Title: Far Above Rubies
Author: Jolyn Canty
Major Themes: George MacDonald, Louisa MacDonald, England, Scotland, Writers
Synopsis: George MacDonald was a masterful writer, but who was the support behind him?
I read a few of George MacDonald’s books many years ago, and have several on our shelves now, waiting to be read. I hadn’t thought about him very much, though, for a number of years, until I read a book recently by Michael Phillips. That book quoted MacDonald a lot of times, and the characters in it and the sequel avidly read each new MacDonald book as it was published. Then, I saw Far Above Rubies, a biography of George MacDonald’s wife Louisa, available for review. I knew that was a book I wanted to read! Did the book live up to my expectations, however?
Louisa MacDonald never had a very easy life. As a girl, she was the plain one, with beautiful sisters. Her mother, after having 13 babies and losing several of them very young, became quite sick and eventually died. Louisa always helped to run the household and care for the younger children. The Powell household was a happy place, despite Louisa’s mother’s sickness. Louisa’s world expanded when she met a young man named George MacDonald. He was studying for the ministry and was able to answer many of her questions about the Bible, and inspire her in many ways. They also shared a love of nature. They soon fell in love, and were able to get married when he was finally hired by a church—after he recovered from a hemorrhage of the lungs. I was really amused at the descriptions of George’s beard!
After George and Louisa were married, they were very happy together, and deeply in love. Soon, the babies started arriving. All 11 babies who were born to them were welcomed, and very much loved. Louisa poured her life into caring for her children and her often-ailing husband. Life was never easy for them; though George had a pastorate when they got married, some of the people in his congregation could not handle his straight-forward preaching of the Word, and he found himself without a position. After awhile, however, he discovered that he could weave his beliefs into stories, and people would receive them that way. For the rest of his life, he tried to support his family by writing.
I really enjoyed Far Above Rubies! I found Louisa’s life very inspiring. She truly loved her husband and children, as the many quotes from her letters to them show. I loved getting to know her and her family through their correspondence; much of the book is quoted directly from the MacDonald’s letters. I chuckled many times as I read this book; Jolyn Canty was able to relate stories about Louisa and her “Bear” in quite a humorous way! Quite often, I have found biographies that are written this way, with many quotes from the subject’s writings, to be dry. This one wasn’t! I enjoyed it all the way through.
I really liked Louisa’s attitude toward motherhood and her children. Over and over, her babies are referred to as miracles from God. One quote, especially, stood out to me:
“She considered herself a chalice, a vessel to be filled to the brim with God’s Spirit, to cooperate with her husband and with God, to be poured out for her family.”
She gave all her strength to caring for her husband and children in every way she could.
Another line that stood out was a statement by George before they were married. He was referring to two poems he had read, and said, “They were both to me worth hundreds of sermons—of some kinds at least.” This stood out because of something a friend of mine said when I was discussing MacDonald with her a few days before I started reading Far Above Rubies. To her, reading one of MacDonald’s books was as good as reading a sermon! Now, I want to read some of his books for myself, especially after reading about the author and his wife.
I received a review copy of this book from the author, and these are my honest thoughts about it.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults