It wasn’t until I read Elaine’s enthusiastic posts over at Random Jottings that I realized that Lucy Maud Montgomery had written more than just Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon (both series I loved, by the way.) She wrote many other books, including several stand-alones and at least two books for adults, one of which is the completely charming The Blue Castle.
In this novel, Valancy Sterling, twenty-nine and still unmarried, lives miserable and oppressed under the rule of her clan. No one listens to her. No one takes any account of her desires. She is the brunt of jokes; she is the risible “Doss” who could never do anything of note, and is not even pretty to make up for it. She dare not say what she thinks, nor even arrange her room the way she likes, lest she never hear the end of it from her family.
And then Valancy goes to see Dr. Trent. The news she receives from him changes her life entirely, beginning with her determination to speak her mind and do what she believes to be right — not society’s right, but morality’s and common sense’s. This kind of shocking (!) behavior leads to one decision that snowballs into another and another, to a widening of Valancy’s experience and understanding, to a connection with the nature that had always been ready to meet her, to friendship, and, eventually, to love.
I found this book enchanting. I felt, while I was reading it, that I’d read it already, not because it was trite or predictable (though it follows a fairly standard romance plotline) but because the style was familiar from the Anne books and the characters seemed like old friends. Valancy is a great heroine — from the moment she kicks over the traces, you can’t get enough of her. Her flouting of society’s standards is her great experiment, and nature is the obvious remedy to society’s ills. In many ways, this book reminded me of my very favorite novels by Gene Stratton-Porter, like Girl of the Limberlost and The Harvester, in the way it followed a woman finding herself in harmony with nature. But Stratton-Porter’s books are quintessentially American — they are Indiana novels — and The Blue Castle is Canadian to its bones. (It is, by the way, the only one of Montgomery’s novels that never visits Prince Edward Island.) The romance is never sappy or sentimental. It, too, takes its strength and inspiration from its environment.
Now that I’ve tasted something outside of Anne and Emily, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop here. This was the perfect comfort read. Montgomery fans — what should be next?
Note: This was the first book I ever read on an e-reader. I recently purchased a Kindle and have mostly stocked it with old, free books. The experience was great fun!