Salem Chapel (Chronicles of Carlingford) by Mrs Oliphant – Classics Club Spin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again.

 Salem Chapel cover

Salem Chapel by the Scottish author Margaret Oliphant was first published in 1863, originally in the weekly periodical Blackwood’s Magazine, but I read a Virago reprint which dates from 1986, I think I’ve had it on my Virago shelf almost all of those 34 years! Salem Chapel is part of her Chronicles of Carlingford. Margaret Oliphant wrote over 120 books, she seems to have been one of those Victorian female authors who supported a larger extended family through her writing.

Arthur Vincent is a young newly qualified minister, a Nonconformist who has been chosen by the congregation of Salem Chapel to lead them. Very quickly it becomes obvious that the situation is not quite what Mr Vincent expected. Despite being Nonconformist and so not part of the more fashionable Church of England he is drawn to the more elegant and upper class members of the C of E. He’s really quite embarrassed by the members of his own congregation, they drop their aitches and use double negatives and are mainly small tradesman such as grocers, milkmen and day school teachers.

Mr Tozer is the senior deacon of the chapel so he’s in charge of the business side it seems, collecting the money from the churchgoers who apparently pay rent for their pews. But Mr Tozer deals in butter, cheese and bacon and his home smells of his wares. Mrs Tozer is kind but common and their daughter Phoebe is obvious in her admiration for the minister. But any minister would do.

This book is Victorian melodrama with a capital M. Really it would make a great TV series, much better than the very popular Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford was, having said that it really drags in the middle and the 461 pages could have been cut by at least 100 pages. There’s a railway chase down and up half the country which goes on too long, and there’s an attempted murder and possible abduction. Of course Oliphant would have been paid for each instalment of the book so it was in her best interests to spin the tale out as much as possible.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Miss Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) which is also part of the Carlingford series. Salem Chapel suffers from a paucity of likeable characters, although I don’t think that would be such a problem if it was dramatised for TV. Really the disdained Mr amd Mrs Tozer were just about the only people that I liked, but the idea of a person finding after years of study that their personality is not suited to the profession they have chosen is very realistic I think.

You can see what Jack thought of the book here.

Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant

Chronicles of Carlingford cover

Chronicles of Carlingford by the very prolific Scottish author Mrs Oliphant is a Virago publication which consists of two novellas – The Rector and The Doctor’s Family, originally published in 1863. There’s an introduction by Penelope Fitzgerald.

The blurb on the back of this book compares Margaret Oliphant with Jane Austen, George Eliot and Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles. I would include Mrs Gaskell too.

The Rector is only 35 pages long, the setting is mid 19th century Carlingford which is a small town close to London. A new rector/minister is coming to the town and his parishioners are anticipating what sort of preacher he will be. Surely he won’t be as low church as the last rector. He had gone to the canal and preached to the bargemen there – that didn’t go down at all well with his snooty congregation. Most of them are hoping for something a bit more stylish – and preferrably a bachelor as there are several unmarried ladies apparently in need of a husband. The new rector has spent the last 15 years cloistered in All Souls and this is his first living. He may be a great theologian but he’s absolutely at sea when it comes to human nature and dealing with his parishioners.

Difficult or awkward men seem to have been Oliphant’s forte. There’s no doubt she had plenty of experience of them within her own family, and in fact she came to believe that her managing and competent character contributed to the weakness in her menfolk.

The Doctor’s Family is 157 pages long. Young Doctor Rider has just moved to a newly built part of Carlingford, he doesn’t know it but that is not going to do his business any good. The old established Carlingfordians look down on that area. His older brother had gone to Australia under some sort of cloud and he had married and had a family out there. Things didn’t go any better for him in Australia – well – he is a drunkard – so he had come home and was living at his young brother’s expense.

Dr Rider had decided that although he wanted to marry a young woman he couldn’t afford to look after his brother and a wife and children, so he had given up hope of marrying at all. Imagine his horror when his brother’s wife and children and her sister turn up and billet themselves on him!

Even worse – it turns out that his brother’s wife is feckless and doesn’t even take any notice of their badly behaved children, and for some reason she blames her brother-in-law for the situation that she and her husband are in.

This one is much stronger I think, but they’re both well worth reading and have moments of comedy as well as frustration at enraging characters.

I read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019