Carrie chose as the January selection for her Reading to Know Classics Book Club The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery of (Anne of Green Gables fame), which dovetails nicely with her L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge also held in January. This book is one of the few LMM wrote for adults and the only one set totally outside Prince Edward Island. It was originally published in 1926.
The Blue Castle opens with a very depressed Valancy Stirling. It’s her 29th birthday, and she has no friends, has never had a boyfriend or anyone even remotely interested in being one, and she is surrounded by a large and eccentric family, including a domineering mother who goes into “fits” of silent treatment over the slightest perceived violation of her wishes. Her actions are hemmed in by what her gossipy clan would say and whether her uncle might cut her out of his will if she displeases him. With no hope of anything ever changing for the rest of her life, no wonder she’s depressed.
She gets just a bit of a respite by reading books primarily about nature by author John Foster (when her mother will let her), but usually she escapes to her blue castle, the place in her daydreams where she’s beautiful and pursued by handsome princes.
This 29th birthday isn’t helped by the fact that it is raining relentlessly, but that at least saves her from the anniversary picnic of her aunt and uncle. She has been having occasional pains in her chest, and she chooses this day to sneak out to a local doctor (not the family-approved one) to see about it. The doctor is called away on a family emergency just after her exam, but he writes her to tell her that she has angina, probably only has a year to live, and should avoid stress and strain. Thus changes everything for Valancy. No longer does she have to worry about being cut out of anyone’s will or following the same dreary, monotonous routine for the rest of her life. She begins saying exactly what she thinks and doing exactly what she wants, to the point that her family thinks she is losing her mind. Then when poor disgraced Cissy Gay, daughter of the town drunk, is dying, Valancy scandalizes her family by going to live with them to be a housekeeper, cook, nurse, and companion to Cissy. Worse, she takes up with that Barney Snaith, whom everyone is convinced has a sordid past.
When Cissy dies, Valancy does not want to return home, so she proposes to Barney Snaith, telling him she only has a year to live. She loves him but does not expect him to love her. He takes her up on her offer, and they move to his island, which reminds Valancy very much of her blue castle.
They spend the next year exploring the island, getting to know one another, and being very happy. The writing here sounds more like the LMM I know and love, with her descriptions of nature and their wanderings and their happiness at home.
Then, when a year is about up….well, I won’t spoil the story for you. 🙂 Let’s just say it takes an unexpected twist.
I had a hard time liking the book at first. The first part was so depressing, and then when Valancy started to assert herself, she went overboard (though that’s not entirely surprising considering how long and severely she was repressed). But somewhere during the time she went to take care of Cissy and then her marriage I started enjoying it more, and I really liked how it ended. I did guess who Barney really was earlier in the book, but his family connections totally surprised me.
There almost seems to be an anti-religious tone in the book, as all the Stirlings are upstanding church members despite their gossip and harshness (even their minister is harsh and judgmental), but Valancy does tell Roaring Able (Cissy’s father) that there are good people in both their churches, and she does find a little church back in the woods whose pastor is simple and sincere and interested in ministering to people. I’d disagree with Barney that their happy life on the island was “what it must be like to be born again,” at least not in the Biblical sense, but he probably meant it along the lines of springtime renewal.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)
This also completes one of my requirements for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.