R.I.P.XIII-Lucky Thirteen for this Scary October

RIPXIII

 

Readers Imbibing Peril or R.I.P. is a gathering of readers taking advantage of the encroaching darkness* of autumn to read books of mystery, horror, Gothic, suspense, the dark fantasies, thrillers and so on. It starts in September, though I usually join in October. Any reading format is game as are films, tv, web series. Don’t think of this as a challenge, but as a community of appreciators of the Dark…cue scary music. For more details you can go here. It’s not too late to join.

I made my list, read my first book and will start posting next week.

 

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The Historical Fiction
Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin

The Classic
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

The Short Stories
Poe, HP Lovecraft

The Films
The Turn of the Screw, Fall of the House of Usher

I never used to read these kinds of books….just too scary. And I certainly never thought I would read an HP Lovecraft, the master of “Oh. My. God!” But after getting “horror baptized” with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward for a reading challenge a couple of years ago, I was stunned by how drawn I was to the story and realized good story telling is good story telling….as long as I am in a room with lots of lights….And now I am back for more!

In choosing the right reading challenges for me I have grown as a reader through the books I have chosen as well as discovering new ones from reading the posts of others.

Happy Scary October!

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*I just realized this is a northern hemisphere concept. What must it be like to celebrate Halloween in the Spring with the light getting longer?!

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‘Slow Reading’

Slow reading is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as a result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.

 

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Nicki at The Bliss of Solitude, wrote a wonderful piece on her year-long reading of Thoreau’s Walden and how the effect of reading two pages per day changed her as she walked familiar paths and trails. She says, “it was the slow seeping in of Thoreau, his tireless and minute observations of Walden Pond, Walden Woods, and his awareness and sensitivity to the sights and sounds within that redirected my attention to observation and contemplation.”

Something resonated for me on this practice of slow reading, although Nicki’s profound experience rather intimidated me!  Nevertheless, I decided to choose my own year-long project.

When I participated in The Emerald City Book Review’s WitchWeek last November, it was with scanty knowledge of King Arthur and the stories connected with him. I chose to write a piece on one small aspect of the legends, The Round Table, which was not only enjoyable to research, but piqued my interest to read more. But where to start?

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I chose Sir Thomas Malory’s, Le Morte D’Arthur, because it has been a foundational work on King Arthur and the various people and legends of Camelot and the Holy Grail for writers and artists throughout the centuries and its size lends itself to a purpose such as this. Reading 3 pages a day from my Modern Library Classics edition means I should finish shortly before the end of the year.

My pattern has been to walk after reading the 3 pages contemplating a theme or two and then making a few notes in a journal. I find I am retaining what I learn day to day. So far so good!

 

Have you heard of the Slow Movement in general or the Slow Read in particular? Have you tried it?

And if you are curious, it’s still January and still time to choose your own book!

Roxana, Daniel Defoe (1724)

Roxana

 

If you have any Regard to your future Happiness; any View of living comfortably with a Husband; any Hope of preserving your Fortunes, or restoring them after any Disaster; Never, Ladies, marry a Fool; any Husband rather than a Fool…

 

So begins Roxana’s life of woe, written as a cautionary tale “to my Fellow-creatures, the Young Ladies of this country,” that any life is better than marriage with a Fool “nay be any thing, be even an Old Maid, the worst of Nature’s Curses, rather than take up with a Fool.”

Because, Fool she marries, has 5 children by him, suffers through her brother’s financial folly and thereby hers when he is given her portion of their father’s inheritance which he spends and then the folly of her husband’s financial losses. To add to this latest injury, her husband leaves her and their five children to find his fortune elsewhere, with no provision for food, bills or a roof over their head.

Though he has threatened to leave in the past, Roxana never believed he would do it and expects to hear from him or to at least receive something for her livelihood, but as the weeks and months drag on there is no word from him and she begins selling furniture, clothing and jewelry to feed the household. As the situation deteriorates, she knows she must give up her children and hopes the sister of her husband will oblige, so she sends her devoted maid Amy, who has been working without wages, to take the children to their aunt.

The landlord, who has given Roxana a year’s free rent to sort out her situation, begins to insinuate himself in her financial affairs with food and other necessities, which Roxana believes are without strings. However, it becomes clear that if Roxana is interested in staying in the house, he will want to share it with her, cohabit, as if they are a married couple. This is the predicament Roxana will find herself in throughout her life as no word from her husband either for a divorce or by a death certificate will allow her to legally marry. She will be forced to survive in cohabitation, as a mistress, a concubine, a whore.

After the landlord dies, she continues in this manner with successive men, in various situations, acknowledging she is at least lucky that her beauty can still attract rich men, even after so many children and the wear and tear of the guilt she suffers over the choices she has had to make since her husband left. She is given beautiful clothes, jewelry and homes to live in and money to keep up her lifestyle. One of her greatest fears as the years pass in this way, is over the control of this fortune, which she would have to give up if ever she could legally marry. Marriage would mean her husband would control her estate to do with it what he would and as past circumstances have shown her, she could once again find herself unprotected and defenseless. This terrifies her even after she hears her husband has died and she is free to marry legally.

Roxana is never morally accepting of the choices she has made and is often ashamed at her sinful life. The fate of her children haunt her and she wants to make restitution although the difficulty here is admitting to them how she has come by her wealth. With Amy as her “agent,” she makes some financial amends, but this ends up in disaster later on.

The subject matter of this 18th century novel made me wonder how it was received in its day. I discovered the book was popular, though throughout many early editions, the ending was changed by whoever published it as was common at the time. Most had Roxana on her deathbed confessing her sins and crying out her repentance giving her a measure of goodness and assurance of a Christian burial. In some of the endings when she reveals the truth to her children they forgive her and the book ends happily.

However, the real text as Defoe writes it ends with Roxana and Amy’s world collapsing once again into destitution, “the Blast of Heaven seem’d to follow the Injury…and I was brought so low again, that my Repentance seem’d to be only the Consequence of my Misery, as my Misery was of my Crime.


Note on the Text

My edition preserves the original format of the text keeping the unique spellings and word usage, the capitalization of words within sentences and the seemingly (to me, anyway) random italicization of words. But it was not difficult to read. Though at times dense, Defoe’s writing is descriptive and absorbing as if Roxana is telling her story live, in front of a spellbound audience.

A Personal Note

If not for a reading challenge that called for a book with an ‘x’ in the title, I am not sure I would have chosen this book. I scoured myriad lists to find a title and though I knew of Defoe, having read A Journal of the Plague Year  many years ago, I had never heard of this title, so I was happy to acquaint myself with another one of his works. Though I am not always successful in completing book challenges, I can honestly say they have enriched my life!

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My Edition
Title: Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress
or, a History of the
Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of
Mademoiselle de Beleau, afterwards called
the Countess de Wintselsheim
in Germany
Being the Person know by
the Name of the Lady Roxana
in the time of Charles II

Author: Daniel Defoe
Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1724
Pages: 330
Full plot summary

Challenges: Classics Club, What’s in a Name?, Mount TBR

R.I.P. XII Challenge-Late, but Enthused!

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This challenge always trips me up a bit, because it just doesn’t feel like Fall in September around here and I forget R.I.P. starts September 1st. Though a late arrival, I am not less excited to get into reading for ‘scary October.’

This is the 12th year of the R.I.P. Challenge and I love its simplicity: from September 1st through October 31st read books and/or watch movies that scare you! More specifically, choose from these genres–

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror

Organized loosely (because they are optional), you can choose different ‘perils’ (categories?) to help you feel part of the Challenge.

Andi at Estella’s Revenge and Heather at My Capricious Life host this, where you can get more information and link your blog-post reviews.

I plan to participate in multiple perils as I will be reading and seeing books, novellas, short stories and films, oh my….
Books, Novellas and Short Stories
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, Loren D. Estleman
“Carmilla” and “Green Tea,” short stories by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
“The Call of Cthulhu” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” short stories, H.P. Lovecraft
The Italian, Ann Radcliffe

Films
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Mothman Prophecies

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1

First Quarter Check-in with the Mount TBR Challenge

I feel so behind with everything lately! My only defense is that we had such a dreary, wet winter here in Southern California that when it was all over, I just wanted to be outside; the sun was too distracting! Fortunately, all that rain did wonders for the drought we have been in and hopefully we will continue to conserve and use water responsibly.

Though my posts are a little less, still I feel I have made progress on my TBR pile.

Bev, of My Reader’s Block and the host of the Mount TBR Challenge, has asked us to check in on our progress and has these questions for us:

1.  How many miles up your mountain/number of books have you read?
I chose the beginner’s mountain, Pike’s Peak and I am proud to say I am half way there with 6 books read, to date.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
This is no contest. The cover art from The Bronze Bow is beautiful.

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B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
Hands down it has to be Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because of her ability to see past the hardships of her reality into something better.

3. Have any of the books you read surprised you?
I had been wanting to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the historical aspect of the story, a true American immigrant tale, as well as the impact the book had on the public, especially that of soldiers who carried it with them into the trenches of WWII.
And I have to say, as absolutely depressing as Ethan Frome is, I could not help but admire Edith Wharton as a writer.

This is what I have read so far:

  1. Ruth Hall (1855), Fanny Fern
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), Betty Smith
  3. The Bronze Bow (1961), Elizabeth George Speare
  4. Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), E.M. Forster
  5. The Land of Little Rain (1903), Mary Austin
  6. Ethan Frome (1911), Edith Wharton

With a quarter of the way to go, I will not be surprised if I make up the next mountain. Unless, of course, we get more rain 🙂

Reading New England Challenge Wrap-Up

One of the highlights of my 2016 blogging year was participating in the Reading New England Challenge hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review. I read 12 books from specified categories, including one from each New England state.

I only started book blogging the previous September and was still getting the lay of book-blogging land when I saw the announcement for the challenge. I thought it would be a good way to read some classics I’d missed along the way.

I could not have chosen a better first challenge. Not only did I finally read Little Women and The House of the Seven Gables, I forced myself to read a horror novel and a book by someone I’d never heard about. I even bought a map of New England to track where the books were set!

One of the benefits of doing a challenge like this is being introduced to writers with whom you are unfamiliar.  If you were to tell me when I started one of my favorite experiences would be reading the aforementioned horror story, I would have called you daft. Or, that The Country of the Pointed Firs, a book by an author I’d never heard of would end up my favorite book of the challenge, I’d have been stunned. But both are true. I will be reading more of H.P. Lovecraft next year (during daylight hours, of course 🙂 ) and I have already read a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett (“A White Heron”) that was beautiful.

Other highlights for me: “Our Town,” Little Women, getting to know Nathaniel Hawthorne through The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, discovering one of my favorite films “The Haunting” was based on a book, The Haunting of Hill House and enjoying it as much as the film, and while I had mixed feelings about A Separate Peace I now know why a close co-worker finds it to be his favorite book.

 

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Thank you, Lory, for all the work you put into this. It was a great experience with lasting effects!

Here is what I read:

January: New Hampshire
A Separate Peace John Knowles

February: Fiction
The Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

March: Maine
The Country of the Pointed Firs Sarah Orne Jewett

April: Poetry and Drama
Our Town Thornton Wilder Thornton Wilder

May: Vermont
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson

June: Nonfiction
Hawthorne Henry James

July: Massachusetts
Little Women Louisa May Alcott

August: Children’s Books
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare

September: Rhode Island
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HP Lovecraft

October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

November: Connecticut
The Three Weissmanns of Westport Cathleen Schine

December: Readalong or free choice
Summer Edith Wharton

Hawthorne, Henry James (1879)

My Edition:hawthorne
Title: Hawthorne
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Device: Paperback
Year: Originally published, 1879. Published by Cornell U Press, 1997.
Pages: 145
For a plot summary

This is such an odd little book.

Like many people I enjoy reading comments and critiques from one writer about another. I relish the mention of a title or recitations of a sentence or two; when one well-known writer cites another and gives a passage some meaning in the context of a story. So when I saw this critique of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work by Henry James I was excited and intrigued.

James (1843-1916) wrote this as a contribution to the English Men of Letters series. He was the only American contributor and Hawthorne (1804-1864) was the only American subject. James wrote this in his mid thirties and had yet to publish much of his own great novels.

I have read several of Hawthorne’s novels—The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance and some short stories, but I have not read any Henry James. I have become particularly interested in Hawthorne and hope to read more of his work as well as those about him. So, while I came to this book a bit biased, I was not prepared for a James who was so patronizing, cutting, passive aggressive and snobby, and who seemed to be writing more about the provincialism of American culture and its inferiority to that of Europe using Hawthorne as an example, than of critiquing Hawthorne himself.

“…the flower of art blooms only where the soil is deep, that it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature, that it needs a complex social machinery to set a writer in motion. American civilization has hitherto had other things to do than to produce flowers and before giving birth to writers it has wisely occupied itself with providing something for them to write about.”(p. 2)

According to James it was a shame that Hawthorne wasn’t English, as his saunters and walks through a European wood and meeting men of a higher civilization would have “been a very different affair” in terms of his talent. America was missing all the points of reference that make for culture. In a famous list, James states the deficiencies of America that make it impossible to create culture. It has

…no sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country-houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools—no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class—no Epsom nor Ascot! (p. 34)

And on and on like this for most of the first half of the book. Realism, the technique James is known for is absent from Hawthorne’s work he states and chides him for, yet also admitting Hawthorne probably did not know what it was. I found myself thinking this book is more about James, who is critical of a life that is missing something, the deficiencies, rather than what is.

The Blithedale Romance is James’s first critique of a novel, which is Hawthorne’s account of his months spent at the experiment in community living, Brook Farm. James describes the book as admirable and picturesque. Most of what James writes about,  however, are the Transcendentalists, calling Henry Thoreau, “a delightful writer” and Emerson, the only “writer in whom the world at large has interested itself.” (p.66)

He does call The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne’s masterpiece, “and will continue to be, for other generations than ours….” (p. 87) Which sounds positive until he states, “Something might at last be sent to Europe as exquisite in quality as anything that had been received…” From anywhere else, meaning all those other countries with sovereigns and courts and castles…Talk about a left-handed compliment. (p. 88)

It is often hard to follow James in this book. As soon as he compliments Hawthorne, there is always a caveat. “It cannot be too often repeated that Hawthorne was not a realist.” (p. 98) Yet, “He had a high sense of reality—his NoteBooks superabundantly testify to it…he never attempted to render exactly or closely the actual facts of the society that surrounded him.” (p. 98) The House of the Seven Gables for James was an ‘imaginative’ work. And that is up for debate, as this book must be one of the most detailed novels of period, setting and character of all time!

I confess I have not done research on James, which might bring some of his style and reason for writing this to light, as well as how this book was received when published and what is thought of it now. One of the unintended consequences is that it gave me a very negative view of James and will probably affect my future reading of his work. The word ‘jerk’ comes to mind, yet admittedly, the reason for his jerkiness is intriguing, which means I probably will at some point read more about him, as well as his novels…

This book qualifies for the Reading New England Challenge

The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Cathleen Schine (2010)

My Edition:threewesissmanns
Title: The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2010
Pages: 292
For a plot summary

Participating in the Reading New England Challenge this year has helped me discover books I might not have found otherwise. For this category, I needed a book with a Connecticut connection and while I started Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I just could not get into it. O Mr. Twain, an editor would have been a good idea….but, that’s a post for another day. The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine was an unexpected, but fine discovery.

Betty Weissmann is 75 years old when her husband Joseph asks her for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences (“Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce” says Betty)? In his case, those ‘irreconcilable differences’ have to do with another woman and poor Berry is forced to change everything about her married Manhattan life, including leaving her home. When a distant relative invites her to live in his rental cottage by the sea in Connecticut, she accepts his offer and asks her two grown daughters, who have just suffered tragedies of their own, to move in with her just until the divorce, which Joseph is dragging his feet on, is finalized.

Annie, the oldest daughter, a mother of two grown sons who works at a small subscription library in New York City, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome and a stalled love affair. Though she has always thought of Joseph as more than a step-father, she is angry and shocked at his treatment of her mother, especially having cut off her funds and kicking her out of her home. Helping Betty is Annie’s priority, her finances in particular, since Betty will be on a budget for the first time in her life. She decides to sublet her apartment and commute.

Miranda, the second daughter has just made a spectacular mess of her literary agency business. Specializing in memoirs it has been discovered that two of her well-known, that is, financially-fruitful authors lied about their rags to riches life and their books are total hoaxes. To make matters worse she appears on Oprah where she tries to justify their literary license with an “everyone makes things up,” excuse. Oprah doesn’t buy it, shakes “her iconic head,” and Miranda is shamed. She loses everything.

As the three women spend these months helping each other through their losses, romance becomes an underlying development for both Annie and Miranda against the dissolution of Betty’s marriage. The relationships are surprising and progress gently, but they are real and stable, as steady as can be in real life.

And here I must mention the Sense and Sensibility connection. While this novel is loosely fashioned as an homage to this wonderful book, there are enough differences in many major plot twists to make it not matter. I say this because you don’t have to know the classic text to fully enjoy this book, and secondly, if you are disappointed that the novel does not follow the classic text, you will be critical of it.

This is my first Cathleen Schine and I found her strong in character development, thoroughly enjoying the journey each of the three Weissmanns have to undertake to find peace and acceptance in their lives. The supporting characters, too, are well-defined, each assisting or subverting the women along the way.

Schine writes with humor and intellect and I adored the mention of so many classic writers and their novels the sisters, both book lovers, mention at various times:

Then, invariably the sisters would quote Louisa May Alcott at each other—“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain”—and move on to other things.

And when Miranda characterizes one of Betty’s lawyers named Mr. Mole, as Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, I howled!

The Three Weissmanns of Westpport is reading time well and happily spent.

Book Challenges and Read-a-thons Fall 2016

I have been book blogging one year today! It is a remarkable community to learn and share with. One of the ways I have benefited personally is having joined book challenges and readathons where I have discovered new authors and titles. I had no idea of the diversity and number of these. In fact, I think there must be a challenge or readathon for every taste or genre or event imaginable!

When I first started blogging last year I discovered R.I.P. too late to join and totally missed Banned Books Week, but kept them in my sights for this year. Like I need another challenge or 5 with all I have to do in my life, I did indeed sign up for 5.

Even if you are not a book blogger, but like to read these group events are a wonderful way to find people you may have a lot in common with and books you might otherwise have never heard. That was certainly true for me as I was researching titles for the 1947 club. Yes, a book challenge of reading books published in the year 1947. I told you 🙂

I may not get through all the books, but here is my wishlist for these challenges: Click on the hot links for more information and to sign up!

R.I.P (R.eaders I.imbibing P.eril) XI, September 1-October 31 2016.
Read horror, ghost, vampire, mystery, thriller. Multiple levels of participation. Read one book or lots. Watch movies or read short stories.

~The Case of Charles Dexter Ward-HP Lovecraft
~Frankenstein-Mary Shelley
~Several short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, including Carmilla, Green Tea, Schalken the Painter
~Elizabeth Gaskell, The Old Nurses Story
~Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children-Ransom Riggs
~The Haunting of Hill House-Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite films (the original, of course), which I will watch again. I have never read the book.
~I discovered I have a copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula which I will also watch

Banned Books Week, September 25-October 1 2016
Celebrated internationally, read or become familiar with titles that have been banned in the past or are being challenged now. I am participating in an event hosted by Little Book Owl.

~The Witch of Blackbird Pond-Elizabeth George Speare
banned for promoting violence and witchcraft
~A Wrinkle in Time-Madeleine L’Engle
one of the most frequently banned books of all time
~The Giver-Lois Lowry
banned for violence, language, objectionable themes. From an adult point of view, without taking into consideration the point of the book at what happens in a society without choices in life.
~Bridge to Terebithia-Katherine Paterson
banned for language, religion, sad ending (“the idea that a book is depressing or upsetting is often used as a rationale for wanting a book banned. “)

The Literary Others: An LGBT Reading Event during LGBT History Month October 1-31 2016. Hosted by Roof Beam Reader. Fiction, nonfiction, sci fi, poetry, plays, audio books. I’m reading a mix of fiction and non.

~Well of Loneliness-Radclyffe Hall
~Santa Olivia-Jacqueline Carey
~Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home-Leah Lax
~Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity-Rev Elizabeth N. Edman
~The Picture of Dorian Gray-Oscar Wilde

The 1947 Club October 10-16 2016
Hosted by Stuck in a Book read anything published in 1947!

~A Girl in Winter-Philip Larkin
~One Fine Day-Mollie Panter-Downs
~The Slaves of Solitude-Patrick Hamilton
~Final Curtain-Ngaio Marsh

Witch Week October 31-November 6 2016
Hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review, read about witches or anything magical or fantasy. And enjoy a group reading of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

~Something Wicked This Way Comes-Ray Bradbury
~Witch of Blackbird Pond-
Elizabeth George Speare
~House Witch-
Katie Schickel
~Girl who Drank the Moon-
Kelly Regan Barnhill

Ok, bye. I’d better get a crackin’ 🙂

 

 

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