“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.