranging matters and forcing things to the right conclusion for the betterment of all society even though, there are times that the society does seem ungrateful to her for all her efforts. Trial finally comes Lucilla’s way when her father Dr. Marjoribanks passes away, the circumstances she always took for granted change overnight and though life offers a golden opportunities yet again, she finally is forced to contend what is really true in her heart and make decisions which cannot be avoided anymore!
I read somewhere that this was a Victorian Emma; maybe it was. I also felt is was a dash of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and Anthony Trollop’s Barchestshire Chronicles all mixed together. But the book is undeniably and uniquely Carlingford and Ms. Oliphant is absolutely original in her efforts. Provincial towns dictated by Victorian mores must have seem absurd to many authors and writers of that era and this came forth in their works and the styles may overlap with each other. But this novel is soooo much more than just a comedy of manners and a social satire. Ms. Oliphant brought to life characters that were real and throbbed of life. Lucilla is a brilliant heroine who has all the qualities that make a good heroine and yet enough frailties to make her human and to touch the readers heart. She is an independent strong minded, smart as a whip girl who has no tuck with standard social mores, and brings it down with using the inner workings of those very mores. She has courage and is undaunted in the face of struggle and believes that one can overcome anything if one puts their mind to it. She has fault and fails but is intelligent enough to see those failures, learn from her mistakes and adapt to the change. Even during her most difficult time, she sustains and her own ideas against the opinions of the entire society and finally is generous in her triumphs! You cheer for her, you laugh at her and with her and are completely entertained and invigorated by her antics. The other cast of characters do justice and are a perfect foil to Lucilla – Dr. Marjoribanks with his in-toleration for all kinds of social standards and his ability to laugh at the circumstances, even when de-throned in the domestic domain by his own daughter, the poor luckless but devoted Tom, Mr. Cavendish veering from highs to lows and undecided of what choices he should make. The entire ensemble is brilliant and you are completely hooked till the very end. The plot while lengthy and some may contend very narrow since it focuses purely on the happenings in a small town, in an era when great things where happening in England, never flags and you turn page after page with a host of emotions from chagrin to laughter to anger to amusement to being anxious to relief. Its all there and you cherish each page and emotions its adds on to a rich reading experience . The language is simple and there is no lyricism so to speak off, but there is plenty of wit and reading between the lines that keeps you laughing through the very end! It is a testimony to Ms. Oliphant’s brilliance and ability as an author that she wrote such bright optimistic work during a darkest period of her life – she had lost her 10 year old daughter, widowed and struggling to bring up her other children.
Needless to say I LOVED this book! Ms. Marjoribanks has reinforced my belief that anything can be conquered with courage and ability and as I face another daunting Monday, with all the energy that had seemed lost on Friday, I have to say this novel has become one my favorites and I can see it joining my go-to books shelves!