Sir Gibbie

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Sir Gibbie is an 1879 novel by the Scottish author George MacDonald, written in the Doric dialogue of Scotland, that presents a narrative rags-to-riches arc for the title character, in the context of the actual emphasis on the integrity of Gibbie as an obedient Christian servant, and indeed as a Christ-like figure, despite his challenges and circumstances. Created as a means of supplemental income for MacDonald and his family, the characters of this and thematically related other works of his popular fiction also provided a means by which MacDonald's principle devotion—the spread of the Christian message, and of his conception of Christian obedience—could be furthered as well.[1]

The novel made a significant popular and literary impact in the English-speaking world in its day, both in Great Britain and in the United States, and was reintroduced in the early to mid-20th century through mention of MacDonald and his works by academic and popular Christian author C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis.

Sir Gibbie replaced a novel of comparable style by MacDonald, entitled Malcolm, in the 1938 (Swinnerton) edition of the influential Arnold Bennett list of notable English language literature, Literary Taste: How to Form It, as an important fictional work in English (alongside Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Samuel Butler, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and others).[2] and Sir Gibbie was edited and reproduced alongside several other works of MacDonald's Scottish fiction) by Bethany House, with modernized language, as Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands, in the 1990s.

General history[edit]

Sir Gibbie was one of several popular works that George MacDonald wrote during a period of years where his primary avocation was to serve as a preacher in the dissenting church to which he had been called.[clarification needed][citation needed] Coincident with the growth in the size and needs of his family, the writing MacDonald did during this time, as a sideline, served to provide very necessary income for their sustenance.[citation needed] MacDonald little expected the wide popular appeal of the works, or that they would be met with widespread adulation in the United States.[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

Sir Gibbie presents a complex cast of characters from various social levels: in addition to the mute central character, Gibbie,[who?][clarification needed] a laird;[who?][clarification needed] a pair of parish priests, a clever one that yields to worldly influences without being wicked[who?] and another clearly presented as pompous and self-righteous.[who?][citation needed]

Gibbie, with a drunkard father and a start in poverty and literal rags, at one point in childhood finds himself in murderous company—the "wee Sir Gibbie" is an appellation of affection given the character, by his compatriots, emphasizing the distinctiveness of his character, in particular in relation to his coarse surroundings. He ultimately flies from this, experiencing adventure and misadventure, including tragic punishment meted out for doing good to others.

Allegorical intentions[edit]

The character of Gibbie in the novel and in its modern edited production (Wee Sir Gibbie, see below) is presented as a character that the reader is intended to emulate, the character that has rightly discerned the way of the Cross, and so serves as a model for the reader as a contemporary knight-errant, a righter of wrongs.[citation needed] At the same time through his inestimable, literal graciousness, he also presents a less attainable figure, a Christ-figure toward which the reader is intended to strive,[citation needed] Juxtaposed are a number of readily grasped, often opposing archetypes (though sometimes, also, disciple-, or follower-type figures in the protagonist's company), all from that time period of British society, with its changing influences of high and low church.[citation needed]

Literary critical perspectives[edit]

Sir Gibbie and other of the MacDonald fictional works are notable for their Doric dialogue.[citation needed] They have been criticised, especially by members of the Scottish Renaissance,[who?] for being part of the Kailyard school.[citation needed]

Publication history[edit]

First publication of Sir Gibbie by MacDonald was in three volumes, in 1879, by Hurst and Blackett of London, and followed likewise styled novels David Elginbrod, Robert Falkoner, Alec Forbes of Howglen, and others. The first of the three original volumes, with MacDonald's name appearing as "MAC DONALD", followed by Legum Doctor (LL.D., Doctor of Laws), is of 320 pages, and ends with the chapter "Refuge," and Gibbie being taken in by Robert and Janet, their discovery of the scars of his upbringing, and his experiencing alongside their six children the normalcy of a bed, hearth and home. These citations, in full, are:

  • MacDonald, George (1879). Sir Gibbie, Volume 1. Collection of British Authors. London, ENG: Hurst and Blackett. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  • —— (1879). Sir Gibbie, Volume 2. Collection of British Authors. London, ENG: Hurst and Blackett. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  • —— (1879). Sir Gibbie, Volume 3. Collection of British Authors. London, ENG: Hurst and Blackett. Retrieved March 15, 2017.

The entire text was issued by Lippincott in America in a single volume, with the three English volumes appearing separately chaptered, in sequence; set in two columns in smaller font, this volume's presentation of the text was in 210 pages:

The entirety of the text, set in 62 short chapters, on the order of 1000 pages, and is available with a Broad Scots glossary by its digitizer, John Bechard, from Project Gutenberg.[3]


MacDonald's editor, Elizabeth Yates wrote of Sir Gibbie, "It moved me the way books did when, as a child, the great gates of literature began to open and first encounters with noble thoughts and utterances were unspeakably thrilling."[This quote needs a citation]


The series of Scottish popular novels reemerged in the 20th century from relative obscurity, as a result of mentions by academic and popular author Clive Staples Lewis, who indicated the influences of MacDonald in his creative work.[citation needed] The result, in part by this attention, was the direction of the many followers of Lewis' writings, which include The Chronicles of Narnia, Space Trilogy, but more relevantly his Till We Have Faces and his poetic work, toward the works of MacDonald.[citation needed]

This focus of attention on MacDonald's old works led to their editing and reproduction as a new series from Bethany House, with the editing and modernising of language done by Michael R. Phillips,[4] alongside several other works of MacDonald's Scottish fiction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "George MacDonald—Biography and Works". Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  2. ^ Bennett, Arnold, with Swinnerton, Frank (1938). Swinnerton, Frank, ed. Literary Taste: How to Form It, with Detailed Instructions for Collecting a Complete Library of English Literature. Penguin Special Editions, Volume S11 [Issue 2, The New library]. Harmondsworth, ENG: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 143. Retrieved March 15, 2017. Compare to Bennett, Arnold (1914) [1909]. Literary Taste: How to Form It, with Detailed Instructions for Collecting a Complete Library of English Literature. London, ENG: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 117. Retrieved March 15, 2017. Also available in a PDF form of the 1911 edition, where the mention of Malcolm is on page 104.
  3. ^ "Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald". Retrieved 15 March 2017 – via
  4. ^ MacDonald, George (1990). Phillips, Michael R., ed. Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands. George MacDonald Classics. Bethany House. ISBN 1556611390. Retrieved March 15, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Phillips, Michael R. (1987). George MacDonald: Scotland's Beloved Storyteller. Baker/Bethany House. ISBN 0871239442.

External links[edit]