The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery (1926)

Another charming (and funny) book by Canadian author, L. M. Montgomery, and one of the few novels that she set outside Prince Edward Island (PEI) where most of her stories were set.  I did not have any knowledge of what this book was about before I started, and only entered into the reading as I had enjoyed her earlier “Anne of Green Gables” so very much beforehand. This novel is one of her few novels for an adult audience, but I think that probably a lot of her work would be enjoyable for multiple age groups. (However, bear in mind that I have only now read two of her work, when she has loads more including short stories, poetry, and non-fiction.)

“The Blue Castle” in set in a small fictional town called Deerwood in Canada during the 1920’s. The main character, Valancy, feels stuck in a dull and limited world of being unmarried, 29 years old, and having few options apart from living with her overbearing mother and cousin. Montgomery’s descriptions of these two family members are actually quite funny in an awful way, and as the story continues, it’s clear that Valancy is completely miserable and with no way out that she can see.

Until she receives a letter from her doctor that details news that ends up giving Valancy the freedom that she has craving for. This news gives her a new look at life, and provides the catalyst to Valancy launching a new lease on life. She is no longer afraid of everything, of people, of what they might think of her, of how she is responsible for
everyone’s happiness. No, this new Valancy is the opposite of all that – she speaks her mind, she throws off the fetters of her restricted life and moves out of the social prison that was her home for years before.

This new freedom that Valancy experiences is described in such great detail in this novel that even you as the reader feels her excitement and her new-found confidence. It’s actually rather funny how the new Valancy deals with old restraints of dealing with her extended family and its annoying and limited social rules, and it is really exhilarating to see her take on life with such enthusiasm and with such little fear – a completely
different Valancy than before.

She ends up in a happy relationship with someone who her family views as completely unsuitable, and the only way that her relatives can make sense of her new behavior is that she has gone “dippy – completely  dippy” as her uncle says. Valancy builds a new life with her new beau, but when she senses that something is wrong with her original diagnosis, she revisits the doc who reveals that there has been a huge error which leads Valancy to believe that all her new life and all her changes have been for aught.

(Actually, there is a lot more to the plot than this, but I don’t want to give it away as I am hoping others will go out there and read it. I found it on the Australian Gutenburg project on-line, so thanks to whoever typed up all that.)

The story is also a great example of just how well Montgomery can tailor a sentence: the “lemon-hued twilight”…, “she was so tired that she wished she could borrow a pair of legs from a cat”…, a “hesitation of ecstasy” at a beautiful view, and a pearl necklace “like congealed moonshine”… Blissfully good writing and use of words.

And a favorite quote:

Warm fire – books – comfort – safety from the storm – our cats on the rug – Moonlight,” said Barney. “Would you be any happier now if you had a million dollars?”…..

The story ends up well and happy with an ending that is a little trite, but one that fits really well. And when you consider that this novel was written during the 1920’s, there is an argument for it being an early feminist novel in some ways, having a feisty independent female character who takes charge of her own life (at times).

Not quite as sweet and charming as “Anne of Green Gables” but again, this was a novel for a different target audience and at a different time of Montgomery’s life. Research shows that Montgomery felt that she would not marry, although she did receive a few marriage proposals. Each proposal was turned down as she did not feel romantic towards her suitors.  So when describing Valancy and her impending spinsterhood, this was probably a subject that Montgomery had already thought about for her own life. She did end up marrying a pretty decent guy but married life was not easy as he is believed to have been mentally ill and requiring a lot of emotional support. It’s also rumored that Montgomery herself suffered from depression, and her granddaughter has made the claim that Montgomery actually overdosed when she died, as opposed to dying from coronary thrombosis.

Regardless of how Montgomery died (and how important is that, really?), she left a whole raft of good reading material for the world to dig in. “The Blue Castle” seems to be one of the more neglected works of the Montgomery oeuvre, but it’s a winner all the same.

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