Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle wasn't on my to-be-read list, but I thought Carrie's L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge sounded like fun. As I searched through L. M. Montgomery titles that I hadn't read, I found this little novel that has some unique qualities which set it apart from most of Montgomery's other works. First, it is her only novel that was written for an adult audience, and in fact there are no children, only a few memories of childhood, in the book. Second, it is her only novel with a setting entirely apart from Prince Edward Island. While I dream of someday visiting P.E.I. like any other fan of Anne of Green Gables, this distinctive appealed to me. I wanted to see how Montgomery would describe other parts of Canada.

I was certainly not disappointed in my choice! The Blue Castle has all the charm, wit, and vivid characters of Anne and other Montgomery novels, plenty of picturesque descriptions of nature, and a heartwarming love story, too. What more could you want to curl up with under under a throw or by a fire on a cold winter's day?

Valancy Stirling had lived under the constraints of her mother and extended family's expectations for twenty-nine years. She was timid and submissive to their obsessive habits and sense of decency - which was guided more by gossip and the sake of appearances than any genuine concern for propriety - but she had nothing for which to live, nothing to make the monotonous, dreary days bearable but her dreams of the Blue Castle where she was no longer a wallflower, but a princess with dashing suitors who longed to do her bidding. She was resigned to her fate as a bashful old-maid until faced with the finiteness of her life. In a brief afternoon, she decided that she must really live the remainder of her days. The exchanges that ensue when she begins to speak her mind to her family, tacitly revealing their shallowness, are simply hilarious. Valancy begins to make decisions based on meeting needs and showing love, and in return she finds her Blue Castle and a love that she never could have imagined.

At first, I thought the characters seemed a bit too stereotypical, but in retrospect that merely set the stage for Valancy's transformation of character and its effects on her family. Valancy's integrity (in the sense of being honest and transparent) stands in stark contrast to her family's all-consuming concern for the opinion's of others. It wasn't hard to guess certain aspects of the plot, but other elements took me pleasantly by surprise. It was a delightful story with a good lesson about what really matters in life - a challenge to us all to live authentically!

Here are a few quotable quotes:

"She made a discovery that surprised her; she, who had been afraid of almost everything in life, was not afraid of death. It did not seem in the least terrible to her. And she need not now be afraid of anything else." (37)

"'I've been trying to please other people all my life and failed,' she said. 'After this I shall please myself. I shall never pretend anything again. I've breathed an atmosphere of fibs and pretences and evasions all my life. What a luxury it will be to tell the truth!'" (46)

"'As for Barney Snaith, the only crime he has been guilty of is living to himself and minding his own business. He can, it seems, get along without you. Which is an unpardonable sin, of course, in your little snobocracy.'" Valancy coined that concluding word suddenly and felt that it was in inspiration. That was exactly what they were and not one of them was fit to mend another." (65)

"'Cissy Gay is dying,' she said, 'and it's a shame and disgrace that she is dying in a Christian community with no one to do anything for her. Whatever she's been or done, she's a human being.'" (81)

And after that, I got too interested in the story to mark any more passages. . .

Update on the rest of what I intended to read for the L. M. Montgomery Challenge ~ My daughter and I got off to a great start reading Anne of Green Gables aloud - Daddy even read a few chapters and then finished the book on his own! (He finds Anne's imagination and rapturous speeches quite amusing, which just proves that real men can read Anne of Green Gables!) However, some fairly drastic and time-consuming life events have come our way, and we haven't had time to finish it. I don't think it will happen in the next four days, but we will pick it up again when things settle down. I'm glad that my almost 5-year-old daughter is interested enough in Anne to sit still through several chapters. It is fun to share favorite books with her and start reading more than just picture books!


amelia said...

I'm going to have to read this one! Send me an email with your life updates. Miss you!

Heather VanTimmeren said...

Amelia ~ so glad you found my blog! You will really enjoy this book, and it will satisfy your need to finish something in short order. Will try to write soon.

Framed said...

Great review. This one is on my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this review! Having just read Anne of GG, it's neat to know that LMM wrote things quite different from that as well.

Unknown said...

This is my favourite reads of all time. Brilliant reveiw!