Waiting upon God : divine providence in the work of Margaret Oliphant.
This thesis examines Mrs. Oliphant's lifelong engagement with the subject of divine
Providence. Providence is shown in this thesis to be a deeply complex set of
frequently conflicting theories, and the resultant contradictory epistemology is
reflected in Oliphant's changing intellectual, emotional and spiritual responses to it.
Oliphant's negotiations with what she believed to be a coherent ideology are seen to
demonstrate two things: firstly, its incoherence; secondly (and paradoxically) her fear
of the possibility of a temporal existence devoid of the meaning which mirrors the
divine Order that underpins it.
Beginning with an analysis of what Oliphant would have understood by 'divine
Providence', the thesis identifies the chief theological ideologies which exerted an
influence on her. The extent to which Calvinism, the most deep-rooted of these
influences, pervades Oliphant's thinking gradually emerges.
Drawing initially on a wide-ranging review of Oliphant's non-fictional writing, the
thesis proceeds to an examination of four distinct movements apparent in the fiction,
which show Oliphant's developing inclination to explore the problematic relation of
Providence to the immediate workings of a small community. The thesis explores the
relationship between narrative content and narrative structure to demonstrate that the
latter is profoundly influenced by the former.
The problems inherent in Oliphant's absolute insistence on the power and 'true'
freedom of man's freewill - which she needs to see as alone being responsible for evil
in the world - is shown to be irreconcilable with her belief in the totality, and
totalitarianism, of divine ordaining. Cycles of despair in her life are therefore seen to
be reflected in her fiction and are worked out as ethical paradoxes of
certainty/uncertainty; action/passivity; permanence/impermanence. The volatile
account of Providence which the novels under investigation elicit can be viewed as an
arc which tracks the evolving process of abandonment to Providence, leading to
abandonment by Providence, leading to an attempted reconstructed compromise with
Providence. The Conclusion demonstrates how, in the late fiction, the temporal world
exploits Providence as a paradigm of patriarchalism.