Many people are familiar with Anne of Green Gables, but Emily of New Moon is not as well known. I’m not really sure why this is… but an article at Literary Hub suggests it’s because “Anne has always wanted us to know her; Emily has never been sure.”
One of Anne’s characteristics is that she is friendly and open, always on the lookout for a “kindred spirit”. Emily is more reserved, watchful, and intent on her own ambition.
According to Mary Henley Rubio’s book, “The Gift of Wings“, after WWI Montgomery was ready to write something more “serious”. She wanted to “show how women had to fight against cultural expectations that curtailed their aspirations”. (p. 290) So she wrote Emily of New Moon, and declared it to be “the best book I have ever written”. (p. 293)
And fight Emily does. She fights against the “Murray pride” and “traditions”, she fights against her family’s ridicule of her writing ambitions, she resists anyone who tries to tell her she must marry rather than become a writer, and she resists the insults hurled at her from her relatives. She stands up to her friend’s tirades, she stands up to her teacher’s ridicule of her poetry, she stands up to Aunt Elizabeth when she believes her to be in the wrong, and she helps her friend Teddy stand up to his mother.
When she is reminded by her father’s housekeeper that she is “not of much importance” to anyone, she declares: “I am important to myself.” The girl has pluck. It’s easy to see why so many readers move on from their infatuation with Anne and fall in love with Emily.
However, after going through my notes, I think Anne and Emily have many things in common.
They are both orphans who have come to live in a home with one stern guardian, and one more sympathetic. And, like Anne and Marilla, Emily is eventually able to win Aunt Elizabeth’s affection and respect, although the battle is a lot tougher than it ever was with Marilla. Marilla seems like a softie next to Aunt Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson – that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups.
Both Anne and Emily have huge imaginations and a gift for seeing beauty. They both love to give names to places and things; Anne had her Lake of Shining Waters and Lovers’ Lane, while Emily has the Wind Woman and “the flash”.
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting world beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.
Anne is decidedly more preoccupied with her looks, but Emily hasn’t entirely escaped this weakness (and small wonder when you read about all the remarks she hears from other people about her looks).
Is it wrong to want to be handsome, dearest father. Aunt Elizabeth says it is and when I said to her, wouldn’t you like to be handsome, Aunt Elizabeth, she seemed annoyed about something.
Emily and Anne both desperately want to change their hair. Anne went so far as to dye hers a different colour (with drastic consequences); and against Aunt Elizabeth’s wishes, Emily decides to give herself “a bang”. But then she feels so guilty about it that she cuts it off!
Most people find both Emily and Anne likable, and neither of them seem to have much trouble making friends. Anne is more vocal about her longing for a “bosom friend” or a “kindred spirit”, but Emily too wants to be loved. It may be, though, that Emily has a more intrinsic ability to love herself than Anne does at first. Perhaps having had a loving parent for the first ten years of her life makes the difference.
Anne likes to write, but Emily can’t do without it. Anne had her reflection and her echo to talk to when things got hard for her, but writing things out is how Emily deals with difficult feelings. During her first couple of years at New Moon, after her father died, she wrote him many letters about everything that happened. When she was treated meanly or unfairly, she wrote long, unflattering descriptions of the offender, or created stories in which she could exact her revenge.
One of my favoruite things about LMM’s stories are her wonderful array of characters, and Emily of New Moon has its share of them. There is proud Aunt Elizabeth and kind Aunt Laura. Cousin Jimmy who composes poetry and is “not all there”. Emily’s “wild” friend Ilse who runs around in bare feet, uses “unladylike” language and doesn’t believe in God. Emily’s artist friend Teddy who has a disturbingly jealous mother. Their friend Perry who is determined to someday be both Prime Minister of Canada and married to Emily. Lofty John who caused Emily hours of agony when he told her she had just eaten the apple he had poisoned for the rats. Great Aunt Nancy who tells Emily she’s no beauty, but with the sum of her body parts, she could “pass as one”. And Dean Priest who rescues Emily from falling off a cliff , befriends her, then makes sly comments about “waiting” for her (he is 35, she is 12 – did anyone else find this creepy?).
Darkness and shadows
Overall, Emily of New Moon tends to feel darker than Anne of Green Gables. LMM writes about Emily with compassion and humour, but during this re-read I was really struck by the ill treatment of Emily by her relatives. And I thought to myself that it’s a wonder she manages to turn out so well. She’s called “difficult”, “spoiled”, “weedy looking”, a child of “very little feeling”, “sly as a snake”, “shameless”, “ugly”, and, worst of all, “stupid”.
But LMM’s heroines are nothing if not resilient.
Another dark shadow that runs through Emily of New Moon is the mystery of Ilse’s mother. Emily’s friend Ilse is far from the sweet Diana Barry. She grew up with a father who has been angry and neglectful since losing his wife when Ilse was still a baby. Ilse is left to her own devices. However, Emily quickly discovers that she makes a fun and affectionate playmate. While visiting with Great Aunt Nancy, Emily overhears the story of Ilse’s mother. The story deeply distresses her and is so awful that she doesn’t believe it can possibly be true, and determines to prove that it is not. This storyline leads to grave illness, nightmares, and dead bodies.
Mrs. Kent, Teddy’s mother, is flat out disturbing. I don’t remember thinking this as a child, but now I find her behaviour shocking; she’s jealous of everyone and everything Teddy loves, including his art, his pets and his friends. She even goes so far as to burn some of his artwork and poison his cats. But he claims she’s as sweet as can be when they are alone. The older he gets, the more he feels confused and angry about his mother’s behaviour. A storyline to watch…
Another storyline to watch as the characters grow older is the tension between Emily and Ilse as they vie for Teddy’s attention. It’s subtle in this first book, but still hinted at.
A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnley a compliment one day and Emily Starr didn’t altogether like it. Empires have been overturned for the same reason.
Even the teachers in this book are a more sinister variety. Miss Brownell is more cruel than Mr. Philips could ever be (he wasn’t really cruel – just a fool). She mocks Emily and her poetry in front of the class. And Mr. Carpenter, who Emily feels intimidated by at first but grows to like, is known to be a failure and an alcoholic.
At the end of the book, Emily has grown older in many ways, and demonstrates this with her decision to put away her letters to her father and start writing for herself instead.
I am going to write a diary, that it may be published when I die.
Bits and pieces
I love dreaming up the ‘lives’ of derelict houses I see when I’m out. I will never know if it’s something that I share with LMM’s characters, or something I learned from them. The Disappointed House…
Why had it never been finished? And it was meant to be such a pretty little house – a house you could love – a house where there would be nice chairs and cozy fires and bookcases and lovely, fat, purry cats and unexpected corners…
When I was young, I used to stare at wallpaper to make it ‘pop’. Imagine my delight when I read about Emily and discovered that she liked to do this, too…
By a certain movement of the muscles of her eyes, which she could never describe, she could produce a tiny replica of the wallpaper in the air before her – could hold it there and look at it as long as she liked – could shift it back and forth to any distance she chose… It was one of her secret joys when she went into a new room anywhere to “see the paper in the air”.
Upon discovering that Emily has been reading one of Dr. Burnley’s anatomy books…
This was worse than novels. Aunt Elizabeth was truly horrified. Things that were inside of you were not to be read about.
As a reader and a blogger, something I can really relate to…
[In a letter to her father] I should not write fassinating again because you told me I must not use the same word too often but I cant think of any other that deskribes my feelings so well.
Some good lines…
It would hurt her with its beauty until she wrote it down.
So many jolly things seem to be unladylike.
I like to hear a storm at night. It’s so cozy to snuggle down among the blankets and feel it can’t get at you.
I can bear it when other people have a bad opinion of me but it hurts too much when I have a bad opinion of myself.
If everybody had always been happy there’d be nothing to read about.
Emily over the years
Like the post I wrote about Anne of Green Gables, I’ve gathered up as many Emily of New Moon book covers as I could find, so we can have a look at Emily over the years. It’s interesting to compare them to the Anne covers – there are not as many, and they are generally not as bright and cheery.
First covers (1923):
I like the second one, with the Wind Woman in the tree. But, how did they make the mistake of spelling Anne without an ‘e’?!
1970s (I don’t know what happened between 1923 and 1970)
Many of the covers show Emily either reading or writing.
The second one here is my favourite, because it’s the one I grew up with.
Once again, I’m a fan of Emily reading/writing under a tree.
Not a fan of the orange-y one.
Hmm… isn’t Anne the one with the red hair?
Which cover is your favourite? And, tell me, do you have a preference between Anne and Emily? Maybe you’re new to Emily – what do you think of her? Maybe you haven’t read Emily since you were a child – have your impressions changed? Let me know in the comments, or leave me a link to your own posts about Emily!
Coming in March: Emily Climbs
“I am important to myself”: Emily of New Moon by Sarah Emsley – “The Emily novels have served as an inspiration to many young women who dreamt of becoming writers, as Benjamin Lefebvre notes in The L.M. Montgomery Reader: Volume Two. He mentions, for example, Munro, Atwood, Margaret Lawrence, Astrid Lindgren, Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Little, and Carol Shields.”
Back to Blair Water: #ReadingEmily as an Adult by Jaclyn at Covered In Flour – ” As I knew I would be, I was immediately plunged back into the world of New Moon, Blair Water and Priest Pond. Most of the reading experience was very similar to my childhood reading of the Emily books – immersive, intense, and altogether delightful. But there were definitely nuances that I picked up on as an adult that completely escaped me as a child...”
Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily by A.M.B. at The Misfortune Of Knowing – “L.M. Montgomery understood this memory bias, giving Emily the gift of remembering her final weeks with her father as beautiful when the “pain had gone out of their recollection.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that I remember the magic of Emily’s vibrant world instead of the sadness. That’s just the way memory works.”
Reading L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Series at Mama Muse Me – “One of my favorite parts of the book is when something supernatural happens; Emily sees something in an illness-induced dream that ends up redeeming the tainted memory of her best friend’s mother, who had been accused of running off to sea and abandoning her young baby and husband. In life, so much is beyond explanation. L.M. Montgomery captures that idea so well with Emily’s dream.”