Writing at the end of the nineteenth century as Modernist values and conventions were gaining sway, Oliphant’s obituarists were inclined to patronize her as an over-prolific literary generalist, whose finest fiction had appeared in the mid-Victorian period. This essay argues that, rather than seeking to repeat earlier triumphs, the distinctive timbre of the fiction Oliphant produced during the 1890s arises from her response to new circumstances. Acutely conscious of ‘the New Journalism’, as she referred to the various cultural shifts taking place in the literary marketplace, she also recognized, without necessarily approving, the fresh turn in subject matter, style and attitudes adopted by a younger generation of novelists. Her final novels offer her acerbic account of a fin-de-siècle society where traditional social and moral hierarchies were visibly disintegrating. Darker in tone than her mid-century tales of provincial society, they offer a critique of such muchdiscussed 1890s phenomena as decadence and the emergence of the New Woman.
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