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Margaret Wilson Oliphant's "The Secret Chamber" was an interesting short ghost story where women were almost absent from the entirity of the tale. My initial take upon finally scaling the almost impenetrable walls of page-long paragraphs was that I was reading something chipped onto the walls of a prison cell.

The glaring lack of women until the very end of the tale, and then only to bring in a few people to play the protagonist off of, showed that when it came to running a family a woman was not required. Lindores does bring up his mother and ponders why she was never brought in on the family secret, even though she is the lady of the house and mother to the rightful heir. Apparently she is well vested in the patriarchy, since her only thought is she "doesn't know your secrets, you two; but look, he has enough to bear". While the rest of the party is interested in the unfolding events, her only thought (as the Lady of the House) is for her husband. She is steeped in the history of the secret, yet is willing to forego the knowledge if it will lessen the discomfort of Lord Gowrie. 

Women are the background and the foil due to the culture of the time period. Lord Gowrie notes that "she will be praying for both of us, for that is the way of women". She is assumed to be too weak to stand up to the evil presence, although from my experience in life few things are as fierce as a woman protecting her child.

Oliphant used massive blocks of text to describe the environment, almost as though she was bringing in the opressive weight of the stone building through the wall of words. This pushed me away from enjoying the story, although that might have been one of her objectives -- to make the reader feel vulnerable and isolated.

I do have to note that I did not like the ending of "The Secret Chamber". This may be due to the shifting culture, but I felt that there was an entire arsonal of loaded Chekhov's guns lying about the dusty room and not a single one of them went off at the end. 

Iron Noder 2017

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