Margaret Oliphant's political allegiance has been a vexed question: was she a feminist or did she share the conservative opinions of her most frequent employer, Blackwood's? By considering Oliphant neither as a feminist nor an antifeminist, but rather as an anti-idealist, this essay attempts to explain why no definitive answer to this question has arisen. Oliphant's anti-idealism can be seen very clearly in her novel Miss Marjoribanks (1866), a novel that many other critics have turned to in order to define Oliphant's gender politics. Anti-idealism manifests itself primarily as irony in this novel. There is irony of narrative tone (as seen most obviously in the mock-epic metaphors used to describe the main character) as well as a more structural irony that exposes the artificiality of narrative itself, the idealized view of history as a coherent and teleologically meaningful whole. One of the narrator's repeated mock-epic ironies is the description of Lucilla Marjoribanks as a queen, including some specific comparisons to Queen Victoria. This essay provides historical context for the Lucilla-Victoria motif and demonstrates how it works toward Oliphant's anti-idealist agenda.
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