Best Book of the Week!
It’s not often that I discover a delightful novel by a classic author whose works I am unfamiliar with. But that’s the case with Miss Marjoribanks. It is a wonderfully ironic comic novel about middle class mores with an exasperating and ultimately lovable heroine.
We first meet Lucilla Marjoribanks at the age of 15. Her long-ailing mother has died, and Lucilla rushes home vowing to be a comfort to her father. Dr. Marjoribanks, who has been looking forward to a comfortable bachelor existence, wastes no time in sending her back to school.
Four years pass, and Miss Marjoribanks returns from her tour on the continent determined to devote herself to her father for the next ten years, suggesting that by then she may have “gone off” a little and will start looking for a husband. Lucilla is a young woman of energy and complete self-confidence who is determined to be a force in Carlingford society. But first she must deal with a proposal from her cousin, Tom Marjoribanks. She loses no time in dispatching him to India.
Dr. Marjoribanks watches in amusement as Lucilla calmly removes the reins of his household from his redoubtable cook Nancy and begins to take control of Carlingford society. Her first project is to begin a series of “evenings” every Thursday.
As Lucilla deftly and with dauntless good humor manages the affairs of her friends, somehow none of a series of eligible men ever come up to scratch with a marriage proposal when her friends expect them to. But Lucilla insists she will dedicate herself to her father’s happiness at least until she is 29.
Although Lucilla, with her managing ways, could easily be a figure of satire, I grew to admire her and like her friends and neighbors, who are fully realized even though this book is the fifth in a series and I have not read the others. We even feel sympathy for Barbara Lake, the contralto whose voice goes so well with Lucilla’s that Lucilla invites her to her evenings. Barbara, from a lower strata of society, sees Lucilla’s actions as condescension and rewards Lucilla’s impulse with spite.
I was hugely entertained by Lucilla’s career and have already started looking for more books by Oliphant. Margaret Oliphant, I find, was once one of the most popular authors of the mid-19th century, and she deserves to be remembered.