- Thomas Wingfold, Curate © 1876
- George Routledge and Sons
- 666 pages
Reading Thomas Winfold, Curate is like stepping into a time machine. You are transported from an era where sentences are short, plots unfold quickly, and characters are prized more for their role than their person, to a place where a 600 page novel wasn’t overly long, and characterization trumped instant gratification. It’s a sprawling 19th century novel that follows the spiritual awakening of a small-town minister.
I’ve always loved George MacDonald, but I’ve approached him from a different direction. I started with his fantastic works (Lilith and Phantastes), and then moved on to sample his children’s writing (At the Back of the North Wind, and Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood). After tasting his poetry (Diary of an Old Soul), I began to read his sermons (all three volumes of Unspoken). It took me a long time to get to his adult novels, but it was worth the trip. Each genre he wrote in has a part to play in this book. There’s fantasy elements (from a certain journal), poetry, and even full sermons reprinted inside this novel.
One of the most endearing qualities of George MacDonald is his sense of goodness. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but his children’s works are rife with it. His heroes choose the good—a virtue left unplumbed by much of today’s literature. In particular, Wingfold’s honesty upon having his pseudo-faith challenged is beautiful. Indeed, it’s the first step towards real belief.
I should note that Michael Philips’ redacted form of the book, The Curate’s Awakening, is only half the size. I suppose it would be better to read that than nothing, but he does flatten out the characters and remove much of the important theological speculation. Reading Philips’ version will leave you feeling that MacDonald was far more sure in his theology than he truly was. Now that Project Gutenberg exists, you can read the original for free, instead of paying Bethany House for an abbreviated version. I prefer to take MacDonald straight up. The sermons and extended dialogue are all part of the charm.
While this book can appeal to many, if you’re a minister who is serious about questions of doubt and faith, this book is a treasure trove of prose detailing the intricacies of the human mind and soul.