Darcy's Reviews > Miss Marjoribanks

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
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Feb 18, 10

bookshelves: nineteenth-century-british
Read in January, 2010

Miss Marjoribanks is what you get when you smash Emma together with Persuasion: match-making, mistaken identity, and (of course) marriage. Lucilla Marjoribanks is essentially Emma with more sense, less money, and not as annoying. At 18 she leaves finishing school and returns to her hometown Carlingford, intent on overcoming all obstacles and establishing herself as the central figure of the town's social life. And there are plenty of obstacles along the way: her father's bachelor habits, the shabby wallpaper in the drawing room, the necessity of finding a really flirtatious man to keep things interesting, and a fairly unmanageable cook.

If it all sounds rather trivial, well, that's kind of the point. Carlingford isn't a place with a lot of hustle and bustle--it is small, provincial, and inclusive. It is exactly the kind of place a lot of people live in (even today), where nothing much of importance ever happens, and so the minutiae of daily life take on significance. Gossip about a single dinner can (and does) last for days.

Oliphant's challenge in the novel is maintaining not only a plot, but the reader's interest in such a fictional world. Why should we care about Lucilla's old sofa, and how on earth can you get a 300+ page novel out of that? Well, you begin with a hilariously witty and ironic narrator, and you turn practically the entire thing into a burlesque. Embrace the dullness of Carlingford by transforming the entire novel into a sophisticated joke where narrator and reader agree that life in Carlingford revolves mostly around trivialities that have the potential to become fascinating and entertaining. This is a novel that oozes irony in practically every sentence. Just as a single example, Lucilla is repeatedly described using war metaphors: she conquerors, musters, marshals, defends, attacks, strategizes, and (eventually) wins. The image of plump, conventional, bland Miss Marjoribanks engaging in anything so dirty as war is, quite simply, laugh-out-loud funny, and yet the novel is simply full of language that casts Lucilla as a four star general.

Miss Marjoribanks fits into a long continuum of British novels about the interesting banality of women's domestic lives in small, uninspiring towns. It is a type of novel that begins with Austen and gets reimagined in the mid-nineteenth century by authors like Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell. In the 1930s and 40s, Agatha Christie is still writing versions of it in her character Miss Marple. Miss Marjoribanks is a delightful surprise of a Victorian novel--not well known, not taught in survey courses, and eminently enjoyable.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Great review Darcy! I loved this book but I don't think it's for everyone.


message 2: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn I've been meaning to read this one for quite some time! Great review.


Darcy Thanks! I'm glad you both liked it!

Yeah, I definitely agree, Lee. It has a particular kind of appeal.


message 4: by Boof (new) - added it

Boof How funny, I was just reading the reviews on Amazon about this book! I must get it soon.


Misfit I really enjoyed this one a lot, as well as the other Oliphant I've read - Hester. I agree with Lee, she might not be for everone but she does have a nice insight into the Victorian mindset.


message 6: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee I am so up for some North and South. I'm disappointed it didn't win the group read. Does anyone want to read it with me?


message 7: by Boof (new) - added it

Boof When are you going to read it, Lee? I really want to read it soon too but I am reading East Lynne at the moment which is 600 pages of victorian loveliness so it may take me some time.

What about sometime in March? If you can wait that long I will definitely read it with you.


message 8: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Sure! Do you want to do it Mid March? Let me know what works for you. I can wait a bit.


message 9: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Lee wrote: "I am so up for some North and South. I'm disappointed it didn't win the group read. Does anyone want to read it with me? "

Lee and Boof, I'm reading it right now!!! :-) I'm a bit slow going with it, but I'm already about half way through so if you read faster we may catch up by the end. Did you see the mini-series? I did, so already know what happens (maybe the reason it's not an edge-of-my-seat page-turner for me!) but it's still great reading. In any case, we'll definitely have to compare reviews and share some discussion when we've all read it :-)


Darcy Lee and Boof, I'll definitely read it with you in March! It seems like a lot of people in the Victorians group wanted to read it, so I'm sure a few more people would tag along.


message 11: by Boof (new) - added it

Boof Cool - Lee and Darcy, it's a date! That gives me chance to read East Lynne and have a breather before the next victorian. I have already read Tess so I can still chat about the book anyway. I reckon there will be more who want to read N&S as it was a very close second. We would need to discuss it either by ourselves or in the general thread on Vics though as I don't want it to overshadow Tess as that won the vote.

Mid March it is!


message 12: by Boof (new) - added it

Boof Kathryn, are you enjoying it?


message 13: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Yay! I'm excited. So after the first week or two in March when I'm finished my other group reads I'll start. Should we set up another unofficial sneak read thread like we did for Summer and Ethan Frome? Then whoever starts reading first can begin posting.


message 14: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Kathryn, I'm sorry I didn't notice you were reading it right now or I would have jumped in with you! I'm going to wait until March now.


message 15: by Sherien (new)

Sherien Lee wrote: "I am so up for some North and South. I'm disappointed it didn't win the group read. Does anyone want to read it with me? "

Lee, I just finished reading it a few days ago and I really loved it!! I'd love to join a discussion with u...


message 16: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Great! We'd love to have you Sherien!


Darcy Kathryn, I saw the mini-series and thought it was really well done. They picked really perfect actors for the two parts, I think. And I really like that they didn't try to make some of the politics in the novel more palatable to a modern audience.

Glad you enjoyed the review, Elizabeth! Same thing happened to me--Oliphant's name kept coming up, but I never got around to her books. I'm glad I finally did, though. I have a feeling a few more of her novels will end up in my TBR list.


message 18: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Lee wrote: "Kathryn, I'm sorry I didn't notice you were reading it right now or I would have jumped in with you! I'm going to wait until March now. "

No worries. My sister is reading it with me so I do have some discussion going now. I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts next month and hope you enjoy it :-)


message 19: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Okay great! That's nice you can read with your sister.


Karen I love your description of the "British novels about the interesting banality of women's domestic lives" -- spot-on. Wonderful and insightful review. I'm about halfway through this novel and I'm really enjoying it.


Darcy I'm really glad you're enjoying it, Karen! It's such a fun book.


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