IN NOVEMBER 1886, MARGARET OLIPHANT (1828–97) wrote to William Blackwood, the editor of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1817–1980), with an idea for a new, regular feature. Oliphant, who had by that time been a mainstay at the magazine since the 1850s, proposed to write a ‘standing article upon literature, a review of all the books of the month worth reviewing, with admixture of speculation and general comment, as would be natural’ (1899: 338). The pitch, Oliphant made clear, was not for ‘an occasional paper’ but ‘a regular one, for which people would look’ (338). As the letter reveals, the series had been a long time in gestation; it was, she explains, ‘a plan which has been long in my mind, and which, if I had ever had a magazine in my own hands, as I once thought I should, I should certainly have adopted’ (338). Oliphant's plan was to assume life in the shape of ‘The Old Saloon,’ a recurring, if irregular, feature which ran in Blackwood's from January 1887 to December 1892. In this sense, Oliphant's pitch to Blackwood can be read as a successful effort by a professional female journalist to negotiate copy, secure regular work, and further entrench her position in the male milieu of Blackwood's. But if Oliphant's letter documents her professional acumen, it also hints at the gender politics that occluded a more resounding rise through the ranks of the magazine. Having been denied the control over the means of production that an editorial position would have afforded her, Oliphant was thus bound by the limits established by her various male editors throughout her long career. This two-sided characterisation of the periodical as a space of both possibility and limitation for women is the keynote emerging from the five essays collected in this section.
Fittingly, given the expansive stretch of her career in periodicals, this section is bookended by considerations of Oliphant's use of the periodical space, beginning with her contributions to Blackwood's in the 1850s and ending with an analysis of her columns in St James's Gazette (1800–1905) and the Spectator (1828–) in the final decade of the century.