Opening-Line Mini-Review: L. M. Montgomery’s THE BLUE CASTLE

Blue_Castle“If it had not rained on a certain May morning, Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been different.”

Thus opens Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Blue Castle, a novel that should be as beloved to Montgomery readers as Anne of Green Gables. Its opening line encompasses what happens to a life at the crossroads of arbitrariness and opportunity, circumstance and freedom. Valancy is a 29-year-old mousy spinster, a Miss Bates without the supportive community or tolerant mother, living in her contemptuous family’s shadow and reminded daily she is her supercilious mother’s cross to bear. Valancy is simultaneously cowed, dismissed, pitied, and exploited.   

Incipient in The Blue Castle‘s opening line is the suggestion that Valancy’s life “would have been different” by staying exactly as it was, dominated and derided by family. The “rain” saves Valancy from the picnic, where she would have remained as wall-flowery as an obscure spinster can. Instead, it leads her to a visit with the local doctor and the news that the painful pressure she feels in her chest is a fatal heart condition. Valancy has, at most, months to live.

As the Christian myth teaches us: in death, there is life – and life is what Valancy sets out to embrace. She defies her family and moves out. She associates with the town low-lifes, cuts her hair, buys herself some flattering shoes, goes on dates with a mysterious woodsman who may, or may not hide an unsavory past. In a nutshell, Valancy talks back, scoffs in the face of small-town hypocrisy, and stages a marvelous rebellion against stuffy family stricture. She communes with nature (is there a more perfect marriage than Montgomery’s descriptive prose and the beauty of Canadian woods and lake?), dances at speakeasies, howls at the moon, adopts some cats, and transforms into a wild woodland creature. Montgomery’s lesser known work is deserving of Anne‘s readership. It reminds us that life should be lived as if we’re going to die tomorrow, risk is better than stultification, love is found in the most unusual places, and vindication follows the defiant. You may have read and loved the Anne books as much as Miss B. has, dear reader, but today, right now, you ought to read The Blue Castle.

9 thoughts on “Opening-Line Mini-Review: L. M. Montgomery’s THE BLUE CASTLE

  1. How about this for a red letter day? I’ve actually read this book. And loved it! Really, really loved it. Wasn’t Uncle Ben and his riddles just awful? Especially the one he asked about the difference between young ladies and bad grammarians. Sheesh! One of my favorite parts is the scene at the dinner table of Aunt Alberta and Uncle Herbert’s silver anniversary dinner party. Uncle James’ query regarding everyone’s greatest happiness was the shot over Valancy’s bow, and her reply that her greatest happiness is to be able to sneeze when she wants to was nearly perfect. So simple and yet says so much about her lack of freedom and her sense of humor. You coulda heard a pin drop. After that, there was no holding back Valancy 2.0 – refusing the Purple Pills, not answering to ‘Doss’, moving her bed, sliding down a bannister, going to the (oh my!) Presbyterian church instead of the Anglican, falling in love with an “inappropriate” man. Just a great scene of the beginning of Valancy’s transformation. Love your mini-review of this wonderful book!

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    • It’s a stupendous book … really allegorical in what it tries to say “live live live” to your heart’s content and don’t worry about what other people think. Valancy’s zings to her family once she breaks free are the nonpareil. This is a rereading kind of book. 🙂

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  2. I’m pretty sure this is my next read, thanks to this review and your twitter comments. Confession: the only other Montgomery I’ve read is Kilmeny of the Orchard, and I read it as an adult. I’m deliberately saving the Anne books for last, mainly because I’ve heard so much about them. Thanks for the review, Miss B.

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    • Oh I can’t wait to hear what you think of them. They’re just so wonderful. And LMM is always seen as such a children’s author, I want her sharpness acknowledged. I know YOU’LL get it. 🙂

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  3. Dear Miss Bates,
    This book is one of my all time favourites. It is my go to book when things get a bit too much and I just want to curl up with a friendly book and know that everything will be just fine. Thank you for your book review- I have never met anyone who has read this gem before. I particularly like ‘The Blue Castle’ because , although Valency takes charge of her life and breaks free of her family’s domination, she does so without compromising her moral character. She transcends her previous self through service to others( Cissy) , contact with nature and through love. She didn’t know she knew how to love before she met Barney.
    I have been reading and re-reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books and stories since I was a child and always find something relevant and meaninful to my current age.

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    • 😉 It’s true that Valancy doesn’t compromise her moral character, though her family and the socalled “respectable” families of her town seem to think she does. It is a great book and one I’ll reread too. Other than its stunning writing, Valancy reminds us, Barney too who heals by knowing and loving her, no to be afraid. I loved that.

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  4. (*thud*)
    That was me fainting — sans fainting couch! lol – Miss B – you have TOTALLY made my Sunday. My favourite book in the whole world and now reviewed by YOU. That is like 8 shades of awesome. 🙂
    There are so many things that are utterly delicious about this book, and I am always a little sad when I encounter blank looks of confusion – or that fatefully uttered: ‘isn’t that those books about the girl with red hair?’
    (*whimpers quietly into coffee cup*)

    I particularly love the way LM Montgomery describes things in this – the turns of phrase are so clever and descriptive and beautifully elegant:

    ‘But Valancy, between the devil of disloyalty to clan and the deep sea of fuss and clatter and advice, thought she would take a chance with the devil.’
    ***
    A fat, corpulent clock with a great, round, man’s face painted on it, the hands stretching out of its nose and the hours encircling it like a halo’

    (Which has always made me want a FAT CLOCK…)

    I re-read it every year – just to remind me of how important it is, to be independent, and make one’s own life decisions; based first on one’s own life needs…

    Le Sigh. Best Sunday. Ever.
    😉

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    • Thank you! I thought of you and a Twitter friend who also loves this book the whole way through. You guys made the book that much more marvelous than it already was. I liked reading it through your eyes, ready and primed to love it. And I did.

      Even if Valancy didn’t get her HEA with Barney, even if she didn’t get vindication … even if the novel wasn’t a wondrous romance, Valancy’s decision to live life on Valancy’s terms would have been just as good for a spinster’s vindication.

      I’m awfully glad you like it … it’s really just a slip of a “review,” but was written with a full heart for what LMM’s gave us in Valancy’s story. When I reread it, I’d love to find some great passages, as you did above, to share. I especially liked some of Valancy’s sharp little exchanges with her family after her Great Rebellion, and also the loving descriptions of Canadian woods and lake.

      I was surprised but overjoyed to find these comments awaiting: I’m so glad to see how beloved this book is to its faithful readers. It seems to have comforted and taught them and it represents the importance and wonder that is literature: how it can articulate us and give us the stories and the words that make us feel all right in the world.

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      • It’s so interesting, the books that capture and hold your gaze isn’t it? It’s like for a brief moment, you and the author have a simultaneous heartbeat.

        You are completely in tune and in sync for that passage of time. They have verbalised a particular feeling or instance that you felt, but just COULDN’T express.
        But there it is, suddenly, on paper, written down for all the world to see.

        Blue Castle has always been one of those books for me.

        And you’re absolutely right, the HEA isn’t the penultimate for Valancy – her decision to be her own person, make her own choices, liberate herself from the clutches of her (rather awful) family; it makes me exultant and gleeful every time I read it. 🙂

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