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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
George MacDonald (1824–1905)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
GEORGE MACDONALD has been characterized as a “cross between a poet and a spiritual teacher.” His powers as a novelist, however, are not taken into account by this description. Added to his genuine poetical feeling, and to his refined moral sense, are the qualities of a good story-teller. He knows how to handle an elaborate plot; he understands the dramatic values of situations; he can put life into his characters. Yet the dominant impression left by his novels is their essential moral nobility. The ideal which Mr. Macdonald sets before himself as a writer of fiction is summed up in this passage from ‘Sir Gibbie’:—
          “But whatever the demand of the age, I insist that that which ought to be presented to its beholding is the common good, uncommonly developed: and that not because of its rarity, but because it is truer to humanity. It is the noble, not the failure from the noble, that is the true human: and if I must show the failure, let it ever be with an eye to the final possible, yea, imperative success. But in our day a man who will accept any oddity of idiosyncratic development in manners, tastes, and habits, will refuse not only as improbable, but as inconsistent with human nature, the representation of a man trying to be merely as noble as is absolutely essential to his being.”
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  This quaint realism of Mr. MacDonald’s in a literary age, when many believe that only the evil in man’s nature is real, dominates his novels, from ‘David Elginbrod’ to ‘The Elect Lady.’ They are wholesome stories of pure men and women. The author is at his strongest when drawing a character like that of Sir Gibbie, compelled forever to follow the highest law of his nature. With villains and with mean folk, Mr. MacDonald can do nothing. He cannot understand them, neither can he understand complexity of character. He is too dogmatic ever to see the “shadowy third” between the one and one. He is too much of a preacher to be altogether a novelist.  2
  His training has increased his dogmatic faculty. Born at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in 1824, he was graduated at King’s College, Aberdeen, and then entered upon the study of theology at the Independent College, Highbury, London. He was for a time a preacher in the Scottish Congregational Church, but afterwards became a layman in the Church of England. He then assumed the principalship of a seminary in London. His novels witness to his Scotch origin and training. The scenes of many of them are laid in Scotland, and not a few of the characters speak the North-Scottish dialect. But the spirit which informs them is even more Scotch than their setting. The strong moral convictions of George MacDonald infuse them with the sermonizing element. The novelist is of the spiritual kindred of the Covenanters. Yet they are full of a kindly humanity, and where the moralist is merged in the writer of fiction they attain a high degree of charm.  3
  His pure and tender spirit made him peculiarly fitted to understand children and child life. “Gibbie had never been kissed,” he writes; “and how is any child to thrive without kisses?” His stories for children, ‘At the Back of the North Wind’ and ‘The Princess and Curdie,’ are full of beauty in their fine sympathy for the moods of a child.  4
  George MacDonald wrote a great number of novels. They include ‘David Elginbrod,’ ‘Alec Forbes of How Glen,’ ‘Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood,’ ‘The Seaboard Parish’ (sequel to the foregoing), ‘Robert Falconer,’ ‘Wilfrid Cumbermede,’ ‘Malcolm,’ ‘The Marquis of Lossie,’ ‘St. George and St. Michael,’ ‘Sir Gibbie,’ ‘What’s Mine’s Mine,’ ‘The Elect Lady,’ and such fanciful stories as his well-known ‘Phantastes.’ He has also published ‘Miracles of Our Lord’ and ‘Unspoken Sermons.’ His sermons, as might be expected, are vigorous, and exhibit his peculiar sensitiveness to the moral and spiritual elements in man’s existence. This same sensitiveness pervades his verse; which, while not of the first order, gives evidence—especially in the lyrics—of the true poetic instinct. George MacDonald’s death occurred in London on September 18th, 1905.  5
 
 
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