Long ago I fell in love with George MacDonald’s children’s stories. As I grew older I tried to read his more adult novels but the old fashioned language and Scots dialects confused and frustrated me. There are versions of his writings that have been edited for more modern audiences however. Over Christmas my husband read aloud to me the first in a trilogy called, “The Parish Papers,” edited by Dan Hamilton. We were watching Downton Abbey at the time and the similar setting but striking difference of perspective grabbed us. All is told from the perspective of a young parson who falls in love with the lady of the manor. In Downton Abbey it is the Earl and Countess who center the world of the story. By contrast, in George MacDonald’s “A Quiet Neighborhood,” we see life outside the “big house.” The parson cares for everyone from an eccentric aristocrat who spends most of his time in a library with a secret elevator to a poor old woman who is dying as rain water pours into her house and drowns the little fire her husband tried to make for her.
Now my husband and I are reading the second book, “The Seaboard Parish.” This tells the story of the parson’s life after marriage with children. It is a window into a very different world where it is expected that the children’s daily needs will be met by servants. At first this and the rare mention of his wife turned me off to the story. The story focuses on his daughters, one who has been severely injured in an accident with a horse and another who is an aspiring artist falling in love with an agnostic. The most captivating aspect of this story is MacDonald’s ability to weave into the story his ideas about church, life and romance. Since MacDonald was himself a pastor he is able to describe with a great power death bed scenes, difficult confrontations and sweet reconciliations.