Entry updated 12 August 2018. Tagged: Author.
(1829-1888) South African-born UK adventurer, diplomat politician and author, well known for nonfiction texts which described his own adventures in Asia, Africa and South America while at the same time advocating solutions to the "problems" he encountered, whether social or military; on more than one occasion these texts were tacitly sponsored by the UK Foreign Office. In 1867, he joined an American Utopian community, the Brotherhood of the New Life, founded by the poet Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906), who as leader exuded an occultish charisma, creating profound psychic dependency in his flock, and confiscating their capital. After many humiliations, and periods in the UK following Harris's instructions, Oliphant and his wife escaped this secular "religion" with some of their money.
Oliphant's fiction, written in his later years, begins with a nonfantastic Satire, Piccadilly: A Fragment of Contemporary Biography (1865 Blackwood's Magazine; 1870). Of some sf interest is Masollam: A Problem of the Period (1886 3vols), which is set in London; as a roman à clef portrait of Harris as half-plausible messiah with some Psi Powers (including prescience) who rules an enclave on Dystopian lines, and as a half-knowing half-credulous description of animal magnetism as an objective world-transformative force, the novel comprises a sensitive (and self-revealing) portrait of the toxic intercourse between utopia as a concept and utopian communities in reality. Fashionable Philosophy and Other Sketches (coll 1887) contains some fantasies. [JC]
born Cape Town, Cape Colony: 3 August 1829
died Twickenham, Middlesex [now London]: 23 December 1888
works (highly selected)
- Piccadilly: A Fragment of Contemporary Biography (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1870) [first appeared 1865 Blackwood's Magazine: illus/Richard Doyle: hb/]
- Masollam: A Problem of the Period (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1886) [published in three volumes: hb/]
- Fashionable Philosophy and Other Sketches (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1887) [coll: hb/]
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