The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery (1926)

My Edition:bluecastle
Title: The Blue Castle
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Publisher: Feedbooks
Device: Kindle Fire
Year: 1926
Pages: 248
For a plot summary

The moment when a woman realizes that she has nothing to live for—neither love, duty, purpose nor hope—holds for her the bitterness of death.[i]

You see—I’ve never had any real life…I’ve just –breathed. Every door has always been shut to me.[ii]


Valancy Stirling is 29 years old and miserable. Unmarried, without prospects and living at home as women designated to “hopeless old maidenhood” are, she lives a controlled and conventional life under the thumb of her mother, her relatives, her own fears about life and the strict moral and cultural constrictions that rule every part of her inner and outer life.

“The greatest happiness,” said Valancy, “is to sneeze when you want to.” [iii]

Each day is monotonously the same. She eats the same thing for breakfast (even though she hates oatmeal), she knits with her mother and Cousin Stickles every evening (even though she hates that) and every word or action is rated and criticized by her clan. She is not even permitted to be alone in her room except when she sleeps, because people who want to be alone, could only be alone for some sinister purpose,” says her mother.[iv]

However, while words and actions can be controlled, dreams can’t. Valancy has an escape hatch, called the Blue Castle where she is queen. Each night, lying in bed, she flees to the Blue Castle from her futile, dreary world. Here, in this colorfully decorated, sensual home that she has created herself she is a beautiful woman with many suitors, who come and go at her whim. She can say and do what she wants without objection.

Against this somber backdrop that purports to last forever, “we are horribly long-lived,” [v] Valancy laments, is a very real fear about her health. The pain around her heart has gotten worse and is now accompanied by dizzy spells and shortness of breath. Without telling her meddlesome family, she finds her own way to the doctor and is examined. Weeks later, the diagnosis comes to her in the form of a letter: she has a terminal heart ailment and has between a few months to a year to live and must live a quiet moderate life until the end. So much for those health genes.

I’ve been trying to please other people all my life and failed…After this I shall please myself. I shall never pretend anything again. I’ve breathed an atmosphere of fibs and pretenses and evasions all my life. What a luxury it will be to tell the truth! I may not be able to do much that I want to do but I won’t do another thing that I don’t want to do. Mother can pout for weeks—I shan’t worry over it.[vi]

With this prognosis, Valancy lets loose! Her pent up rage and emotions drive her to break all the rules of verbal conduct. She cannot keep her mouth shut for anyone. She tells her mother exactly what she thinks, pokes fun at her relatives who have been poking fun at her all her life and even swears, causing her surprised family to believe she is mad.

Breaking the taboo against leaving home as an unmarried woman she moves into the house of Cecilia Gay, an old friend who is dying of a lung disease who now lives with her father, is shocking enough. After her friend dies, realizing she cannot give up the freedom of being out of her family home, she asks Barney Snaith, a man she has gotten to know while caring for Cissy, to marry her. She tells him about her heart condition, so the marriage will only be for short while. He agrees and they marry, which pushes her family over the edge.

My Thoughts

Valancy Stirling has a lot in common with Montgomery’s other heroines, Anne Shirley and Emily Byrd Starr. They are similarly brought up in strict, conventional homes, surrounded by elders who toe the moral and cultural lines of the day. When these young women are ‘too emotional’ and speak their thoughts and feelings too freely or bristle against duties they don’t believe in or can’t accept, they are punished for acting out of the norm and breaking long-held rules. Yet, they push on, unwilling to give up on their dreams and a life that matters

Valancy is also a product of that liminal state of the older unmarried woman who though chronologically is an adult is still seen as a child due to her lack of a husband. There is no place for her in a society that only gives women worth and status by the luck of having a husband.

As only one of two novels by L.M. Montgomery purportedly geared to adults, I would have to disagree. This is a novel of a woman breaking free from the confines of a narrow world view in order to discover what is truly right for her. She breaks through her fears of safety and security to walk off into the unknown. She literally finds her voice and her own moral compass. I think this book is perfect for adolescent girls, who could benefit from Valancy’s journey.

I have read a reasonable amount of L. M. Montgomery’s work now and I would like to know about her own life. Because of the similarity in the lives of these three protagonists, I would like to know if they mirrored L.M. Montgomery’s in any way. Who kept her down? When did she feel she had to keep her dreams quiet? And how did she break free? Or did she?

It was so easy to defy once you got started. The first step was the only one that really counted.[vii]

____________

[i] 5.
[ii] 125.
[iii] 65.
[iv] 3.
[v] 5.
[vi] 51.
[vii] 82.

This book is on my Classics Club list

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery (1926)

  1. Wonderful review and a lovely insight. I like to reread this one a lot, specially because how everything turns out (story is a story after all). I also enjoy the humour and the way Valancy reacts in the situations after finding her voice.

    By the way, have you found out those things about LMM’s life that you wanted to? I’m eager too.

    Like

  2. I know this book review is a few months old by now, but… I just had to comment. I read The Blue Castle, I believe just last year (unless it was the year before?)… and, oh, how it instantly became a new favorite with me. Somehow, I connected with the main character so well, and ended up liking it better than the entire Anne of Green Gables series — much to my friends’ dismay!

    Anyways, it made a bright spot in my day to read your thoughts on the book. 😉

    Like

    1. Thank you thank you for commenting!

      I am a recent Anne and Emily (Emily of New Moon series) reader. I didn’t read them as a young girl. So when I discovered this and found it was for ‘adults’ I was intrigued. I wish Montgomery wrote more of this kind of work, because it really is fascinating!

      Like

  3. There is an Australian book by Colleen McCullough that I first discovered about 15 yrs ago called The Ladies of Missalonghi. It’s set in late 1800’s NSW, a young spinster woman living with her poor aunts, a dicky heart, an extended family determined to keep her in her place, a stranger in town & an unusual marriage proposal.

    Sound familiar? McCullough was accused of plagiarism (although I didn’t know about this for years) But when I found out I read The Blue Castle and found it impossible to believe that she hadn’t read it too, maybe when she was very young, but had forgotten that she had read it.

    Anyway, I love both books & urge you to see out TLOM to compare 🙂

    http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/the-ladies-of-missalonghi-by-colleen.html?m=1

    Like

    1. I just checked and my local library has The Ladies of Missalonghi. I’m fascinated. From your description, there sure are many plot ‘coincidences.’ Will put it on my tbr list. Thanks so much. And thanks for the link to your review.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Relevant Obscurity

  5. This is a fantastic post! When I read this book I was so focused on the fun element I admit to reading over a lot of the subtleties; thinking back on the content I have to agree with you in that it’s about freedom. I think you’re right about ages too; at the time of writing it would’ve seemed too adult, perhaps, but nowadays the content’s such that it would work well as a teen read. I’ve no idea about L M Montgomery herself. I’ll have to join you in that research 🙂

    Like

  6. Karen K.

    I read this a couple of years ago and loved it — it reminded me of what Anne Shirley’s life might have been like if she didn’t marry. I was so happy for Valancy when she finally stood up herself and got away from her wretched family! Of course there were a few bits that were just unrealistic, but it’s a nice escapist story.

    Like

    1. Yes, I really enjoyed the ‘mad’ Valancy 🙂

      There was a lot of melodrama in this book and the John Foster connection was a little over the top! But I admit, I did like the ending. And she sure deserved it!

      Like

    1. I have read all the Anne books and the three Emily books. But this one, while it contains some similar tropes, has a different feel. I am now more interested in Montgomery’s life than before. I am going to look into her journals and other personal work. Thanks!

      Like

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s