Booknotes: The Blue Castle

June 13, 2012 @ 8:34 pm | Filed under: Books

I didn’t mean to reread The Blue Castle again, but then I never do plan it; I just seem to tumble into it on a regular basis. Somehow it gets better, richer, every time. I feel like I could walk out my back door and be in Muskoka, watching the moon over the lake. You wouldn’t think it possible Montgomery could make any place sound as lovely as Prince Edward Island, but oh, those woods, those views.

I love LMM’s character transformations, and Valancy’s arc is one of her best—as satisfying as Jane’s, and despite a plot heavily dependent on coincidence, even more believable than Jane’s character arc. Montgomery does repressed, emotionally abused young women painfully well. I love watching Valancy shed her chains, coil by coil. One line in particular jumped out at me this time:

“Meanwhile she was giving herself such freedom of thought as she had never dared to take before.”

It never struck me until now how much Montgomery does with that notion of ‘freedom of thought’ being vital for a character’s happiness and growth—we see Anne thriving under the most miserable circumstances in her early childhood because of the saving power of her imagination; and Jane escaping her grandmother’s tyranny and general misery via her nightly ‘moon sprees’; and Valancy, finally, at age 29, giving herself free rein to evaluate her relatives’ behavior and make her own plans. Hmm, there’s an essay to be had there. Probably someone has written it already. :)

Must run, but if you want to gab about this much-beloved book in the comments, I won’t complain…

Related: Jane of Lantern Hill


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Comments

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  1. In the L.M. Montgomery pantheon, I haven’t read absolutely EVERYTHING, but most of her work. The Blue Castle is the last book of hers that I discovered, and I want to read it over and over again.

    Gives me a good idea of what I should do with myself this weekend – !

    I ADORE that book, and knowing what we do now about LMM’s life – freedom of thought is a compelling and poignant theme from her. That poor woman. And yet, she opened up new worlds for the rest of us…

  2. Fascinating observations–esp. about the “wild coincidences of identity” between Jane and Valancy. You have a very good point.

    That reminds me of something else that I’ve pondered over the years… has anyone else noticed a striking similarity between Ilse Burnley and Sara Stanley? To me, they share extremely similar characteristics.

  3. I love Blue Castle; it was the first book in my hospital bag for both of my kids’ births. It’s an essential comfort read. I love Valancy’s talks with Cissy’s dad (Abe?), both before and after she leaves home.

    I think you have something about Montgomery’s focus on freedom of thought; when Emily almost marries Dean, you can see her mind wrapping coils around itself.

  4. Yes, exactly! Emily suppressing her runaway thoughts during the Dean period…and his efforts to shape her thoughts, mold them.

    @Samantha, I’ll have to take another look at Ilse & Sara! I’ve only read Story Girl twice (and a long time ago it was)—somehow her books didn’t grab me the same way the rest of LMM did. I adore Ilse, though.

  5. I am so glad you wrote this. I’ve always found LMM’s books to be powerful, even dark, although of course they sparkle with charm, enchantment, and humour. Every time I read them I think, hang on, doesn’t anyone else see what I’m seeing? Emotional abuse, repression, neglect, abandonment, cruelty, violence … so powerful, so poignant. And although she provides many wonderful happy endings, they’re always real, and never completely perfect (of course her own happy ending wasn’t perfect). She makes you believe happy endings are possible for just about anyone because they are so honest and realistic.

    I love her, I think she’s a writer for all people, not just children. Infact, I am not worrried that my dd doesn’t like her books, because I know she can come to them when she is older and still benefit from them.

  6. I love this book so much that the coincidences of identity don’t bother me at all, I must admit!

    I did come from an emotionally abusive background (I had a formerly alcoholic father who meant well but was struggling in his marriage to my later-diagnosed bi-polar stepmother) so Montgomery gave me a “language” to use as I processed the often confusing adult behavior that I encountered. Plus I feel like she helped take the melancholy edge off the fundamentalism I encountered in the Christian school I attended during middle school years.

    I almost always had one of her books at hand, I truly believe that her books helped my mental health greatly and helped me establish my own healthy interior life and view of the world. And as an adult, re-reading her books helps me connect better with my children by reminding me of how I felt as a child. Her sensitivity toward children greatly helps me as I parent my own very sensitive daughter… I can’t ignore the “stings” of childhood or belittle my children’s feelings as so many adults find it too easy to do. (That exasperated feeling of “get over it already!” that minimizes their real emotions.)

    Sorry for the ramble here! :)

  7. I am not one for deliberately memorizing passages, but parts of The Blue Castle have stuck in my head ever since I first read it about thirty-five years ago. (Ouch.) Little curiosities like “had HER moles removed by electrolysis.” (Tells you everything you need to know about her, doesn’t it?) And the interesting bits like exactly what the clothes she bought looked like.

    But so far nobody seems to know what a Grey Slosson was, or if it actually existed outside the book.

  8. I thought I had The Blue Castle but I can’t find it on my shelves and now I wonder if I’ve ever owned it at all. Or even read it. My memory for books can be so bad! So I’m indulging myself with a little Jane of Lantern Hill today which is just what the doctor ordered for exhausted pregnant mamas, I’m sure. And then I will have to round up a copy of The Blue Castle at some point to see if I’ve read it or not. And buy a new copy of The Martian Chronicles as well since mine seems to have gone AWOL and that is burning to be read Very Soon.

  9. The Blue Castle is one of LMM ‘s best. She wanted to write an adult novel because her books were starting to be classified as children’s book — strange because they had a mostly adult audience! Her humor, emotional insights, superb! I love all the elements in this book – great for all seasons too.

  10. When I reread The Blue Castle recently, I couldn’t help wondering how the sleeping arrangements work…

    On a less salacious note, I really enjoyed the Austen-like satirical descriptions of Valancy’s awful family, especially during their dinners and parties. This also made me more aware of the narrator’s ironic tone in some of the descriptions of Anne’s wilder flights of fancy — a complexity of tone I’d completely missed as a reader.

    The ability to think freely seems also to be almost a requirement for Anne’s bosom friends throughout the series. Diana’s inability to fully share Anne’s freedom of thought casts a bit of a shadow over their friendship; she can’t (and doesn’t want to) follow Anne in imaginative sprees, intellectual journeys, or visions of alternative life paths.

  11. “a complexity of tone I’d completely missed as a CHILD reader” that is supposed to say!

  12. The family dinner scene where Valancy finally says exactly what she wants is one of my favorites in all of LMM’s work.

    Fanny, the most heated, extended discussions I have ever seen of any LMM novel was on the Blue Castle and the “Did they or didn’t they?” question. Ahem.

  13. Okay, I’m not reading the other comments just in case, but I had to say that I wasn’t familiar with this book, bought it yesterday (based on your recommendation) for Kindle (after not finding it in the local library catalogs online) and am REALLY enjoying it. Thanks mucho!

  14. Loved it! Guess I have to put my hands on Emily and Jane too as I’ve neglected both thus far. Thanks for the delightful read!

    Oh, and I meant to say, in the earlier part of the books I found the author’s voice to have such a sense of anger at people who live/treat others in that way. It made me think that there must have been some personal experience behind it.

  15. I finally got this book through InterLibraryLoan and just loved it! Thanks so much for recommending it. In the same “shipment” from ILL I got Elizabeth Goudge’s “Little White Horse” and one of the Ted Jacobs CDs — all recommended here, I think. Thanks so very much!

  16. The Blue Castle is my second favorite Montgomery book after the Anne series. I’ve read it several times now too. My favorite line is “a little bit below the Methodist church” – “Is that a vital part?” ;-)

  17. In just finished Blue Castle and wow it felt so much like Jane of Lantern Hill with an adult protagonist. Just replace Jane’s Dad with Barney, the child’s need for a father with the woman’s need for a mate. Which isn’t meant to be negative at all, just to agree with how similar the two plots are. As is my usual habit, with my first time reading it, I whizzed through without much eye to the landscape. Though I did figure out one of Barney’s secrets much earlier than I usually do such things. I have to say the one disappointment was with Barney’s dad. I would have liked to see that part as a little less wish fulfillment. (I’m trying to be circumspect so as to avoid too many spoilers.)

    Anyway, I’m sure this one will now go into my regular LMM rotation. Thanks, Lissa for mentioning it.

  18. [...] my working mind puts up against other people’s stories when I’m deep inside my own. The Blue Castle. Rilla of Ingleside. Sometimes, but not always, Anne’s House of Dreams or Anne of the Island. [...]

  19. [...] from the obnoxious family of another meek-but-seething Montgomery heroine, Valancy Stirling of The Blue Castle)—but anyone with sense can see that cousin Phyllis and the rest of them are snooty, unimaginative [...]