The Lady’s Walk

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Margaret Oliphant (1828-97) was a Scottish novelist and historical writer of the Victorian era who usually wrote as Mrs Oliphant. Her fictional works encompass domestic realism, the historical novel, and tales of the supernatural. As a girl she constantly experimented with writing and in 1849 her first novel Passages in the Life of Mrs Margaret Maitland was published. It was followed in 1851 by Caleb Field, and in that year she met the publisher William Blackwood who invited her to contribute to Blackwood’s Magazine. The association would last throughout her lifetime during which she contributed well over 100 articles. In 1852 she married her cousin Frank with whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. The family moved to Italy in 1859 for the sake of Frank’s health but he died in Rome leaving his wife almost entirely without resources, and on her return to England she was dependent on her literary output to support her three surviving children. She soon established herself as a popular writer and worked hard to sustain this position, but her private life was dogged with sorrow as her remaining children all pre-deceased her. Oliphant wrote over 120 works, mostly novels, but also travel books, biographies, historical works and volumes of literary criticism. Some of her most popular fictional works are the six novels which make up The Chronicles of Carlingford, originally serialised in Blackwood’s from 1862-5 prior to book publication. This short novel published in book form in 1897 following earlier serialisation in Longman’s Magazine from December 1882 to January 1883 tells of how the narrator, Mr Temple, meets the Campbell family while travelling in Switzerland. He admires 28-year-old Charlotte (“Chatty”), a mother-sister figure to the rest of the family, and is pleased to be invited to their Highland estate, Ellermore, for the shooting. While his love for Charlotte grows, he becomes aware of how unlikely it is she would ever marry and leave her family. During his visit he learns of the family ghost whose footsteps can be heard along the beech walk, known as the Lady’s Walk, each evening at sunset, and after he is approached by a mysterious veiled woman who warns him that Charlotte’s brother is in trouble, he hastily makes the journey to London with Chatty hoping to avert disaster.

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