Emily of New Moon and Emily’s Quest by L.M. Montgomery

 Emily of New Moon cover

It was only after I started reading Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery that I realised that I was reading the second book in a trilogy – not ideal, but I did enjoy it. When Joan mentioned that the whole set was available for the Kindle for just 49p, it was a no-brainer, even although I’ve bought hardly any books for my Kindle as I tend to use it for classic books that are free as they’re so ancient.

So I caught up with Emily of New Moon which tells the sad story of how Emily was orphaned after the death of her beloved father. Her parents had run off to get married and more or less been disowned by their families but her mother’s family stepped up to give Emily a home albeit with great reluctance, drawing straws to see who in the family of elderly aunts and uncles would be unfortunate enough to have to take on the burden of Emily’s upbringing.

It falls to Aunt Ruth and Aunt Elizabeth of New Moon to take Emily in. It’s a strict Presbyterian household which means no frivolous fun is allowed and life is grim, especially as poor Emily has to share a bed with her eldest and most austere aunt who even disapproves of Emily writing her stories and poems which are condemned as being lies.

 Emily's Quest cover

In Emily’s Quest she has managed to persuade her relatives to allow her to go to college, but she has to promise not to write any fiction for the three years that she’ll be there. The older Emily doesn’t seem to be quite as charming, she’s grown out of the puppy stage I suppose and has to think of training to earn a living. Eventually she is allowed to resume writing fiction and Aunt Ruth is amazed to discover that Emily can actually make money at it – that’s not to be sniffed at at all. Emily is pursued by all sorts of men but she disappoints her family by turning down her cousin’s offer of marriage – they’re hoping to marry her off within the family as her cousin will inherit New Moon eventually and it seems an easy way to solve the problem of Emily’s future. Thankfully she has other ideas. The idea of cousins marrying gives me the shudders.

These books were a perfect read for me tucked away in my cabin whilst sailing the Baltic Sea which was so flat and steady I often had to look out of the window to see if we were still actually sailing!

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Emily Climbs cover

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery is the second book in a trilogy, I only realised that when I started reading this one but I decided just to bash on with it. The book was first published in 1925 but my copy is a very recent purchase and a Virago reprint. When I bought it Jack mentioned that he thought the cover was horrible. Is that a bloke thing? I think it’s enchanting!

Emily is an orphan who lives on Prince Edward Island, Canada – at a house called New Moon with two of her aunts and a cousin. She has become very attached to the place, despite the fact that her Aunt Elizabeth is a bit of a dragon. The Scottish Presbyterian psyche is very evident in the family. Emily is constantly being told to remember that she is a Murray, despite the fact that her father was a Starr. The Murray family is seen as of some consequence locally.

Emily longs to become a writer, but Aunt Elizabeth thinks that fiction is telling lies so she’s dead against Emily’s writing. Her teacher Mr Carpenter has encouraged her writing over the years but when it comes time for Emily to move on to a high school in nearby Shrewsbury it’s by no means an automatic transfer as far as Aunt Elizabeth is concerned. It would be expensive and she doesn’t really want Emily to leave New Moon and her influence.

A compromise is reached when it’s agreed that Emily can stay in Shrewsbury with Aunt Ruth – another Murray, but this one got married and is now a widow. Emily must promise not to write any fiction for the three years she’ll be studying.

This is a lovely read, I enjoyed being a part of the community and meeting all the quirky inhabitants, many of whom I recognised. There’s a possessive widowed mother who is determined to keep any females away from her beloved only son. Harsh aunts who never give any praise – for fear of spoiling the child, but in times of dire need they’re on your side against the world. I felt such an affinity with Emily who is a book lover and a tree lover, she wrote:

“Trees have as much individuality as human beings. Not even two spruces are alike. There is always some kink or bend of bough to single each one out from its fellows. Some trees love to grow sociably together, their branches twining like Ilse and me with our arms about each other, whispering interminably of their secrets. Then there are more exclusive groups of four or five – clan Murray trees; and there are hermits of trees who choose to stand apart in solitary state and who hold the commune only with the winds of heaven. Yet these trees are often the best worth knowing. One feels it is more of a triumph to win their confidence than that of easier trees.”

L.M. Montgomery’s Scottish roots are very much in evidence in this book. There’s also a lot of comedy – and I needed that!

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle cover

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery was first published in 1926. By 1920 Montgomery had tired of writing about Anne of Green Gables and started writing various other series and stand alone books.

I loved The Blue Castle. The main character is Valancy Stirling a 29 year old woman who has never been valued by her family. Valancy committed the terrible sin of being born female instead of the boy her mother wanted, so being a disappointment to her mother from the beginning Valancy becomes the family whipping girl, valued and loved by nobody. Her father had died when she was a baby and her mother is an overbearing tyrant who won’t even allow her daughter to have a minute of time to herself. When Valancy goes to her spartan bedroom to fetch something her mother and aunt are shouting at her to come downstairs again, she must be darning and mending all day if possible, unless she’s in town running errands (messages) for the extended family. She has no nice clothes and one of her aunts has decreed that she must wear her hair in a particular old fashioned pompadour style which does nothing for her looks. The one thing she is happy about is her name – Valancy, but the family insist in calling her Doss. Apart from being born a girl she has also failed to get a husband, unlike her pretty cousin Olive who is the family golden girl.

To begin with I was quite sure that the Stirlings must be a Presbyterian family, everything about them is miserable and harsh. So I was surprised when they were described as being Anglican, I suspect that that was to avoid any trouble from the Presbyterians as Montgomery was married to a Presbyterian minister. The setting is of course Canada.

Valancy has no life at all and the only time she is allowed any time to herself is at bedtime, so she has built a fantasy life for herself in her dream home called The Blue Castle, it’s her imaginary home in Spain and it’s the only bit of joy she has in life. ‘Everything wonderful and beautiful was in that castle. Jewels that queens might have worn; robes of moonlight and fire; couches of roses and gold; long flights of shallow marble steps, with great white urns, and with slender mist clad maidens going up and down them; courts marble pillared where shimmering fountains fell and nightingales sang among the myrtles; halls of mirrors that reflected only handsome knights and lovely women, – herself the loveliest of them all, for whose glance men died.’

For quite a wee while Valancy had been worried that her heart was behaving oddly and it was getting worse. She plucks up courage to go to a local doctor about it, not the doctor that her family normally uses. The prognosis that she eventually gets from him spurs her on to begin to live her life for herself, much to the horror of her family who think that she has gone mad when she begins to answer her mother back instead of meekly doing everything she is told.

Being true to herself turns her whole life around, which was quite predictable but for me anyway there was an unexpected twist. I’m now looking forward to reading some more of Montgomery’s non Anne of Green Gables books.

It seems that Montgomery herself had a sad life, suffering from bouts of depression and having a husband who was also suffering from mental health problems. Her Blue Castle must have been the books that she wrote, taking herself out of the difficult situation and escaping from her duties as a minister’s wife. I suspect that most of you have already read this book but in case you haven’t and you want to give it a go you can read it here.

Not for the first time I find myself being quite thankful for the rigid discipline of Scottish Presbyterianism because it does have a wonderful effect on the imagination of those who have had it inflicted upon them. Without it we wouldn’t have had Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, George MacDonald’s books and many more children’s classic tales as well as Anne of Green Gables of course.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

I downloaded Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery from Manybooks you can get it free here.

The book was first published in 1939 and the Rilla in the title is of course the daughter of Anne of Anne of Green Gables fame. Rilla is the youngest of Anne and Gilbert’s children, she’s just 15 when the story begins and she’s looking forward to her first adult dance.

It’s not long before the outside world bursts in on the inhabitants of Prince Edward Island, in the shape of World War 1 and Rilla has to grow up fast, being catapulted into a life of Red Cross classes and war work and even ends up caring for a new born baby whose mother died in childbirth. Rilla had never even touched a baby before, never wanted to but she just had to get on with it.

Worse than anything though was having to give up her brothers and all the other young men she had grown up with. The locals soon all became experts in the geography and politics of Europe and life revolved around the newspaper reports of battles in previously unheard of places.

What struck me though was how Scottish it all was. One brother is always talking about hearing the piper coming to take him away, the family dog is doing a good impression of Greyfriar’s Bobby, their speech is liberally sprinkled with ‘wee’ and various other Scottish words, and of course it’s just full of Scottish names. There are locals who are Gaelic speakers.
Inevitably this book is sad in parts but if you’ve enjoyed L.M. Montgomery’s books in the past you’ll want to read this one.

The Canadians who were desperate to join up in 1914 and help the ‘old country’ in its time of need had a tough time of it and so many of them never got back. If you visit the Somme today you will find that there is a part of the battlefield which is forever Canada/Newfoundland and is looked after by a great band of young Canadians who show people around that part of the Somme which has been preserved as a memorial and to help future generations understand what it was like. When we were there we were shown around by a young woman called Aloma Jardine – another Scottish surname of course. You can see what it looks like today here.

I think it’s significant that Montgomery didn’t write this book until 1939, I’m assuming that it was a subject which was too painful to write about until then and the prospect of another war brought it all back. I decided to read it this year as part of my own commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War.

Guardian Review Articles

I must admit that I’ve never read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I suppose I should have by now, but I’ve always thought it might be a bit too sad. If you are one of the many who have read it then you’ll be interested in this week’s Guardian review. As it’s the 50th anniversary of Plath’s death they have asked writers and poets to reflect on what her work means to them. You can read it here.

Elsewhere in the Guardian review there’s an article by bibliotherapists who explain the power of books to change your mood. If you’re interested have a look here.

And if it’s more about Jane Austen that you’re after you might like to take a look at the article headed Sensational,exotic,dramatic – in which Simon Callow writes about the new biography titled The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.

Lastly, have you heard that they’ve given Anne of Green Gables a make-over and she’s now a blonde!! Have a look at this article about it. As a redhead myself I’m not a happy bunny. Not only blonde but she now apparently has bedroom eyes. For goodness sake – she was a wee girl with red hair and freckles, and her appearance is quite a large party of the stories, why should she be dipped in bleach and sexed up. It’s sick.