It's only February, and Miss Marjoribanks is the second book I've finished from my TBR Pile Challenge 2014 list. I've owned it for several years, since I became a serious reader of Victorian fiction. It came highly recommended for the Jane Austen lover, and it was a great choice -- when you have finished all of Austen's six novels, when you have read Middlemarch and Elizabeth Gaskell; if you love Trollope and you want a brilliant comedy of manners, or if you are craving a lovely fat Victorian triple-decker about slightly ridiculous English society people, then this is the book for you.
Published in 1866, Miss Marjoribanks is the story of Lucilla Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks). The story begins when Lucilla is just 17. She is an only child, and she comes home to Carlingford from school after her mother passes away. It is Lucilla's greatest desire to be "a comfort to dear papa." Dr. Marjoribanks is the town's doctor, and he insists that Lucilla complete her education. Two years later, after a grand tour of the continent, she returns to Carlingford with the intent of whipping Carlingford society into shape. Which she does, in grand style. Dr. Marjoribanks has the town's best cook and has a reputation for hosting great men's dinner parties, but Lucilla becomes the Queen Bee of Carlingford society with her Thursday evenings.
Lucilla is a master at coordinating events, bringing people together, and averting scandals. This is a woman that would have made a brilliant diplomat or politician. Her father often regrets that he had a girl and his brother got the boy, Lucilla's cousin Tom, who is madly in love with her but is rather flighty. After Lucilla rejects his offer of marriage, he goes off to India with a broken heart. Meanwhile, Lucilla rearranges everyone's lives in Carlingford but her own.
This book started out a little slowly, but once the plot got going, I could hardly put it down, reading the last 200 pages in just over a day, which is pretty fast for a Victorian. I had some suspicions about how this story was going to wind up, but there was a plot twist that I wasn't expecting at all. At first I thought of Lucilla as a spider, drawing everyone into her benevolent web, but then I decided she was really a puppet master, but in a good way. This book definitely reminded me of Jane Austen's Emma, if Emma were less self-absorbed and a lot nicer. It also reminded me of Cranford, and the sly, ironic wit reminded me of the novels of Anthony Trollope.
This is the second book I've read by Margaret Oliphant, who was a prolific Victorian writer, producing more than 120 works. Last year, I read two of her novellas, published by Persephone books as The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow. I liked it, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed Miss Marjoribanks, which is the fifth book in her Carlingford Chronicles. Most of the other books in the series are out of print, but some of them were published as Virago Modern Classics, so I'll have to try and track them down.
I *loved* this book, which was my introduction to Margaret Oliphant. I just delighted in the fun of it. If you know Georgette Heyer, it also reminds me of The Grand Sophy, but in a small village rather than London.ReplyDelete
The other Chronicles are a bit of a mixed bag, to my mind, and they don't link up like say the Barsetshire books do. The Perpetual Curate is my favorite, but Salem Chapel is a bit drear. I'll have to look for Mrs Blencarrow.
I forgot about Sophy! I definitely see the comparison. Thanks for reminding me, I really need to read more Heyer. I've also heard that Hester is a good Oliphant, and there are still copies in print from Oxford World's Classics.Delete
I listened to a radio dramatization of this a while back and ever since have wanted to read it. I didn't enjoy my first encounter with Oliphant (The Rector and The Doctor's Family) but this sounds much more fun and Trollope-y.ReplyDelete
I was googling Miss Majoribanks to look for cover art, and links to the radio drama showed up. This was definitely Trollope-esque. It had elements of politics like the Pallisers (which I still haven't read) and the clergy like the Barsetshire series. It was a fun read though there are some serious elements.Delete
It would be almost impossible for me to read your first paragraph and NOT want to read this as soon as physically possible!!!! :)ReplyDelete
And there's a free edition for a Kindle. See, I told you - as soon as physically possible!Delete
Thanks, that's a real compliment. MIss Majoribanks was another book that I was sorry to have left unread for so long. I loved it.Delete
This sounds like a delightful book. Not only another book but another author to add to my TBR list!ReplyDelete
I hope you manage to find affordable copies of the rest of the chronicles. Miss M may be the best stand alone book but they're all good and if you like Trollope Phoebe Junior is not to be missed.ReplyDelete
I bought a copy of this a few years ago because it sounded so good,but have never read it. I've been 'off' Victorian novels for a while now, but I hope someday to like them again and when I do this will be on my list.ReplyDelete
Ah, I'm always on the lookout for a good Victorian novel, esp. with a female protagonist -- added straight to my list (and free for kindle too, as noted helpfully above!).ReplyDelete
I loved Miss Marjoribanks! Lucilla is a wonderful character. I need to read more of Margaret Oliphant.ReplyDelete
Don't you love the TBR Pile challenge? It's one of my favorites this year, although I still find myself inserting outside books onto my nightstand anyway. ha. I've heard of Miss Majoribanks but never read it (I may even own it!) so thanks for the recommendation.ReplyDelete
I put this book on my TBR forever ago but have always been intimidated by its size. Love your review about it - I'm now interested again in picking it up! I haven't read any Trollope and will have to give him a try as well. Do you have a suggestion as to which Trollope novel to start with?ReplyDelete
I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, and of Middlemarch, too... and I think I'll be a fan of this book, too. Can't wait to read it. Thanks for such a great review!ReplyDelete
Egads, this novel sounds as if it were designed specifically for me! A bit of Emma and a bit of Cranford sounds spot on--plus I love the name of the author and her heroine.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the glowing recommendation--getting a copy post haste.
I'd never heard of this author, but the way you describe it sounds really good. Definitely goes on my 'possibly to read' list for the Classics challenge! Thanks for the review.ReplyDelete