George MacDonald is a man who changes lives. The friend who first handed me MacDonald’s Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, the fictional memoir of the Reverend Henry Walton, Vicar of Marshmallows, discovered it decades ago, in its delicious three-volume 1867 first edition (ah, for those halcyon days!) when he was a graduate student in Germany. His newly-wed wife was also a graduate student who had recently given birth to their first child. Their financial resources were perilously strained and, as neither of them had read Erasmus on the merits of books versus food, were deemed insufficient for three-volume, leather-bound novels, however enchanting. There was nothing for it but to sit on the floor of the bookshop and read the book there. When he turned the final page several weeks later, he rose stiffly to his feet, went home, and announced his intention to become a minister. MacDonald had shown him the allure of devotion.
George MacDonald was born in rural, pre-industrial Scotland in 1824, into circumstances which today would be judged grinding poverty but which MacDonald later remembered with delight. He became a Congregationalist Minister after university but soon found himself without a congregation, his unorthodox, radical views being regarded as almost blasphemous. Unlike most of his Calvinist brethren, he chose not to preach of God’s wrath and eternal Hellfire, but of His infinite love and the mercy of divine grace. It was a vision difficult to sell to parishioners living in a bleak and forbidding climate, and in a world before the pain-killing blessings of chloroform. Unable to support himself and his growing family in the pulpit, MacDonald knew he still had something to say, and he turned to writing.
MacDonald published fifty-three books: sermons, novels, poetry, literary criticism and fairy-tales for children, and, as one would expect from such a prodigious output, his work is uneven. Some of his novels are heavy with Scottish dialec
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in