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The Rector and The Doctor’s Family

Margaret Oliphant

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When the stories that became the Chronicles of Carlingford series first appeared anonymously, speculation had it that they were the work of George Eliot. The connection was a natural one. Only a few years earlier, Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life had appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine. The Carlingford stories, too, were originally published in Blackwood’s, and they had much to do with ecclesiastical affairs in the town. Eliot did not feel flattered by the attribution, although her own work and that of Margaret Oliphant continued to have fascinating connections.

The two novellas joined in this ebook (as they were in their signed publication of 1863) introduce readers to the sleepy town of Carlingford with its intricate and layered social life. The Rector tells the story of an Oxford scholar in holy orders, embarking on parish ministry only in middle age. The demands of the role expose his personal inadequacies, and provoke his attempts to come to terms with them.

The central character of The Doctor’s Family is Dr. Rider, an unexceptional young medical man. His dissolute older brother, Fred, has once before ruined his nascent career, and Fred’s arrival in Carlingford from Australia threatens to do so again—all the moreso when his family, until then unknown to Dr. Rider, shows up in town as well. Particularly Fred’s waif-like but efficient sister-in-law, really a “little autocrat,” claims Dr. Rider’s attention in unexpected ways.

The hopes and conflicts of these ordinary men provide the details for the portraits which Oliphant paints on the canvas of Carlingford life. She took some inspiration for these chronicles from the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, which had by this time become great successes. While the debt is obvious, Oliphant’s vision—both socially and artistically—differs significantly from Trollope’s. Not only does Oliphant attend to aspects of society in which Trollope had little interest, but she also writes with a woman’s insight, and a flair arising out of her experience as the competent manager of her own troubled family.

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