The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
originally published 1926
Bantam, 14th printing, 1989
Genre: Romance, satire, young adult
Synopsis & Review: Valancy Stirling—called ‘Doss” by her family because they’re jerks—turns thirty and is suddenly overwhelmed by how drab, unpleasant, and just plain loveless her life is. Mocked by her relatives for her unmarried state, her plainness, and her delicacy, she is treated like a child by her stuffy, judgmental relatives—and a halfwitted one at that. Worried over a chest pain, Valancy indulges in a very minor rebellion by going to a doctor not approved of by her family, but ends up feeling worse than ever when he races out of her appointment as though he forgot her entirely. A few days later, however, Valancy receives a letter from the doctor, a letter announcing that he has diagnosed her with a fatal heart malady, and that she has no more than a year to live, and perhaps far less. After a long, white night in which she examines her paltry life, Valancy rises in the morning with a sense of purpose.
She begins casting off her family’s oppressiveness by hacking away at the rose bush given her by Cousin Georgiana, a rose bush that has flourished, but never bloomed (HIGHLY SYMBOLIC). Her mother and cousin Stickles begin worrying as Valancy begins rearranging her bedroom furniture and answering back impudently instead of meekly assenting to any request/order. Uncle Benjamin notices something different when she fails to laugh along with his (terrible) jokes. But it is at a family dinner where Valancy lets loose which such a stream of perversity and unblushing observation that her family begins to think she’s quite mad.
Spurred on to ever greater heights of rebellion, Valancy then promptly packs her things and goes to stay with Roaring Abel Gay in order to care for her former schoolmate Cecily, who is dying after a long illness following the death of her out-of-wedlock child. Though the rest of the community shuns Cecily, Valancy makes the girl’s last days more comfortable, and earns the friendship of Roaring Abel and his friend, the mysterious and much gossiped about Barney Snaith. After Cecily’s death, Valancy presumes upon the friendship that has sprung up between herself and Barney, and explains to him that she too is dying, and would he marry her and help her to live her life tot he fullest for the time she has left?
Life with Barney is everything Valancy could have dreamt of, and she has never been happier. The only fly in her ointment is knowing that it will not last–and wondering whether Barney could learn to love her as she does him.
Oh, Lucy Maud, you are wicked! Who else could pen such a delightful romance and biting social satire in one slim novel? The Blue Castle is marvelously entertaining, and so funny–SO FUNNY. When Valancy let’s it all hang out at the family supper, anyone would be hard put to not laugh. It’s really a pity that Lucy Maud spent so much time writing so many series books when her stand-alone adult output is so very good. Read the rest of this entry »
The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery
originally published 1911
Bantam Classic, 1st printing, 1989
Genre: Children’s literature, juvenalia
Synopsis & Review: While their father works in Rio de Janeiro for a time, Bev and Felix King must leave their home in Toronto to stay with relatives on their father’s family homestead near Carlisle on Prince Edward Island. Thrilled to see the place from when the King family sprang, and to play where their father grew up, Bev and Felix are somewhat apprehensive about their cousins. At the homestead live Uncle Alec and Aunt Jante, and their children: Dan the eldest at thirteen, the lovely Felicity, and the shy but sweet Cecily. On an adjoining farm live the siblings Aunt Olivia and Uncle Roger, who are caring for Sara Stanley, another King cousin. With all those cousins–and Uncle Roger’s hired boy Peter and the neighbor Sara Ray–there will be plenty of other children to play with.
Sara Stanley is called The Story Girl for her knack with telling all kinds of stories, and making them live with her remarkable voice. She is the eldest at fourteen, and almost a de facto leader and voice of reason for the group–though she is hardly perfect. With their cousins, Bev and Felix fall under her spell, and hear the stories of their family and others in Carlisle. Together, the group gets up to all kinds of monkeyshines: confronting a witch, preparing for the End of Days, braving fearsome old men, and keeping dream diaries, among others.
There are Anne girls and Emily girls, perhaps Jane or Valancy girls—no one is a Pat girl—but I’m a Sara girl. Sara Stanley, that is, the titular Story Girl of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s fourth novel. It’s the second novel not featuring Anne, and also the first not based on identification with a place (Of Avonlea, Of Lantern Hill, of the Orchard, etc). But the King homestead setting of The Story Girl—as with all the Montgomery novels I’ve read so far—is an integral part of the novel. From Bev and Felix’s delight at returning to their ancestral home to the many colorful incidents that take place there, particularly in the orchard, the King farm and its environs are key players in the little comedies and dramas that play out in The Story Girl. Read the rest of this entry »
Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
originally published 1936
Bantam, 14th printing, 1988
Genre: Juvenalia, young adult, children’s lit
Synopsis & Review: Following Anne of the Island and preceding Anne’s House of Dreams (though written much later, oddly), Anne of Windy Poplars finds Anne Shirley, our redoubtable redhead, happily engaged to Gilbert Blythe at long last. While he does a three year medical course, she takes a position as a high school principal in Summerside, PEI. This marks the first time that Anne will be away from Green Gables and Avonlea without familiar faces nearby (as when she attended Queens and Redmond), and while she puts out feelers in the community of Summerside, she also writes a great many letters to Gilbert. Summerside is not the most welcoming town at first; it seems that when Anne got the position over a cousin of theirs, the local clan the Pringles vowed to have nothing to do with her. She cannot board with the Pringle family who always boards the principals, she is left out of choir and not invited to parties, and worst of all, is subject to constant insubordination in school. It seems that at least half of Summerside is Pringle or part-Pringle. And her vie-principal, Katherine Brooke, goes out of her way to be hateful to Anne.
Despite the prevalence of Pringles, Anne finds kindred spirits. She boards at Windy Poplars on Spook’s Lane with the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty, their cat Dusty Miller, and housekeeper Rebecca Dew. She also befriends their little neighbor, Elizabeth Grayson, a whimsical sprite trapped in a dark old house with her grandmother Mrs Campbell and her Woman. And once she subjugates the Pringles, Anne has no shortage of interesting experiences, becoming confidante to young women, inspiring her students, and charming even the crankiest of cranks.
Though when I was younger I would often skim Windy Poplars, as an adult it is by far my favorite Anne book. (Of the sequels, I suppose. Well, maybe of all. I’m just not sure where I’d rank Green Gables as a standalone. Nah, I’ll let it stay in first place.) And discovering that a lot of people don’t like it could lead to snide remarks about their relative maturity, but I won’t go there. I’ll just plant that little seed in your imagination. I didn’t say anything of the sort. Read the rest of this entry »