Category: Scottish Classics

Kenilworth

Kenilworth

Kenilworth

Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott (Scottish classic)

“In the court of Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is favoured above all the noblemen of England. It is rumoured that the Queen may chose him for her husband, but Leicester has secretly married the beautiful Amy Robsart. Fearing ruin if this were known, he keeps his lovely young wife a virtual prisoner in an old country house. Meanwhile Leicester’s manservant Varney has sinister designs on Amy, and enlists an alchemist to help him further his evil ambitions. Brilliantly recreating the splendour and pageantry of Elizabethan England, with Shakespeare, Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth herself among its characters, Kenilworth (1821) is a compelling depiction of intrigue, power struggles and superstition in a bygone age.”


The tension between possessing a title of nobility and being noble in mind and heart lies at the center of Kenilworth. From the beginning of the novel, Scott portrays the former suitor of Amy Robsart, the gentleman Tressilian, as possessing nobility of mind and heart. We first meet Tressilian at an inn, where he is seeking information about the whereabouts of Amy on behalf of her father. His features have a “meditative and tranquil cast,” and he is  “dressed with plainness and decency, yet bearing an air of ease which almost amounted to dignity, and which seemed to infer that his habit was rather beneath his rank.” While he is at the inn, the proprietor makes this observation about Tressilian to his nephew Michael Lambourne, who ends up in the employ of the story’s villain, Richard Varney:

But how brave thou be’st, lad! To look on thee now, and compare thee with Master Tressilian here, in his sad-coloured riding-suit, who would not say that thou wert the real gentleman and he the tapster’s boy?”

“Troth, uncle,” replied Lambourne, “no one would say so but one of your country-breeding, that knows no better. I will say, and I care not who hears me, there is something about the real gentry that few men come up to that are not born and bred to the mystery. I wot not where the trick lies; but although I can enter an ordinary with as much audacity, rebuke the waiters and drawers as loudly, drink as deep a health, swear as round an oath, and fling my gold as freely about as any of the jingling spurs and white feathers that are around me, yet, hang me if I can ever catch the true grace of it, though I have practised an hundred times. The man of the house sets me lowest at the board, and carves to me the last; and the drawer says, ‘Coming, friend,’ without any more reverence or regardful addition. But, hang it, let it pass; care killed a cat. I have gentry enough to pass the trick on Tony Fire-the-Faggot, and that will do for the matter in hand.” (Chapter 3)

Lambourne has had enough experience in the world to recognize that  Tressilian is an authentic gentleman and that he is not. Lambourne also knows that while he could never deceive a true gentleman into accepting him as an equal, he can fake it just enough persuade Tony Foster, an old friend of his, to give him a glimpse of the mysterious woman who, according to rumor, is residing at Cumnor Place, the country house Foster manages. Continue reading

Mirrors of George MacDonald

When we gaze into our own “fairyland of the soul,” what do we see? Do those lovely scenes reflect the glamour of the world or the glory of Zion? The illusions of Satan or the visions of God?


Phantastes

Phantastes

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass. . . . Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land. But how have I wandered into the deeper fairyland of the soul, while as yet I only float towards the fairy palace of Fairy Land! The moon, which is the lovelier memory or reflex of the down-gone sun, the joyous day seen in the faint mirror of the brooding night, had rapt me away. (Phantastes, by George MacDonald, Chapter 10)

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Phantastes

Phantastes

Phantastes

Phantastes, by George MacDonald (classic fantasy)

“First published in London in 1858, this adult fantasy novel follows Anodos, a man who searches for his ideal of female beauty in a dream-like world. Anodos has many adventures and faces many temptations in this fairyland, from tree spirit confrontations to a long trek to the palace of the fairy queen, where he eventually meets the Marble Lady. MacDonald would later astonish and influence writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and W. H. Auden, who saw in this work the successful embodiment of the depth and meaning of our inner, spiritual world. The poignancy of ‘Phantastes’ lies in its representation of a spiritual quest, one in which ideals are compromised, and the ultimate surrender of the self brings both overflowing joy and profound sadness.”


The women in my book group wanted to try something written by George MacDonald, so I recommended “The Light Princess,” thinking they would like that one better than Lilith, which is quite strange in a way I wasn’t sure the other members of the group would appreciate. After I re-read “The Light Princess,” I decided to try Phantastes. Phantastes isn’t a long novel, but it took me several weeks to get through it. Part of that was because the plot structure was episodic, lacking a strong narrative drive, but more than anything, George MacDonald simply isn’t a writer one can read fast. His work, like poetry, demands to be savored.

In Phantastes, Anodos is on a quest to yield to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” and put off “the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19) The apostle Paul describes this spiritual rebirth with these words: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17) MacDonald creatively describes the final stages of this process in Chapter 22: Continue reading

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