Sunday, June 2, 2019
An Artist in her Way: Representations of the Woman Artist in Margaret Oliphants Kirsteen :: Margaret Oliphant Kirsteen Essays
Representations of the Woman Artist in Margaret Oliphants Kirsteen Margaret Oliphant (1828-97) was a prolific writer. She published almost 100 novels as well as biographies, art criticism, locomotion writing, historical sketches, and over two hundred articlesfor periodicals like Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine andThe Cornhill Magazine, yet her ambivalence about representing herself as a serious artificer in her annals provides Oliphant aficionados with grist for speculation and conjecture did Oliphant even think of herself as an artist? While I will answer this question with are sounding yes, still thither is enough equivocation in the recital to give scholars room to play. And although Oliphant herself once wrote that scholarship is a sort of poison tree, and kills everything (279), the recent scholarship on Oliphants Autobiography has enlivened rather than killed debate by calling attention to Oliphants struggle with self-representation. When it came to writing about her par ticular experience as both mother and writer, Oliphant make the contemporary discourse, with its rigidly discrete ideologies of motherhood and authorhood, stifling. Thus the Autobiography can be read as Oliphants poignant effort to extend the meaning of the terminal artist to one flexible enough to include a woman who wrote not only because it came as naturally to her as talking or breathing (4), unless also because her children needed to eat. In this paper I will plead that Oliphants preoccupation with what it means to be or call herself an artist can be mapped in her novel, Kirsteen, which was written in 1890--roughly the same period as the Autobiography--and chronicles the life of a Scottish woman in the early part of the 19th century. Although Kirsteen Douglas is a dressmaker rather than a writer, Oliphant takes care early in the novel to encourage the idea (through theScottish dressmaker Miss Macnab) that a dressmaker is an artist in her way and that ... dressmaking is just like a the airts(Jay 260). I will thus read dressmaking as a trope for writing, Kirsteen as an artist figure, and the novel as Oliphants portrait of the artist as a young dressmaker. Reading dressmaking as a metaphor for writing, I hope to demonstrate that this late novel presents a self-consciousness and caprice about artistic production the analysis of which will clarify what Oliphant means by the termartist. First to contextualize Oliphants portrayal of Kirsteen. Here I will argue that not merely personal but also larger cultural associations with needlework made dressmaking Oliphants inevitable choice of metaphor for writing.