“Though I was alone with the unseen, I comprehended it not”: The Relationship Between the Dead and the Living in Margaret Oliphant’s „A Beleaguered City”
Margaret Oliphant 1828–1897 is best remembered today as one of the important practitioners the domestic fiction, with her “Chronicles of Carlingford” series considered to be her most enduring achievement. Oliphant’s other interesting group of works are ghost stories and other spiritual tales known as the “Stories of the Seen and Unseen”. A Beleaguered City, a novella first published in 1879, is generally considered to be Oliphant’s most successful supernatural tale. Set in Semur, France, and told by five different narrators, the story focuses on the inhabitants of Semur, who are evicted from their town by the spirits of the dead. This paper aims to demonstrate that Oliphant uses the supernatural not only to cope with her own experiences of bereavement, but that she also engages with contemporary themes: she comments on gender roles, reveals the shortcomings of society that places its faith in progress and material wealth, and exposes the limitations of the scientific or the mechanistic worldview which cannot provide an adequate explanation of “the true signification of life”.