Author: Mrs Oliphant
Challenges: Women’s Classic Literature
The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow was reprinted by Persephone Books alongside another novella by Mrs Oliphant entitled Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund. In the first story, Mrs Blencarrow is a respectable widow living with her children in a large house in a country village. It is the winder and she has thrown a party for the village, one attended by a flighty, spoilt young girl named Kitty. Kitty is upset because her parents disapprove of her love interest, but she is determined to marry him regardless. It is during their secret elopement to Gretna Green that Kitty discovers a dark and mysterious secret about Mrs Blencarrow and brings back the news that might ruin her neighbour. In Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund Mrs Lycett- Landon’s husband ‘disappears’ on a trip to London for work. Mrs Lycett-Lamdon’s suspicions bring her to London and after checking her husband’s usual haunts – discovering some lies along the way – she discovers him living happily in London…with a new, younger wife!
I am going to discuss both novellas separately as I have different views on both of them. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow was a brilliant read. It is shrouded in mystery right from the beginning when a hidden voice calls into a dark room “are you there?” I kept trying to second guess the actual mystery and I wasn’t far off if I’m honest…in fact as soon as Kitty and her lover (whose name escapes me) venture to Gretna Green, the home of quick marriages, I knew exactly what Mrs Blencarrow was hiding. The characters are perfectly drawn caricatures of a village society, with Kitty’s mother, Mrs Bircham is just a malicious old bat. She is mortified when Kitty elopes, but the news of Mrs Blencarrow’s secret marriage makes it suddenly acceptable because she feels there is someone or something more scandalous than her daughter in the village.
On the other hand, I didn’t really enjoy Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund. I found the story very slow and I wasn’t really very interested in the characters or what happened to them. I know I read it, but I’m pretty certain I didn’t take much of the story in. I can see why these two novellas were published together and I was quite surprised when I saw that they were published in the Victorian era. Their content about women and marriage is quite shocking for Victorian times, with the women in the novel refusing to submit to the laws of marriage or to the men in their life that make silly mistakes. In Mrs Lycett-Landon’s defence, although I didn’t like the story, I did appreciate how she refused to listen to her husband’s excuses and continued to live her life without him. Mrs Oliphamt’s writing is certainlyahead of her time in that respect, but, whilst enjoyable, this hasn’t been my favourite Persephone read.