Two sweet little novellas set in Carlingford, Oliphant's imaginary Victorian town. In "The Doctor's Family," young Dr. Rider is burdened with a small practice and a good-for-nothing older brother. When his brother's family tracks him down and requires his assistance, Dr.Rider is annoyed--until he falls in love with his sister-in-law's sister, the willful workhorse Nettie. Stubborn, practical, and devoted to her sentimental sister, Nettie refuses to be considered a martyr while simultaneously refusing to be anything but selfless. I was surprised by how much I liked Nettie.
"The Rector" follows Morley Proctor, a man who has lived all his life in the cloisters of All-Souls. After spending his youth in the driest of studies, he goes to Carlingford in pursuit of a slightly wider life--he hopes for a family of his own. But his decades in academia have not prepared him for the exigicies of being the pastor of a small town. He lacks any ability to relate to his fellow humans, or bring them comfort through Christ. Mr.Proctor struggles with the question of whether to return to his passionless, useless cloistered life or to stay in Carlingford, overwhelmed, overworked, but striving toward becoming a better human being.