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June 9th, 2019


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06:20 pm - Mrs Oliphaunt, Phoebe Junior, 1876
Mrs Oliphaunt wrote a huge number of novels – she churned out too many to be classed as a ‘great’ novelist. But she also has her moments.

*Phoebe* was the last of her Carlingford novels, which, like Trollope’s contemporary series, tracked life in the middle classes in small towns. The plot is essentially romantic – who will Phoebe marry? Either the young man with a sinecure who loves her but will never amount to much, or the dim witted, enormously rich youth who she can shape for greatness. She decides on the one she can shape, who will be, as she says ‘a career’ for her.

He was not very wise, nor a man to be enthusiastic about, but he would be a career to Phoebe. She did not think of it humbly like this, but with a big capital--a Career. Yes; she could put him into parliament, and keep him there. She could thrust him forward (she believed) to the front of affairs. He would be as good as a profession, a position, a great work to Phoebe. He meant wealth (which she dismissed in its superficial aspect as something meaningless and vulgar, but accepted in its higher aspect as an almost necessary condition of influence), and he meant all the possibilities of future power. Who can say that she was not as romantic as any girl of twenty could be? only her romance took an unusual form. It was her head that was full of throbbings and pulses, not her heart.


Oliphaunt was sometimes accused of heartlessness, but my sympathies are with Phoebe. The only career open to her is marriage and yet it provides a limited scope to a girl of her abilities. Marrying money will allow her to push her husband into the parliamentary career that Phoebe is so suited to. As the novel writes…..

And Clarence got into Parliament, and the reader, perhaps (if Parliament is sitting), may have had the luck to read a speech in the morning paper of Phoebe's composition, and if he ever got the secret of her style would know it again, and might trace the course of a public character for years to come by that means. But this secret is one which no bribe nor worldly inducement will ever tempt our lips to betray.


There is a sub-plot where a Minister embezzles a small amount of money, but the entire matter is capably dealt with by Phoebe. There is, though, a great deal of careful observation in Oliphaunt’s description of the temptations of money.

A momentary disappointment when he saw how little James's draft was--then a sense of that semi-intoxication which comes upon a poor man when a sum of money falls into his hands--gradually invaded his soul.


Oliphaunt herself spent her life always in debt, writing to pay off money already spent, so she was well aware of the allure of money.

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