The Blue Castle

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!

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26 Responses to The Blue Castle

  1. Deb says:

    If you haven’t read any of LMM’s short stories, they are utterly charming. Some of them do feature Anne, but mostly in a very limited role (sometimes you feel LMM just threw in a line about Anne because the public demanded it). I don’t have one of the short story collections close at hand so I can’t give you a title right off the top of my head, but my favorite story involves an engaged couple who do not speak for many years (an argument lost to the mists of time) and how their relationship is finally resolved when they have to walk home together after a dance. I’m sure some of your other readers will remember that one.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m sure I’ve read some stories collected under an Anne name — like “Christmas with Anne” or something — but agree that often the stories don’t involve her much. They are lovely!

      • PG says:

        I love The Blue Castle — I reread it every few years. I think the story Deb has in mind is called “The Winning of Lucinda,” which was collected in The Chronicles of Avonlea and oddly enough uses the name Penhallow for a large family, which is the same name for one of the two clans in A Tangled Web.

        If you’d like to read most of her short stories on a Kindle, they’re available in “The Works of L.M. Montgomery, Kindle Edition by Douglas Editions,” which is low-priced and contains all of Montgomery’s works that are currently available for free under U.S. law because they’re out of copyright. (This therefore leaves out the Emily and Pat books, as well as Jane, Marigold, A Tangled Web, Blue Castle, and Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, because these books were published after 1922. It also leaves out the short stories that got collected first in The Road to Yesterday, and more recently in The Blythes Are Quoted.)

        For me the most interesting aspect of this Kindle Edition was the originally published version of Rilla of Ingleside, which seems to have been a little longer and bit less politically correct than the editions published later (the original was published right after WWI, when antagonism toward Germans had not yet died down). I think the latest edition of Rilla restores the original text.

  2. Karen K. says:

    I’ve had a copy of The Blue Castle unread for a couple of years ago, I hope to finally get to it during the April Readathon. I hate to say it but I think I’ve been putting it off because it has the cheesiest cover illustration! It looks just like a terrible romance novel. Yours is much nicer. Isn’t it awful of me, judging a book by its cover? I’ve heard so many people rave about it but I can’t get past it.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I saw that cover! No, it’s not a terrible romance novel, though there is some romance in it. It’s absolutely charming, funny, sweet. It’s the perfect readathon book — definitely put it in that pile!

  3. SO pleased that you have read this – it is one of my favourite by this author. OK other stand alone reads:

    Jane of Lantern Hill
    Kilmeny of the Orchard
    A Tangled Web

    and many more. If you ever have a chance to read LMM’s journals they are a revelation and totally heartbreaking as well

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, thank you, Elaine! And I’m sure I’ve read about her journals over at your blog before. I think I have her biography on my TBR thanks to you, as well.

  4. Alex says:

    I’ve read it about 5 years ago and am really enjoying the attention it’s been give by the book blogsphere recently. Try the Pat books!

  5. Thank you for reminding me of this book, which used to be one of my very favorites by LMM. When I moved ‘out east,’ my sister ended up with most of our childhood books including all of LMMs. I’m going to have to restock–not just for my own sake, but for my daughter. (We have already got Anne of Green Gables–no Canadian childhood is complete without that!)

    • Jenny says:

      I think one of my favorite things about this book was how Canadian it was. The landscape and the feeling of it was wonderfully specific.

  6. Sarah S. says:

    I adore this book. It’s the last LM Montgomery I discovered. It has big Bronte-undertones too, doesn’t it?

    • Jenny says:

      I guess I could see that — Valancy as a kind of Jane Eyre, oppressed by her family and running off to do her own thing (and meeting a solitary fellow in the process.) But the entire feel of the book is not Gothic at all, and in fact is so brightly different that I had to think before I could get what you meant!

  7. Steph says:

    I read this for the first time (despite being a long time Anne fan) and I loved it too! I don’t see how anyone could fail to be swept away by its humor and loveliness. Valancy was so awesome, and I thought the writing was fantastic. I so wish Montgomery had written more works aimed at adults!

    • Jenny says:

      I wish I’d thought to mention the humor in my review. It really is so funny. Absolutely lovely. My understanding is that A Tangled Web is also aimed at adults, though I haven’t read it.

  8. Emily says:

    I read all Montgomery’s books YEARS ago & it’s so fun to be reminded of plots & characters I only vaguely remember. I recall A Tangled Web being a favorite for me of her stand-alone books (foreshadowing my later fondness for books where lots of interrelated plotlines weave in & out of each other), but I almost hesitate to recommend it, that was so long ago! Still, I doubt she wrote any real clinkers; if you like one you’ll probably like them all. :-)

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Emily — I agree that if you like her style and her characters, you’re likely to enjoy all her books. I have a lot to look forward to!

  9. Jenny says:

    JANE OF LANTERN HILL. Times infinity. Jane of Lantern Hill. And then A Tangled Web. Those are the two best standalone Montgomery books apart from The Blue Castle. The Story Girl and the Golden Road are a pair, and they’re not bad. Magic for Marigold also exists and has good qualities, notably the scene at the beginning where the whole family is trying to figure out what to name the baby. (I want to reread that!) I didn’t care for Kilmeny of the Orchard, but it’s still worth reading.

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you, Other Jenny! I will take your recommendation and seek out Jane of Lantern Hill posthaste. I bet I can get it for my Kindle! Woo!

  10. Christy says:

    I still need to read The Blue Castle. It has been highly recommended all over the place. I enjoy A Tangled Web with its ensemble cast.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, thanks for this — I think A Tangled Web is LMM’s other book for adult readers, so that has a strong appeal. Though some of the Anne books seem quite adult to me, also, so there’s that.

  11. rebeccareid says:

    I LOVED Anne when I was a girl. I reread her stories as an adult, and was rather disappointed by the melodrama. Sounds like I need to give Montgomery a chance with another of her creations. This sounds lovely.

    • Jenny says:

      I think I know what you mean by melodrama — Anne has very strong feelings, doesn’t she? But she grows out of a lot of that (not all of it) and it’s funny and charming while she’s little. At least, I thought it was. And The Blue Castle doesn’t have that element to it, no “kindred spirits” or cobweb fairies or what have you.

  12. bookssnob says:

    I haven’t read outside of Anne and The Blue Castle yet – I’m still discovering L M Montgomery! I ADORED The Blue Castle and I love Montgomery’s beautiful stories filled with hope and goodness – so necessary in these sad times we live in! I’m about to start on the Emily series, even though I haven’t finished all of the Anne books – I’m excited!

    • Jenny says:

      I really agree that sometimes it’s so comforting to read something that is gentle and solidly good. Always try Elizabeth Goudge for this, if you don’t know her. She never, ever will fail. Promise.

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