Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Blue Castle


I count the Anne of Green Gables series among the formative books of my life. I read them countless times as a child, teen, and young adult, though it has been many years since I read them end-to-end.  However, I never dipped into any of L.M. Montgomery's other books, until this past week.

As part of the Back-to-the-Classics challenge, I decided to read Montgomery's The Blue Castle for Children's/Young Adult category.  Actually, however, the front flap of the newly issued Hesperus Press Limited edition that I read said that The Blue Castle is one of Montgomery's "only novels intended for an adult audience."  Be that as it may, it still read as a YA book to me.  Despite the grim premise--a desperately unhappy 29-year old woman is told she has a terminal illness and only has a year to live--it is replete with the enchanting descriptions of the magical powers of nature that characterize the AoGG stories.  

For example:
The garden was lying in the magic of the warm, odorous July twilight. A few stars were out and the robins were calling through the velvety silences of the barrens.
The whimsically named Valancy Stirling is definitely a kindred spirit of Anne Shirley, and shares with her a beautiful core that eventually shines through the shabby exterior.  Montgomery frequently describes Valancy in language similar to that she used for Anne: "She really looked like a wild elf strayed out of the greenwood."

What I really liked about The Blue Castle was Valancy's willingness to finally take responsibility for her own happiness.  There is a harshness and bitterness in Valancy that you never see in Anne, but then Anne found a family and love and security at age 11...better late than never!  In a way, this is a "what-if" Anne story.  What if Anne hadn't been adopted by the Cuthberts when she was 11--what if she had to continue to soldier on, unloved, unwanted, unappreciated, not understood?  

The message of The Blue Castle is powerful--you can escape into a dreamland, you can construct a beautiful blue castle in your head if that's what you need to get you through times of darkness and loneliness--but if you want to live, you have to act, break out, break away, and make that blue castle a reality.

The writing is a bit precious and the romance a bit contrived, but I enjoyed reading this book immensely.  Like visiting an old friend but one who has new stories to tell.

17 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorites by Montgomery despite the contrived romance and weaknesses in plot etc.

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  2. I find your commentary particularly interesting at this time. I am currently reading Charles's Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. There is a character in that book, Jenny Wren, who constructs elaborate fantasies in her head in order to escape some of the realities of her difficult existence, It sounds as if similar themes are explored here.

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    1. I haven't read Our Mutual Friend yet, but I look forward to meeting Jenny Wren, a character I've heard mentioned. I wouldn't be at all surprised if CD indulged in fantasy himself, especially as a child.

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  3. Valancy is such a great character; I love that when she finds her life untenable she does something to change it. I have to admit, this is my favorite L.M. Montgomery book...even with the somewhat contrived romantic ending. It makes me smile every time I read it.

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  4. I've tried to read this a couple of times, but I find the first chapters so very sad & depressing - from peeking ahead, and reviews I've read, I know things get much better, but I just haven't been able to get past those first dreary chapters.

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    1. Yes, the first several chapters are definitely trying. Valancy is so downtrodden and all of her relatives are so horrible, that it really takes an effort to keep going but I found it worthwhile to stick with it.

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  5. Some say this is their favorite but I could never get into it, although I read and reread the Anne and Emily books constantly as an adolescent. I wish I had participated in this challenge.

    I am hoping to visit PEI next year. Have you been there?

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    1. I have wanted to visit PEI since I was 11--it's on the short list for 2015. Eager to hear how you like it. What's the best way to get there?

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    2. I think people used to take a ferry from Maine. What I would like to do, however, is fly to Halifax, visit that city and the Titanic sites of interest, then drive to Fort Louisbourg (you must read Another Shore by Nancy Bond), and then drive to PEI. I have been waiting for my friends to be ready to go with me; they'd better hurry!

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    3. That sounds like a wonderful trip, and Another Shore is now on my list! Thanks for the tip.

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  6. I love the Blue Castle! :)

    If you want something of a shock, read Carson McCullough's "Ladies of Missalonghi." Compare.

    (Got here from Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge)

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I'm a big fan of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, so I can imagine that Carson Mccullers would go a different road with the same subject.

      And thanks for stopping by!

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  7. It's funny how the contrived ending of this is so forgivable! It just made me so happy.

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  8. I never read Anne of Green Gables as a girl (which is pretty shocking considering the amount of classics I did read). I read it a few years ago with my book club and I must admit I was disappointed; but then the gal who recommended it despised my beloved Little Women so I suppose we're even. I suppose I could give Montgomery another chance, though.

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    1. I have an Internet friend who raved about LW but had never read Anne. We made an agreement--I would read LW and she would read Anne. Interestingly, I liked LW far more than she liked Anne. I think Anne's whimsy may get tiresome if you first encounter it as an adult.

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  9. I own this book based on rave reviews by fellow bloggers, but I've never read it because the cover of my edition is really cheesy -- it looks like the cover of a Harlequin romance!! I hate that the cover is so embarrassing and that I'm judging the book by its cover. It's so wrong of me!

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    1. When I was looking for a copy of The Blue Castle, I saw what I'm sure is the cover of the version you have. I waited until the one on my blog was available because I really couldn't stand the other cover!

      Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? :)

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