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The Blue Castle

May 12, 2020

IMG_3932Lately I read about someone enjoying L. M. Montgomery’s book for adults, The Blue Castle, but for the life of me I can’t figure out who it was and properly thank them for the pleasurable couple of hours I spent with the main character, Valancy. She has a long and gloomy prologue to her story, which worked for me during a long and gloomy time of isolation with no end in sight.

Even though Valancy is only 29 years old at the start of her story, her thoughts are familiar to much older women: “as far as she could look forward it seemed certain to be just the same until she was nothing but a solitary, little withered leaf clinging to a wintry bough. The moment when a woman realizes that she has nothing to live for—neither love, duty, purpose nor hope—holds for her the bitterness of death.” But during the course of her adventures, Valancy frees herself of the expectations of a repressive family and community; she is able to do this because she believes she doesn’t have long to live. The pleasure of the book is seeing Valancy get everything she has always wanted and more.

The sketches of Valancy’s relatives are brief but devastating. I’m especially fond of the picture of her aunt who is “a massive, dignified, permanent lady” and the one who “twisted her mouth so unpleasantly in talking and had a great reputation for unselfishness because she was always giving up a lot of things she didn’t want.” I also love hearing the conversation at a family dinner when Valancy start saying what she thinks, especially her pronouncement that “people who don’t like cats…always seem to think that there is some peculiar virtue in not liking them.”

Valancy ends up living in the woods of the Muskoka region of Ontario with a husband who also loves the woods:
“Valancy thought they were splendidly free. It was amazing to be able to sit up half the night and look at the moon if you wanted to. To be late for meals if you wanted to—she who had always been rebuked so sharply by her mother and so reproachfully by Cousin Stickles if she were one minute late. Dawdle over meals as long as you wanted to. Leave your crusts if you wanted to. Not come home at all for meals if you wanted to. Sit on a sun-warm rock and paddle your bare feet in the hot sand if you wanted to. Just sit and do nothing in the beautiful silence if you wanted to. In short, do any fool thing you wanted to whenever the notion took you. If that wasn’t freedom, what was?”
They can do all this nothing because they don’t have to work. My favorite part is when she mentions something I love when I can manage it on our summer vacations: “sometimes she put her bathing-dress on when she got up and didn’t take it off until she went to bed.”

The best part of all, though, is that at the end of her story Valancy is off to see the world. When “Valancy and Barney turned under the mainland pines in the cool dusk of the September night for a farewell look at the Blue Castle” he says “we’ll be back next summer.” That’s what can make rural life in the north bearable—the chance to be somewhere else during the long, long winters.

Valancy’s story shows how survival can depend on imagination. We may all need that in the years to come.

 

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2020 11:49 am

    Thank you for the review. The Blue Castle has been on my shelves since February 2010. Blowing a bit of dust off and adding it to my May list.

    • May 14, 2020 4:32 pm

      I think you’ll find it a fun and easy read for a spring evening.

  2. May 12, 2020 1:04 pm

    Lovely review! This is on my Classics Club list (I think!) Even if it isn’t, I know I plan to read it.

    • May 14, 2020 4:33 pm

      I think I saw it on your list, but I had no idea how short and easy-to-read it is until now.

  3. Rohan Maitzen permalink
    May 12, 2020 1:51 pm

    I don’t know if it was me who turned you towards this lovely novel, but I did reread it a couple of years ago and rediscover how good it was. You are right about its melancholy opening: I think that may be one reason I hadn’t thought of it as a ‘romance’ until I reread it. Not that melancholy and romance can’t go together–as the book proves!

    I picked my current copy up at a book sale — the same one I would have been at this weekend, I think, if it hadn’t been cancelled. I guess there will be twice as many treasures to find there next year, with so much more time for them to collect donations…

    • May 14, 2020 4:35 pm

      I’m sure you influenced me to pick it up. Sometimes you find the right book at the right time. As you note, the chances of finding the right book are better when you have more books to choose from!

  4. May 12, 2020 1:55 pm

    My survival certainly depends on imagination – my older, chronically ill retirement community cohort will stay in lockdown, possibly for years.

    So many things I would rather go see in person must be visited online, if at all. We also eat whenever we feel like it, and, after trying to get Dining Services not to bring crackers with soup, have become blasé about tossing them as unsuitable even for the birds (who should be out there eating bugs, not waiting for humans).

    In many cases, life is what you make of it – but nobody tells you this. I feel sorry for those relatives you describe.

    • May 14, 2020 4:39 pm

      Yes, I had so many plans for travel in the next few years and now it will probably never happen. I always wanted to go to Italy. Lately I’ve been watching videos of someone walking through Pompeii while filming. A lot of my friends are thinking about “early retirement” but that certainly doesn’t mean what it did last year at this time.
      Valancy feels sorry for her relatives too!

      • May 14, 2020 4:57 pm

        I don’t doubt the virus – and others like it – will be brought under control some day; but it won’t be easy or fast, and a lot of people and things will be lost in the process.

  5. May 13, 2020 7:53 am

    Was it me and my mum that turned you on to this book? I hope we at least contributed! It’s my favorite of LM Montgomery’s books (although Jane of Lantern Hill is ALSO very good, and for similar reasons) — just the dinner scene alone would do it for me, really! Ooh, and the scene where Barney and Valancy run out of gas and they’re stuck on the road and her relatives show up and Disapprove.

    • May 14, 2020 4:41 pm

      I’m sure you influenced me to pick it up (along with Rohan). The portrait of Olive Disapproving was pretty fun, although scenes like that make me uncomfortable, worrying that the character we’re rooting for will cave in to pressure and try to conform again. I was glad that didn’t happen.

  6. May 13, 2020 9:05 pm

    I enjoyed this book very much. And Valancy is a great character!

    • May 14, 2020 4:42 pm

      She is. I will think of her when I think of all the women (real and fictional) in previous centuries whose potential was never realized. It was such a close thing, with her.

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