Book Review: Emily Climbs

EmilyFor Carrie‘s Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge and her Reading to Know Classics Book Club for January, I read Emily Climbs by L. M. Montgomery, the second in her Emily of New Moon series. In the first book (reviewed here), Emily’s father had died and she was taken in by his people, the proud Murray clan. They did right by her in taking her in and taking care of her, but she and her Aunt Elizabeth, with whom she stayed, clashed at nearly every turn. Finally toward the end of the book they came to something of an understanding.

In this second book, Emily wants to go with her friends to high school in another town, Shrewsbury. Aunt Elizabeth says she may if she will board with her Aunt Ruth and if she will agree not to write during the years she is at school. Aunt Elizabeth has always felt that Emily’s “scribblings” were a waste of time, but to Emily they were a much-needed outlet. Emily refuses this. Cousin Jimmy, always her friend and champion, suggests a compromise: that Emily not write any fiction during that time, but she would be free to write articles and poems and write in her journal. Emily doesn’t think this idea is much better at first, but finally she and Aunt Elizabeth agree.

Aunt Ruth is in many ways worse than Aunt Elizabeth. She is much harsher, suspicious of everything Emily does and not believing her explanations. Emily finds some consolation in the beautiful landscape outside her window and in her friends, despite the various scrapes they get into.

When some of her writing is actually published, her family begins to wonder if it might be worthwhile after all, and when it opens a possible opportunity to leave the area and write as a career, Emily is sorely tempted.

The Emily books are more autobiographical than the Anne books, and if much of what Emily went through is what Maud went through, I can understand a bit why she was so unhappy as an adult. To be honest, I really didn’t like this book much at all until the last few chapters. Of course I didn’t expect them to be just like the Anne books: they would be redundant if they were. There are similarities between the two: both are orphaned and taken in to live with a single older lady who is a bit stern, with an older male relative who softens the situation. Both have a love of nature and imagination. The towns of both are full of busybodies and gossips. Each has a close friend and an arch-enemy. But there is a charm and a winsomeness about the Anne books that is largely missing in the Emily books, in my opinion anyway. There is a harshness and cattiness in the books, and even in Emily herself. She is quite sarcastic and rightly earns her aunt’s accusation of being impertinent. Her friend Ilse’s primary characteristic is her temper. When someone questions Emily after hearing that Ilse had slapped a Mrs. Adamson, Emily replies, “Mrs. Adamson needed it. She’s an odious woman — always crying when there’s no need in the world for her to cry. There’s nothing more aggravating.” If I had read this when my kids were younger, I don’t think I would have recommended it to them, at least not without a lot of discussion.

There are also a couple of weird psychic experiences in the book. When a biographer of L. M. M.‘s talked about pagan influences and attributed much of the nature loving in the Anne books to paganism, I disagreed, but this book makes me think she might possibly be right. Even one of Emily’s teachers tells her one of her poems is “sheer Paganism.” Emily comments often that there seems to be a someone or something urging that kind of thing in her thinking.

There were a couple of things I liked. When Emily first comes to her room at Aunt Ruth’s house and doesn’t like anything about it, she looks out the window at a beautiful scene that gladdens her heart. She says to herself, “Oh, this is beautiful. Father told me once that one could find something beautiful to love everywhere. I’ll love this.” In a later chapter, while reading a book that had belonged to her father, Emily says, “The book I’m reading tonight is a wonderful one – wonderful in plot and conception — wonderful in its grasp of motives and passions. As I read it I feel humbled and insignificant — which is good for me. I say to myself, ‘You poor, pitiful little creature, did you ever imagine you could write? If so, your delusion is now stripped away from you forever and you behold yourself in your naked paltriness.'” It’s an experience I think every would-be writer probably has at some point and shows a rare glimpse of humility in her. She does determine to keep writing and do her best and improve along the way. I also was much amused by a later chapter involving a meeting with a famous author and a dog.

I was pretty sure I was not going to go on and read the last book in the series, but near the end of this one there were some improvements. It doesn’t exactly redeem itself, but there are signs that Emily is maturing and that her family  is starting to see and appreciate her in new ways and vice verse, so probably by the next book that trend will continue. But if I do read it, I’ll save it for next year’s L. M. M. Reading Challenge.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge Reading to Know - Book Club


(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)


Book Review: The Blue Castle

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.

Blue CastleThe 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.

Thanks, Carrie is for choosing this book for the Classics Book Club! I don’t know when I would have come across it otherwise.

Reading to Know - Book Club    L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

(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.


Book Review: Emily of New Moon

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge Reading to Know - Book Club

I read Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery for Carrie‘s Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge. and Reading to Know Book Club for the month of January.

EmilyEmily is similar to LMM’s Anne of Green Gables in many ways: both are orphans and come to live with stern older women. Both are highly imaginative and high-strung. But Emily’s world is harsher, darker, at least at first, whereas Anne’s is more charming and optimistic.

Emily’s mother had died years ago, and Emily lives alone with her beloved father, who is dying of consumption. They had had no contact with her mother’s people, the proud Murrays of New Moon, because her mother had run away and eloped with her father, to the severe disapproval of the Murrays. But “Murray pride” insures they will do their duty by Emily, and the various family members draw lots to see who will take her. The lot falls to Aunt Elisabeth (who is much harsher than Anne’s Marilla, who, though she was not warm, was not unkind.) The blow is softened for Emily a bit by the fact that her Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy (who “may not be all there, but what is there is very nice” p. 209) also live with Elisabeth, and they both love Emily, though they don’t “cross” Elisabeth.

It was astounding to me that no one understood either Emily’s grief in the loss of her father nor the jolt it would have been to leave all she had known to live with strangers. But with the resilience of childhood she soon learns the ways of the household and soon learns to love much about New Moon. Starting school is another trial by fire, but she makes dear friends with a girl named Ilse, who has been allowed to run rather wild by her inattentive father, Teddy, a quiet classmate who draws exceptionally well but whose mother is somewhat disturbed, and Perry, who has never been to school but has sailed hither and yon with his father.

Emily’s outlet is writing. She loves “the magic…made when the right words are wedded” (p. 273). She has a vivid imagination and writes fanciful stories and poems and pours out her heart about her trials and tribulations in letters to her father.

I wasn’t sure how well I really liked this book until about the last third of it, when Emily and Aunt Elisabeth have their ‘breakthrough” (and I loved that everything wasn’t all “happily ever after” that, but their different personalities and views still caused them to clash sometimes.) And then the chapter “When the Curtain Lifted” was the best in the book, I think. I also enjoyed Emily’s growth through the book, both in her personalty, as she “learns to mingle serpent’s wisdom and dove’s harmlessness in practical proportions” (p. 314), and in her writing, as she begins to realize that much of her early work is fanciful trash but is encouraged by the glimmers of talent a few others see.

This book is said to be more autobiographical than Anne, with some of the events in Emily’s life taken from LMM’s. It was interesting that a poem someone sent to encourage Emily about the Alpine path was one that also encouraged LMM: her autobiography takes its title from the same poem.

There is also a television series based on Emily, but I have not seen it.

I had hoped to read all three Emily books, but I only got through the first one, so I’ll probably save the next two for next year’s LMM challenge. The book for February’s Reading to Know Book Club. (which is all classics this year: take a peek here and see if you’d like to join in for any of them) is The Scarlet Letter, which I’ll probably listen to via audiobook.

And if anyone is looking for another challenge for February, I invite you to check out the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge which starts tomorrow!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

My past readings for the LMM Reading Challenge are (all linked to my thoughts on them):

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne of Windy Poplars
Anne’s House of Dreams
Anne of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley
Rilla of Ingleside
Looking for Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L. M. Montgomery and Her Literary Classic by Irene Gammel

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)