Review of ‘Madam’ by Mrs Oliphant

An obscure novel from the prolific Margaret Oliphant (1828 – 1897). It appeared as my next Project Gutenberg random read and I didn’t know what to expect. Although her work was popular during her era, I don’t think much of it is read now.

Portrait of Margaret Oliphant

Madam is about a woman, Mrs Trevanion, who is separated from the rest of her family when her cruel husband dies. He had forbidden her from communicating with her children or they would be disinherited. She seems to be a morally upright, wonderfully caring wife, except that she went out to visit a man at night and Victorian delicacy forbids explanations. Her step-daughter Rosalind cannot believe there is anything bad about her character, but others are not so convinced.

I thought the novel was very promising as it began with a lot of drama. It had some focus on two rival servants, which I believe was unusual for a book of that time. I wished that the servants were the main characters as they were more interesting than Rosalind and her suitors. My enthusiasm for the story took a nosedive halfway through, as the mystery of the relationship between Mrs Trevanion and the man she was meeting was maddeningly drawn out and when the revelation finally came, it was not, to a modern reader at least, worth the wait. Moreover, there was the disappointing fate of Mrs Trevanion, which although it represented the discrimination against women which is a theme of the book, was a depressing end to the story, while the inevitable marriage of Rosalind wasn’t enough to lift one’s spirits.

First published in 1884. The edition I read was from Project Gutenberg.

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