Jane of Lantern Hill

August 25, 2009 @ 2:13 pm | Filed under:

“Jane, it’s the wreck of a fine man that you see before you,” he said hollowly.

“Dad . . . what is the matter?”

“Matter, says she, with not a quiver in her voice. You don’t know…I hope you never will know… what it is like to look casually out of a kitchen window, where you are discussing the shamefully low price of eggs with Mrs Davy Gardiner, and see your daughter…your only daughter …stepping high, wide and handsome through the landscape with a lion.”

Remember when you first realized the author of Anne of Green Gables had written a ton of other books besides the ones about Anne?

Maybe you found the Emily series next. Perhaps at times you harbored the heretical thought that Emily of New Moon was even better than Anne of Green Gables. You always changed your mind and gave the crown back to Anne because, well, there was something a wee bit prickly about Emily; she was terribly interesting, and you certainly admired her fire and her talent, but she wasn’t exactly bosom friend material. She seemed…hmm…a little cliqueish, perhaps, in her way; she wasn’t always out looking for kindred spirits like Anne. Indeed, she had enough difficulty managing the friends she already had. Emily didn’t need you: she had Ilse and Teddy and her art. Not to mention all that nonsense with Dean Priest, who, let’s be honest, kind of creeped you out from the start. And you knew it would be no use trying to warn Emily; that would just have put her back up.

Still, you were so glad you met her.

Perhaps it ended there, with Emily and Anne. Or maybe, just maybe, you were lucky enough to discover the others, the Pat books, the Story Girl duo, the one-offs, the story collections…and if you were very lucky indeed, maybe one day you met Jane of Lantern Hill.

jane_of_lantern_hillOh, Jane, that practical, capable, matter-of-fact miss. At first it is easy to underestimate her: she seems to lack the spunk and impulsiveness that make Anne and Emily so entertaining. Anne has barely arrived at Green Gables when she’s blowing up at Mrs. Lynde; and Emily, my goodness, the way she bursts out from under the table quivering with rage at all the aunts and uncles criticizing her father after his funeral: could you help but applaud? But Jane seems so quiet, so put-upon, so cowed by her horrible grandmother. Sure, you can see she’s seething inside, but isn’t that the point? Anne and Emily don’t seethe: they erupt. You keep waiting for Jane to erupt, practically begging her to.

But Jane’s not the erupting type, and what makes her story so satisfying is that she isn’t a prodigy—not of feistiness, nor imagination, nor talent. She’s an average Jane: which means that if Jane can fix up the mess that is her life, anyone can.

When we meet Jane, she and her mother are living with the aforementioned horrible grandmother. At first Jane’s mom seems like a Mrs. Lennox type a la Secret Garden, and you’re half-expecting typhoid to kill her off. But no, there she is fluttering in for a goodnight kiss on her way to a party, and the tear in her eye belies her lighthearted manner. Mummy’s in pain, Jane knows, and she needn’t look farther than Grandmother’s scowl to see why.

Jane’s mother’s family is Old Money, though the neighborhood is decaying around the family mansion. Jane’s cousins got all the talent, brains, and looks, it seems (Jane’s relatives are somewhat hard to distinguish 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 bores, and Jane’s the only one with any salt to her. She’s warmhearted enough to care about the plight of the orphan next door, and she’s alert enough to be interested in the bustle of the servants, particularly the kitchen staff. Mostly Jane longs for something to do, something or someone to take care of. This desire to be active, not passive, is at the heart of Jane’s story. As a small child she entertains herself by imagining “moon sprees,” flights of fancy involving a host of imaginary chums who help her polish the dull and tarnished moon into a gleaming silver orb. This rather quirky fantasy (the quirkiest thing about Jane, really) is an expression of her longing for warm camaraderie, a happy family circle, a cozy hearth, and some soul-satisfying work to do. In her mind all these things are wrapped up together: Jane longs for the warmth and liveliness of a loving family, and she wants to be one of the people involved in the domestic bustle that creates a cozy and welcoming home. Her grandmother’s mansion is as cold and sterile as the dark side of the moon—the place to which her imaginary creatures must go when they are sulky or lazy, and from which they return “chilled to the bone,” eager to warm themselves up with extra-vigorous polishing.

Until age ten, these imaginary moon sprees are Jane’s only outlet for the urge to do, to work, to transform what is cold and lifeless to something warm and bright. Her tyrannical, hypercritical grandmother makes all decisions having to do with Jane and her mother. The mother is like a butterfly trapped in a cage, miserable, helpless. Jane’s father is absent: she has been led to believe he is dead. Then one day a rather nasty schoolmate discloses a disgraceful secret: Jane’s father isn’t dead; he’s alive and well and living on Prince Edward Island. Her mother, claims nasty Agnes, left him when Jane was three years old.

“Aunt Dora said she would likely have divorced him, only divorces are awful hard to get in Canada, and anyhow all the Kennedys think divorce is a dreadful thing.”

Jane is appalled by this knowledge, but it galvanizes rather than paralyzes her. The passive child becomes a girl of action. Her first action is to demand truth—she marches into a tea party and asks the question point blank: “Is my father alive?” Her mother answers simply “yes,” and this truth sets Jane—gradually and eventually, and not without some pain—free.

Another year passes before the event that will change Jane’s life forever: and here again transformation is possible only when someone who has been passive takes some positive action. Jane’s father writes a letter. He wants Jane to spend a month with him the following summer. Jane, despite the waves of fury emanating from her powerful grandmother and the fear and sorrow pouring out of her mother, chooses to go.

The magic of their reunion is enhanced by the glories of a Prince Edward Island June, but we sense that Jane, given the opportunity to roll up her sleeves and get to work, could bring a sparkle and warmth to any place. Her connection with her long-lost father is immediate: he is a kindred spirit from the first moment of meeting. Of course it helps that she recognizes him from a picture she clipped from a newspaper, a photo of a respected writer whose essays were above young Jane’s head but whose face charmed her for reasons she could not fathom at the time.

“Here’s your baby,” said Aunt Irene. “Isn’t she a little daughter to be proud of, ‘Drew? A bit too tall for her age perhaps, but . . .”

“A russet-haired jade,” said a voice.

Only four words . . . but they changed life for Jane. Perhaps it was the voice more than the words . . . a voice that made everything seem like a wonderful secret just you two shared. Jane came to life at last and looked up.

Peaked eyebrows . . . thick reddish-brown hair springing back from his forehead . . . a mouth tucked in at the corners . . . square cleft chin . . . stern hazel eyes with jolly looking wrinkles around them. The face was as familiar to her as her own.

“Kenneth Howard,” gasped Jane. She took a quite unconscious step towards him.

The next moment she was lifted in his arms and kissed. She kissed him back. She had no sense of strangerhood. She felt at once the call of that mysterious kinship of soul which has nothing to do with the relationships of flesh and blood. In that one moment Jane forgot that she had ever hated her father. She liked him . . . she liked everything about him from the nice tobaccoey smell of his heather-mixture tweed suit to the firm grip of his arms around her. She wanted to cry but that was out of the question so she laughed instead . . . rather wildly, perhaps, for Aunt Irene said tolerantly, “Poor child, no wonder she is a little hysterical.”

Father set Jane down and looked at her. All the sternness of his eyes had crinkled into laughter.

“Are you hysterical, my Jane?” he said gravely.

How she loved to be called “my Jane” like that!

“No, father,” she said with equal gravity. She never spoke of him or thought of him as “he” again.

Long estrangement notwithstanding, Jane’s dad is practically perfect—except for his blind spot where his officious, patronizing, meddling older sister, the poisonously sweet Aunt Irene, is concerned. Jane, a shrewd lass, puts two and two together and begins to see that her parents’ marriage was sabotaged from the get-go: with Aunt Irene on one side and Grandmother on the other, the young couple hardly stood a chance. Both Grandmother and Irene exercise a vast amount of power, each in her way, one ruling with an iron fist and the other insinuating herself between the newlyweds with damaging words like the dangerous, delicate tendrils of an edifice-crumbling vine.

Slowly Jane pieces together the mystery of what shattered her parents’ marriage. One of the most satsifying things about the book is Jane’s fairmindedness, her calm, unflinching gaze. She sees her parents’ mistakes and flaws—and adores them anyway. She will brook no criticism of either one from Grandmother, Aunt Irene, nor anyone else.

Her gradual understanding of the forces that separated her parents takes place against a backdrop of domestic zeal, for in reuniting with her father, Jane finds, at last, Something to Do, a vocation she can throw herself into with energy: keeping house. The quest for just the right home is one of the best parts of the book: Jane holds fast to a certainty that she’ll know the right house by its “lashings of magic,” and after Jane and Dad have ruled out a number of adequate but unmagical houses, they hear about a little place that is vintage L. M. Montgomery.

“The Jimmy Johns have one, I hear,” said the man. “Over at Lantern Hill. The house their Aunt Matilda Jollie lived in. There’s some of her furniture in it, too, I hear…It’s two miles to Lantern Hill and you go by Queen’s Shore.”

The Jimmy Johns and a Lantern Hill and an Aunt Matilda Jollie! Jane’s thumbs pricked. Magic was in the offing.

Jane saw the house first . . . at least she saw the upstairs window in its gable end winking at her over the top of a hill. But they had to drive around the hill and up a winding lane between two dikes, with little ferns growing out of the stones and young spruces starting up along them at intervals.

And then, right before them, was the house . . . their house!

“Dear, don’t let your eyes pop quite out of your head,” warned dad.

It squatted right against a little steep hill whose toes were lost in bracken. It was small . . . you could have put half a dozen of it inside 60 Gay. It had a garden, with a stone dike at the lower end of it to keep it from sliding down the hill, a paling and a gate, with two tall white birches leaning over it, and a flat-stone walk up to the only door, which had eight small panes of glass in its upper half. The door was locked but they could see in at the windows. There was a good-sized room on one side of the door, stairs going up right in front of it, and two small rooms on the other side whose windows looked right into the side of the hill where ferns grew as high as your waist, and there were stones lying about covered with velvet green moss.

There was a bandy-legged old cook-stove in the kitchen, a table and some chairs. And a dear little glass-paned cupboard in the corner fastened with a wooden button.

On one side of the house was a clover field and on the other a maple grove, sprinkled with firs and spruces, and separated from the house lot by an old, lichen-covered board fence. There was an apple-tree in the corner of the yard, with pink petals falling softly, and a clump of old spruces outside the garden gate.

“I like the pattern of this place,” said Jane.

“Do you suppose it’s possible that the view goes with the house?” said dad.

Jane had been so taken up with her house that she had not looked at the view at all. Now she turned her eyes on it and lost her breath over it. Never, never had she seen . . . had she dreamed anything so wonderful.

(snip, though I could happily quote the entire book)

Jane said nothing at first. She could only look. She had never been there before but it seemed as if she had known it all her life. The song the sea-wind was singing was music native to her ears. She had always wanted to “belong” somewhere and she belonged here. At last she had a feeling of home.

Although this reads like a happy ending, it’s actually just the beginning of Jane’s story. First she finds a house, then she makes a home, throwing herself into housekeeping with remarkable facility, fearlessly attempting everything from cooking to roof-mending to silver-polishing, and mastering pretty much all of it except pie crust (which, to Jane’s everlasting irritation, happens to be Aunt Irene’s specialty). At last, at last, Jane can do to her heart’s content. And once she starts doing, there is no stopping her. The formerly lonely and reserved child makes friends at every turn, reveling in the eccentricities of her Lantern Hill neighbors; she tackles a bit of matchmaking between some warmhearted old maids and the impoverished city orphan-child who was once her only friend; she even, in a farfetched yet somehow utterly believable turn of events, captures a runaway circus lion. The sight that causes her poor father such palpitations of the heart, as chronicled in the quote at the top of this post—his “only daughter stepping high, wide, and handsome through the landscape with a lion”—is a snapshot of the confident, collected girl Jane has become. The rest of the town is blown away by this lion-taming business, but Jane does not see what all the fuss is about. She saw a job that needed doing, and she did it. Neither foolhardy nor rash, Jane triumphs over the object of her fear by taking its measure and determining it to be a much weaker creature than its reputation allowed: he is a weary old cat, not a monster, she realizes; and armed with this knowledge, she is able to take command of the situation. Tyrannical grandmothers and meddling aunties had best beware.

Jane’s levelheadedness, her lack of drama even when dramatic events are unfolding around her, is part of what makes her such a refreshing heroine. She is not elfin and uncannily wise like Emily, nor precocious and uncommonly empathetic like Anne. She is no emotional firestorm, smashing her slate on someone’s head, engaging in bitter quarrels, or collapsing into sobs over a poignant daydream. Jane is an ordinary girl, with ordinary tastes and abilities, and that’s exactly what makes her story so satisfying: when we look at Jane we see just how extraordinary an “ordinary girl” can be.

Related: The Blue Castle

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31 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    Please tell me you are writing another book. (It’s not much to ask, you only have six children and a husband and a house to look after, not to mention homeschooling.) Because I know I tend to be over-effusive but really, honestly, this post stirred up tears in me, it was so beautifully written. Of course I have to go and buy Jane of Lantern Hill tomorrow – but I also have to buy the next Melissa Wiley book (I am lucky enough to own several already, wink!)

    Some writing has the warmth or charm or poignancy to reach right through and kiss one’s soul, and that’s what this post did for me today.

  2. Lindsay says:

    So going to reread this now. Off to put it on my library list.

  3. mamacrow says:

    She wrote stuff other than Anne?! Oh goody goody goody!

  4. Becca says:

    Jane has always been one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books. The Anne books reign supreme, and Rilla is just superlative. But there’s something wonderful about Lantern Hill–all the things you just captured in your post. I’ve got to go reread it now!

  5. Hannah says:

    OK, I’m sold. It’s been way too long since I’ve read LMM anyway.

  6. Sherri K. Edman says:

    I love Jane.

    And, incidentally, I have to confess that Dean Priest did not creep me out at first. I rooted for him for years. I had to learn to be creeped out by him.

    Oh, and I wonder what you think of Magic for Marigold? I liked it quite a lot until the last chapter, and then I wanted to scream and throw it against the wall.

  7. Deb says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to post this! And it’s in TWO libraries near our home!

  8. Jordin says:

    I have never read any of LMM books. I had difficulties reading as a child… but i did get a short story book by her when i was 12 and at Green Gables. The story was about a young girl, and a grave… long story short, all the names in the story were in my life. Including my own!

    Still as an adult i am a slow reader, and with so many books to read!!! I eagerly await my own daughters readiness to read them. I will enjoy them then.

  9. Mrs. Mordecai says:

    I’m actually reading this aloud with my husband right now! I LOVE this book. I’m so sad that it’s been out of print. Every time I find a copy at a thrift store, I buy it and give it away.

    I’m glad you mentioned Pat, too. As a homemaker, she’s one of my favorites.

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah, thank you! That is wonderfully kind of you. And yes, I am working on something. 🙂 Just very, very slowly…getting there, though. A November deadline is beginning to look doable. Actually my problem at the moment is that I’m wanting to get started on the *next* book, a story that wants to elbow its way past the current work-in-progress. But I think I have about six weeks of work left on the first draft of the WIP, and I’m letting the next one simmer until I’m done.

    Glad you liked the Jane review!

    Mamacrow: find Emily of New Moon! And Jane, of course. And The Blue Castle (one of LMM’s few adult novels). And you’ve read Rilla of Ingleside, I hope? Because it may be her very best work. I’m amazed it isn’t included in school reading lists—it’s a beautifully crafted look at WWI from the Canadian homefront.

  11. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sherri, OH MAN!!!! You too??? That last sentence is the kicker. Makes me go BWAH?? every time.

    I’ll always love Marigold for the egg-fried-in-butter scene, though. 🙂

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Mrs. Mordecai, wait, what? Jane is out of print? No! When did this happen?

    I may have to launch a crusade.

  13. Mitali Perkins says:

    My absolute favorite of L.M. Montgomery’s books, and I’m a fan (check out my recent pilgrimage to Avonlea as proof). This novel is a good psychological exploration of how to resist a controlling person and live in freedom. I especially enjoyed how Jane’s Dad teaches her to get over her horror of reading the Bible. Thanks so much for this review, Melissa.

  14. Jennifer says:

    For some reason I have never read this! I will have to find it. The Story Girl was my all time favorite LMM book growing up. I read that over and over, but never heard anyone else mention it. I will have to meet Jane next.

  15. mamacrow says:

    Melissa – I’ve only read the Anne stories and some hard to find short stories (thank God for project Guttenburgh) Rilla, Emily Jane – all new to me, so lots of fun in store!

  16. Melissa Wiley says:

    Here’s Jane at Project Gutenberg but of course a book is so much cozier. 🙂

  17. The Prudent Homemaker says:

    Growing up, my library had 2 revolving racks full of almost every single one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books. I would check out several at a time. The Blue Castle is one of my favorites and the most memorable one to me.

    It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read Jane of Lantern Hill.

    But considering I’m in the middle of canning, and then I have some lage sewing projects to do, I think I had better put Jane on hold for now, or nothing will get done. I read 12 novels recently . . .

  18. Sara says:

    I had to wait a couple of days to read this long post. Now I’m trying to forgive you for writing it when you didn’t know Jane was OP! Can you believe there is not a single copy in our library system???? A gazillion Anne’s but no Jane, or anything else.

    I’m off to see if I can get the Project Gutenberg on my Ipod—-I had just started wondering if I could read books on it and then you said that you do! Hooray!

  19. rebekah says:

    OK, time to ‘fess up. I do love Anne, of course, but Emily and Jane are my kindred spirits. (And Dean Priest is my favorite of all the men in all the books!) Haven’t read them in quite a while but feel a re-read coming on soon. So many many books, so little little time…

  20. sarah says:

    A new Lissa book! I am so happy! And envious of your work ethic. Oh I can’t help myself – I’m an exclamation mark person – I have to add another!


  21. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh, Sarah, that is completely undeserved praise. I’ve been puttering my way at this novel for (yikes) three years. When Scott went back to an office job, we knew my writing would slow down. Those nice long work sessions just don’t happen often right now, and it’s hard to get deep into fiction when you’re working just bits at a time. But these three years have been so very full & have flown by so quickly—I wouldn’t change anything about them. I always think about how Laura didn’t start writing her novels until her sixties. Makes me feel, at 40, like (God willing) there is a luxurious expanse of time ahead for all sorts of books…bet it’ll pass in the blink of an eye, though.

  22. Book Chook says:

    I loved Jane too. When we went to PEI, I wandered around, heart in hand, expecting to find dells and nooks I recognized. I quite liked A Tangled Web, but Jane and Emily and Anne’s tales were my favourites. I also loved Gene Stratton Porter’s books as a teen.

  23. Jenny Schwartzberg says:

    You are dangerous! That review made me go order a copy from Vialibri. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.

  24. Sara says:

    Sigh…I just finished it sitting here at the computer! I couldn’t download it to my ipod, but I could read it in bed by wifi. Isn’t technology grand? But it seems so wrong to have read such a book on a computer—it wants candlelight. And I want a vacation, a whole summer, mind you, on PEI.

  25. Jennifer says:

    Lissa, quick question. Are all of the LMM books for about the same age group? We are reading AoGG right now and loving it.

  26. Islandsparrow says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading over your posts – especially the LMM entries. I feel a bit proprietary about her as I am an Islander 🙂 Your 4 favourites re-reads – Alcott, Lovelace, L’Engle, Montgomery – are also mine. Jane has always been my favourite LMM character. Maybe tied with Rilla. Thanks for the heads up re Betsy books – I’m a retired teacher librarian and I ordered that whole series for my grade 1-9 school. It was such fun to introduce a whole new generation to Lovelace.


    *happy sigh*

  27. GRIN_n says:

    Hey, I never went back to Anne. I actually dislike her a lot- she’s so irritating and ridiculous. I’m an Emily girl through and through. Though, I think Valancy is her coolest heroine- she’s amazing.
    I’m gonna read Jane of Lantern Hill now, thanks! ;D