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Title: The Scottish novels of George MacDonald
Author: Robb, D. S.
ISNI:       0000 0000 8400 114X
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1980
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This thesis is a study of the twelve works of fiction which may be called George MacDonald's Scottish novels. Extremely popular in their day, they have been largely lost sight of and are eclipsed, for critics and general readers alike, by MacDonald"s fantasy writing. In this thesis, I claim that they are of much more than merely historical interest. In it, I attempt to describe both them and the beliefs which lie behind them more fully than has been done hitherto. Furthermore, on the basis of this description, I revalue them both as a group and individually. I conclude that they are strikingly individual works, but based on contrasts of attitude and technique for which twentieth-century readers are little prepared. As a result, MacDonald's Scottish novels are easily misunderstood. I also conclude that, along with Alec Forbes of Howglen (generally reckoned the most successful), one other, Malcolm, is notably fine; both these novels deserve a place of esteem among nineteenth-century works of Scottish fiction. The first two chapters are introductory in character. The first gives an account of MacDonald's life, personality and work, based largely on his son's biography but also on three collections of unpublished correspondence. It also contains a description of twentieth-century critical views on the Scottish novels. The second chapter is a broad discussion of the sort of novel MacDonald was attempting to write. It denies that he was attempting to write in a realistic mode (as other critics have assumed) and locates his works among nineteenth-century prose romances. As an aid to understanding the unconventionality of his fictional aims, there follows an account of MacDonald's general literary debts, not only to the English and German Romantics (already stressed by previous critics) but also to English writing of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and to his Scottish predecessors of whom three, James MacPherson, Drummond of Hawthornden and James Hogg,are singled out. The chapter then proceeds to discuss how important aspects of MacDonald's outlook and purposes influence the novels as we find them; these aspects include his unashamed didacticism and, crucially, his rejection of the primacy of the material world. An important theme introduced at this point is his deliberate presentation in his fiction of his own personality, and the tendencies in his writing towards confrontation and challenge are explored. There follows a discussion of the relationships of MacDonald's novels with both his own fantasy writing and with various types of sub-literature. The chapter ends with a brief account of the Scottish novels as theological propaganda. The third and fourth chapters are concerned with the twelve novels in detail, though with the emphasis on the first six. Chapter Three discusses the three novels of the 1860s, focussing on fundamental issues such as their themes, structures, language, and methods of characterisation. A principal concern of both these central chapters is the distinctiveness of MacDonald's novels from each other, both thematically and in imaginative qualities. This is an aspect which earlier critics have ignored or denied. Chapter Four concentrates on the three novels of the 1870s. It describes a shift in MacDonald's religious perceptions which results in far-reaching changes in the meanings and imaginative roots of his novels. Less firmly grounded in MacDonald's own experience, they are more flexibly inventive than their predecessors. A further detailed discussion of source material is necessary, especially in the case of Malcolm, which is the high achievement of the second phase of MacDonald1s Scottish writing as Alec Forbes was of the first. Sir G-ibbie is discussed as a weaker novel than several twentieth-century critics have maintained. The chapter concludes with a swift discussion of the later, inferior, Scottish novels. Chapter Five deals with a topic which had been immanent at many points in Chapters Three and Four, MacDonald's allegory. Indeed, it is in its insistence that the Scottish novels are thoroughly symbolic in character (as much so as his fantasies) and in its attempt at an extensive and systematic discussion of that symbolism that this thesis is in most marked contrast with previous critical accounts of MacDonald's Scottish fiction. The first part of Chapter Five is a general account of, firstly, MacDonald's sense of the material world as a means whereby divine truth can be read and communicated; secondly, his sense of poetry as a medium of divine truth; finally, his attitude to allegory. The main body of the chapter is an extended exploration of his allegory, and draws examples not just from his Scottish novels but also from his other writings. This section is structured round a central metaphor of MacDonald's Christianity, the creature's homeward journey to God. This metaphor is broken down into five constituent parts, namely the voyager and his voyage, the goal of the journey, the hindrances encountered, the help received, the terrain over which the journey is made: each of these provides a conceptual framework within which some of MacDonald's proliferating allegories can be located and between them they cover, I think, the bulk of his symbolism. The final chapter is a brief summary and assessment, which uses the idea of play - an idea which had been several times touched upon earlier - as one possible means of coming to terms with the contradictions of the Scottish novels. The chapter concludes that MacDonald wrote at least two classics of nineteenth-century Scottish fiction and that his Scottish novels should be better known and regarded. There follow three appendices, on the variety of forms in which Robert Falconer has been printed, on the relationship between Castle Warlock and Stevenson's Treasure Island, and suggesting a correction to Greville MacDonald's biography of his father.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature