Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (1923)

Or Know your Apple, Know your Century!

oldapples

I recently reread Emily of New Moon, the first book of three in a series by Anne of Green Gables author L. M. Montgomery and frankly, except for the first Anne book, I like the Emily series better. Emily is very different from Anne in personality type and her series has more magical elements to it. And though like Anne, Emily is also orphaned at a young age, her home life is far from cheerful and she struggles against the oppression of a stern old aunt who not only makes her life difficult, but thwarts her love of writing every chance she gets. But like Anne, she has an indomitable spirit that gets her through the cruel times.

As I read Emily of  New Moon I was struck, as I often am when reading classic literature, about something historical or in this case, gastronomical, that I wanted to know more about; it had to do with apples and in all my years, I had never heard of apples described like this.

For example, when a character bites into an apple, that is usually all the writer says about it, or sometimes with a short description, “Mike bit into a juicy red apple.” And because readers know what a juicy red apple tastes and looks like, we don’t pay it much mind and move on with the character. But if that story takes place in early 20th century Canada or America that apple may not be red, delicious or juicy. Fruit historians call this time period the golden age of apples and the variety was vast.

… in the 19th century, apples came in all shapes, sizes and guises, some with rough, sandpapery skin, others as misshapen as potatoes, ranging from the size of a cherry to bigger than a grapefruit. Colors ran the entire spectrum with a wonderful impressionistic array of patterning—flushes, stripes, splashes, and dots. There was an apple for every community, taste, purpose, and season, with winter varieties especially prized.[i]

 

apples1
Stanley Sloane, Still Life of Dessert Apples

  Emily of New Moon takes place in the early years of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. New Moon is known for its apples and Emily is standing in the workroom of her neighbor surveying the long row of apples he kept on a beam for Emily and her friends to eat:

Three varieties of Lofty John’s apples were their especial favourites—the “scabby apples,” that looked as if they had leprosy but were of unsurpassed deliciousness under their queer blotched skins; the “little red apples,” scarcely bigger than a crab, deep crimson all over and glossy as satin, that had such a sweet, nutty flavour; and the big green “sweet apples” that children usually thought the best of all. Emily considered that day wasted whose low descending sun had not beheld her munching one of Lofty John’s big green sweets. [ii]

How odd it would sound if we read, “Mike bites into a scabby, leprous-looking apple of wonderful deliciousness.”  But it would be true!

harrisonapple-jepg

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] Tim Hensley, A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America

[ii] LM Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, (New York: Bantam), 32. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

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Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon

Tomorrow I will be participating in my first readathon!

As much as I love to read, can I do it for 24 hours? I have my stack ready, I am IMG_3577cleaning house today, I’ve figured out the snacks and food part and there is a gym just across the street for a reading-while-biking jag if my energy starts to fail. My only concern is my dog and how confused by time she may be.  I hope she won’t have to ‘do her business’ at three o’clock in the morning!

As for my choice of books, I am thinking I will be mentally stronger at the beginning so I will tackle The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (for my Classics Club spin coming up) and Little Women during the first part of the day. During the late afternoon and into the evening I will start on Language of the Dead, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and/or Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I have wanted to reread Harry Potter and thought that the first book as well as H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man would be fun to read in the middle of the night. I am THRILLED I found L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl yesterday, so I have that and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which are both shorter books to break up the heavier stuff. I will be interested to see how this planning works the way I think it should or if this will all totally change up!

IMG_3698

I love the idea of people all over the world reading at the same time, checking in and cheering us on. Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook will be a hoppin’!

Any tips for me if you have done a readathon before? And are you participating in this one?

For more on the history of Dewey and this bi-yearly event: Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon.

For the Readathon’s FB page, for the Readathon’s Twitter page, #readathon

What I am Reading in March (and it’s not what I thought)!

Two things happened over the last week that completely derailed my carefully planned out reading life for the next several months: I wrote up my review of L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, and had to admit the pull of images and text from my reading of The War of the Worlds has not and will not stop.

Firstly, I just have to know more about the woman, L. M. Montgomery. While I enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series, The Emily books really struck home for me. But there is something about The Blue Castle that is calling me to learn more about Montgomery herself. So, I decided I will read one more novel, The Story Girl, since she said it was her best work (and although she was still a fairly young writer when she said that, I wonder if she ever changed her mind?). Then I will spend a month, either April or May, concentrating on her letters and journals and maybe a biography or two. I am not sure what I am looking for, but this desire to know more has become too insistent to ignore.

Secondly, more H. G. Wells? This attraction totally blind-sided me. Although The War of the Worlds is on my Classics Club reading list it wasn’t something I planned on reading so soon after joining up. It happened to fall on my list as the January Spin #11. And if they had chosen another number….?!

But I loved it! I can honestly say I was enthralled, sucked in, drawn along with the Narrator in each twist and turn of his journey. The narrative was so good, the social commentary on how a catastrophe affects people, fascinating. The scenes of Martian destruction created pictures in my mind I can’t forget. So, yes, I decided to read more this month. I never considered myself to be a science fiction kind of a gal…I blame good writing!

My projected reading list for March, which I am declaring “My March Month of (Mostly) Sci Fi” looks like this:

H. G. Wells:
The Invisible Man
The Time Machine
The Island of Dr. Moreau

About Wells:
H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, by Michael Sherborne
Aspects of a Life, by Anthony West (Wells’ son)

Jules Verne:
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Wells’ contemporary)

(And thank you to Jo Wass for suggestions for this reading list).

Little Women, because I must stay on some kind of track for the Classics Club and to better participate in Susan Bailey’s wonderful blog, Louisa May Alcott is my Passion. I have a feeling somewhere down the road I will have a Louisa May Alcott month, but let’s stay on the topics at hand for now 🙂

I am also reading some nonfiction as well as one book each for my reading challenges, which I am behind on. Can I catch up? Can I do it all?

March will be a verrrrry interesting month!

 

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

“…of the company of the archangels.”

My ocean is the sunny Southern California, happy-family-on-an-outing, surfing kind. It does not draw me, except to break the feeling of urban sprawl that surrounds my county. I prefer woods and mountains. I like land, the earth.

It is only during the rare dark winter day that the ocean attracts me. It feels wild then, with its choppy seas and clouds that hide Catalina Island. Tourists mostly stay away on days like that and I can walk and ponder on the almost empty sand.

beach

Today was one of those dark days at the beach. And I recalled this passage I copied long ago from an L. M. Montgomery novel, Anne’s House of Dreams. Montgomery’s gift of personifying Nature is one of the major reasons I love her work. And in this particular paragraph it is easy to see those rolling foamy waves in a different way:

It was a shore that knew the magic and mystery of storm and star. There is a great solitude about such a shore. The woods are never solitary—they are full of whispering, beckoning, friendly life. But the sea is a mighty soul, forever moaning of some great, unshareable sorrow, which shuts it up into itself for all eternity. We can never pierce its infinite mystery—we may only wander, awed and spell-bound, on the outer fringe of it. The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only—a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels.*

 

* L. M. Montgomery. Anne’s House of Dreams. (New York: Bantam), 1998, p. 54. Originally published in 1922.

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery (1921)

My Edition:rilla
Title: Rilla of Ingleside
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 1987, text of the original 1921 edition
Pages: 277
For a plot summary.

 

“Before this war is over, every man and woman and child in Canada will feel it—you, Mary, will feel it—feel it to your heart’s core. You will weep tears of blood over it. The Piper has come—and he will pipe until every corner of the world has heard his awful and irresistible music. It will be years before the dance of death is over—years, Mary. And in those years millions of hearts will break.” Walter Blythe[i]

My Thoughts:

It has been a long time since I have had such confusing reactions toward a book.

Rilla of Ingleside is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. It is the intensely personal and intimate account of a Canadian village caught up in the anxiety and hardships brought on by WWI.

I was captivated by 15 year-old Rilla and her young “chums” as they changed and grew through the struggles and sacrifices the war brought to their daily lives. I was impressed at the way they stepped up to adult responsibilities at home and on the battlefield. I especially liked how her family and the town at large waited expectantly each day for the newspaper, their fear and elation at battles lost and won as they poured over the daily paper and discussed their fate and that of Europe.

Rilla did her part as organizer of the Junior Red Cross Society and as surrogate mother to Jims, the war-baby whose father was at the front. This was an interesting fact for me, as I was surprised at the casualness of the handover of an infant to a non-related 15 year old girl. Did this really happen? Need some research here!

A knowledge of the preceding books in the series is not necessary to richly experience Rilla of Ingleside. This is a stand-alone book full of well-drawn main characters, who portray an honorable citizenry doing ‘what it takes” to keep up their spirits, their Canadian ethics and the “home fires burning” against the terror and evil prevailing over Europe.

When the word had come that Jem must go she had her cry out among the pines in Rainbow Valley and then she had gone to her mother. “Mother, I want to do something. I’m only a girl—I can’t do anything to win the war—but I must do something to help at home.”

“Don’t you think you could organize a Junior Red Cross among the young girls,” said Mrs. Blythe?

“Well”—Rilla took the plunge—“I’ll try, mother—if you’ll tell me how to begin. I have been thinking it all over and I have decided that I must be as brave and heroic and unselfish as I can possible be.”[ii]

What so distressed me about the book, was the death of Anne Shirley. Not her actual death, of course, but the slow fade-out of the once vibrant, dramatic, sensitive and smart Anne who, to use an appropriate description, was basically MIA. In fact, I resented Susan with her emotional outbursts, her sensibility and the way she mobilized the family’s patriotism. Because that should have been Anne.

To be fair, Anne really faded out in books six and seven as her children grew and took over the main story lines. But it seems to me Montgomery could have tried harder in the last book to give Anne a better send off. Just because Anne became a wife and mother is no reason to restrict her to a life of retiring domesticity as the noble mother who suffers in silence as she sends her boys off to war. In modern parlance, she got hardly any air time in this book and it is shattering. This is Anne Shirley we are talking about. SHE would not have faded into the old tropes of sacrificial wifedom and motherhood!

Maybe Montgomery felt this series was only for young adults and as such thought they would not be interested in characters over the age of 20. But I will always regret my last experiences with Anne of Green Gables were actually with her ghost.

I was just taking relief from the intolerable realities in a dream, Gilbert—a dream that all our children were home again—and all small again—playing in Rainbow Valley. It is always so silent now—but I was imagining I heard clear voices and gay, childish sounds coming up as I used to. I could hear Jem’s whistle and Walter’s yodel, and the twins’ laughter, and for just a few blessed minutes I forgot about the guns on the western front, and had a little false, sweet happiness.[iii]

I read somewhere that this was the first book to give a Canadian perspective of everyday life during the war. In that respect, it is a valuable resource and for that reason I do not regret the time I spent in reading this book. I do not resent Montgomery, either for not giving me the book I wanted. That is not a good way to review a book. She had her reasons for treating Anne, er, Mrs. Blythe the way she did I am sure and I like Montgomery enough to keep on reading through her vast array of work.

Rilla, the Piper will pipe me ‘west’ tomorrow….And Rilla, I’m not afraid. When you hear the news, remember that. I’ve won my own freedom here—freedom from all fear….I am not afraid, Rilla-my-Rilla, and I am not sorry that I came. I’m satisfied. I’ll never write the poems I once dreamed of writing—but I’ve helped to make Canada safe for the poets of the future—for the workers of the future—ay, and the dreamers, too—It isn’t only the fate of the little sea-born island I love that is in the balance—nor of Canada nor of England. It’s the fate of mankind. That is what we are fighting for. And we shall win….For it isn’t only the living who are fighting—the dead are fighting too. Such an army cannot be defeated.[iv]

____________________

[i] 33.
[ii] 53.
[iii] 171.
[iv] 192.