Emily Readalong: Emily of New Moon


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.

My copy.

My copy.

Secondary characters

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

Further Reading:

“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.”

57 thoughts on “Emily Readalong: Emily of New Moon

  1. Sarah says:

    I can’t choose between Anne and Emily, I love them both! I can’t seem to choose my favorite cover either. I’m indecisive tonight. But I do know that reading about Emily I want to go re read them again. It has been a few years since I read it last. I last read it too Mads when she was smaller ☺

    • Naomi says:

      I think the last time I read Emily was at University when LMM’s books were the only ones I was letting myself read, so I wouldn’t be too distracted from studying.
      I can’t decide between them, either. I think it’s possible (and best!) to love them both. 🙂

  2. annelogan17 says:

    This was such a thoughtful review, wow your writing is so impressive! Would it shock you to hear that I’ve never read Anne of Green Gables either-and my name is Anne!!! This is quite clearly a big gap in my Canadian Reading journey…

  3. Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel says:

    I have not read Emily series. I wholeheartedly adore Anne. Nice to read your comparison about both the books. I really need to read the series. I love the Virago covers of Emily. In Anne, The Tundra book covers is a ‘someday-will-buy’ cover for me. My favourite cover among Anne books is the mass paperback one which I grew up reading from the library. It is cheap and small but it evokes such wonderful memories in me.

    And yes, how could they print ‘Anne’ as ‘Ann’ on the cover? I am horrified. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I think I agree with you – the Tundra book covers seem to be more suited to Anne while the Virago book covers seem more suited to Emily. The one I grew up with is still my favourite, though. I’m glad I didn’t grow up with one of the boring or ugly ones!

  4. Sarah says:

    What a feast for the eyes – such lovely covers. My daughter and i are huge fans of Anne, but I’ve never come across Emily before – how can this be? I’ll have to rectify that soon. My daughter still likes being read to occasionally, but that clock is definitely ticking!

  5. FictionFan says:

    I haven’t read Emily either – it’s intriguing that you couldn’t find covers for the 60s, because I’d have been reading Anne late 60s/early 70s, so perhaps Emily wasn’t actually in print at that time. I also find it interesting that the covers keep changing LM Montgomery’s name – I wonder why? Fascinating post – thank you!

    • Naomi says:

      I can’t understand why I couldn’t find book covers for those decades in between, but I’m also not an expert internet researcher, so they could be out there!
      I agree – very interesting that they chose to print varying forms of her name on the books. The older covers seem to be more consistent with L.M. Montgomery – it seems to be the more recent books that are messing with it.

  6. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    I like the Virago cover of Emily under the apple tree. I think it has just the right feeling. Some of the others are too whimsical or sentimental or spooky or “off” in tone or just weird. (The hair and scissors??) I always love looking at covers, though, thank you for collecting them!

    • Naomi says:

      I also find the covers fascinating to look at. I don’t know what they were thinking with some of those covers! Next to my own copy, I also love the ones of Emily under a tree.

  7. Sarah Emsley says:

    “This was worse than novels.” I love it. So nice to see all the covers, Naomi, and to read your comparison between Emily and Anne. I’m reading the purple McClelland and Stewart “Canadian Favourites” edition from the 70s. Interesting to find that the covers aren’t as cheerful as the ones for the Anne books.

    • Naomi says:

      The funny bits of the story are always my favourite – I have to find ways to include them!
      I had a lot of fun digging into the differences between the girls, the books, and the covers. And there’s still so much more, if one had the time! 🙂
      Happy Reading!

  8. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I didn’t know LM Montgomery was trying to write a more serious book with Emily. That makes total sense! One of my favorite things about the Emily books is how self-sufficient Emily is throughout the series, even though she’s facing so much pressure from family and society, and it’s good to hear that LM Montgomery did that on purpose.

    • Naomi says:

      It made so much sense to me, too, when I read it. And I love that she was writing about women fighting against society’s expectations of them. I’m sure she had to do that constantly herself!

  9. Sandra says:

    I thought – for the briefest moment – of saving this review until I’d finished reading New Moon but of course I couldn’t resist and I’m glad I have no willpower on this occasion! For a born bookworm it still astonishes me that I never read Anne as a child, but it accounts for why I’d not even heard of Emily until I settled down to read the entire Anne series. Your thoughtful post hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of New Moon, as I feared it might: it’s simply whet my appetite for more! (And reminded me that I really must write my thoughts about Anne so that I can write about Emily…)

    • Naomi says:

      I’m so glad you decided to read it after all! I think it’s hard to ‘spoil’ these books by reading about them – there are so many delightful discoveries in them, there’s no way someone could write about them ALL without re-writing the book. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying both Anne and Emily. And looking forward to reading your thoughts on both, if you decide to write about them. 🙂

  10. Grab the Lapels says:

    I jumped with two feet into the Anne series last summer, I quickly realized (and could not forget) that LMM did not like writing about Anne, that Emily was the girl she loved to write about and held closer to her heart. Since there’s a lot in common between the two (I haven’t read Emily), it seems like it is difficult to distinguish WHY the author liked Emily more…though perhaps LMM simply hated writing about the same characters because everyone demanded it and she needed the money.

    • Naomi says:

      From what I’ve read so far, she loved writing Emily of New Moon (I think Emily’s story is more autobiographical). But the next Emily book was back to feeling like a chore. I get the feeling she doesn’t like writing about her heroines growing up, and I also get the feeling (from what I’ve read, which is very little) that this has a lot to do with the inevitability of her heroine having to follow the expected (and traditional) path of marriage. I think she felt like the first book was fun to write, but after that she was writing what she felt she was expected to write for her fans, rather than what she wanted to write.
      This makes me wonder what their stories might have been like if LMM had written what she really wanted…

  11. buriedinprint says:

    We have the same copy! I’m still here and there about rereading, but just peeking at your thoughts makes me want to – of course! Meantime, loved the glimpse of the covers. So very different. Even more so than Anne’s variety, it seems…

    • Naomi says:

      Reading other people’s thought about books always makes me want to read the book, even when I didn’t think I did in the first place. In your case, it’s just a matter of tipping you over the edge. 🙂 But, no pressure. You’ve read the books before anyway, so you can still enjoy the discussion!
      Don’t you just love the cover on *our* book?

  12. The Cue Card says:

    I’m new to Emily but I think it’s a fascinating comparison between the two characters. I need to reread Montgomery especially now that I’m in Canada. It’s part of the litmus test here! You have given me incentive to. The book cover I like best is the one of Emily in the 1980s (on left) with her with the book open on her lap. It’s not fancy but I like it. I like autobiographical stories so I will get to Emily!

  13. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I only read Anne for the first time a few years ago, very much as an adult. I have no idea why I missed them as a kid! But I’ve not yet felt the pull to continue on with the series – there are just so many books, you know? Maybe I should try Emily?

    • Naomi says:

      If it’s the number of books in the series that’s stopping you, maybe you’d like Emily better -there’s only three! On the other hand, you could just read the first one, and it would still be satisfying. You don’t *need* to continue with the series. But I like to know what happens next. Which is funny, because I usually avoid series!

  14. juliae1 says:

    I’ve been reading the Emily books since my early teens but this seems to be the first time I’ve noticed how dark they are. Emily could be called an abused and neglected child, at least in the emotional sense. So is Ilse. As for Dr Burnley, he is straight out of Shakespeare in assuming the worst of his wife. I wonder if it’s because I now have a granddaughter that I see the blackness?

    • Naomi says:

      Emily’s relatives are certainly verbally abusive. I honestly don’t know how she comes out of it feeling so confident about herself. And Dr. Burnley acts like a big baby, doesn’t he?
      I didn’t notice the darkness when I was young, either, which is probably just as well. 🙂
      Thanks for your comment!

      • juliae1j says:

        Emily’s father has given her the confidence she needs. His remembered good opinion will always override the others. Shows how important a child’s early life is emotionally.
        Contrast that with Aunt Ruth: I tell you of your faults so that you may correct them.
        As for Dr Burnley, his own self image must be lacking if he believes such ill of his wife with no sound reason.

      • Naomi says:

        I agree – I think the fact that Emily had her father for the first 10 years of her life saved her. I was disappointed that he was so unkind to his housekeeper, though, calling her unimportant and fat. Humph.

        And then Dr. Burnley swings in the other direction and gives Ilse everything she wants!

  15. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    Well, not surprisingly, I am now dying to read all about Emily. I knew this was going to happen as soon as you announced this reading project. I think I never read anything other than the Anne books by Montgomery because I was somehow afraid that another book would spoil my love for Anne. But it seems like this fear was completely unfounded. I will now rectify that and will probably not be able to resist purchasing the boxed set with the cover that’s at the very top left. It would perfectly match the Anne boxed set I got Kid #1 for Christmas.

  16. juliae1 says:

    I’ve finished the re-read now. That last chapter with Mr Carpenter is very powerful. I remember how it affected my own writing ambitions … perhaps it still does. Now I will have trouble waiting till March to go on with the series …. I guess I needn’t but I do run a book group that is studying Daphne du Maurier so I have plenty else to do!
    Besides my own writing …. but maybe I don’t dare ….I might feel Mr Carpenter’s gimlet gaze …

    • Naomi says:

      I love how honest Mr. Carpenter is about Emily’s writing. It’s painful to hear sometimes, but entertaining for the reader!
      I have to admit that I have already dipped into the second book – it was hard to resist. But I won’t say a word until March. 🙂
      Enjoy Daphne du Maurier… Sounds like a good book group!

  17. melaniebett2013 says:

    I’ve always loved both Emily and Anne, but I feel a bit more akin to Emily. Of the two she’s most my kindred spirit.

    However, the Emily books are a lot darker and so I’m introducing my kids to Anne first. We’re reading them now. They loved Anne of Green Gables and we’re most of the way through Anne of Avonlea and it’s a big hit too. I think Emily will have to wait a bit longer. I’m not sure my kids are ready for Mrs Kent, Aunt Elizabeth, and creepy Dean Price or even for the fiery Ilse.

    As for the covers, the second one from the 80s is my Emily, the cover on the books I had, and I can’t seem to imagine her any other way. She seems properly pensive and dreamy, a brown study. And I love the detail of the cat.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s funny how the book we grew up with is so hard to shake. That’s also the way I imagine her, and the grey cat seems just right.

      Anne of Green Gables really does seem better for kids. It’s cheerful and lively and so much fun. There’s lots of time left for Emily!
      Thanks for your comment!

  18. The Paperback Princess says:

    I waited to read this until I had read Emily of New Moon! Worth the wait!

    First time reading Emily and I loved it. I’m not sure I will ever love Emily as I love Anne, and that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that Anne is from my childhood, whereas I’m discovering Emily as an adult. And you’re right about all those similarities – they struck me too. I love what you said about Emily being able to love herself better than Anne. I wonder what I would have thought of the more serious Emily if I’d read them when I was 11 or 12?

    Emily, despite having had her father for 10 years, has such a hard time at New Moon! Her relatives are awful, her teacher is mean, even the kids at school are quite terrible. I LOVED that Emily stands up for herself though.

    Totally creeped out by the Dean Priest leering. What is that about? Waiting to see what happens with Teddy’s mom! She poisoned his cats! DARK. I was shocked at how the story of Ilse’s mom turned out. You can really see that Montgomery is a different person to who she was when she wrote Anne.

    Thanks for giving me an excuse to read these! Looking forward to the next one!

    • Naomi says:

      Yay, so happy you loved it! You know, that’s a really good point – maybe one of the reasons that Anne is more popular than Emily (in terms of advertising and sales and tourism) is because children get into Anne at a younger age and then stay with her. I don’t think as many kids get into Emily at such an early age.

      As for Dean Priest, there’s an interesting section in Rubio’s book about how he might relate to LMM’s feelings about her husband over time. (p. 292 and p. 318-319)

    • juliae1 says:

      Shouldn’t we be talking about Emily Climbs by now?
      I’ve almost finished it.
      Here’s an ongoing question from an Aussie to you Canadians: what are mayflowers? Characters are always gathering them. Does anyone have a picture and/or know the botanical name?

      • juliae1 says:

        Tons of thanks for that …. I’ve wondered all my life — my reading life, anyway. I’ve grown arbutus so can picture the flowers easily, but I didn’t realise this is a creeper rather than a bush.
        As to ‘Emily Climbs,’ I’m now wondering what people think about Emily’s turning down the chance to go to New York to work on a magazine. I think I can see what Mr Carpenter is getting at.

      • Naomi says:

        Being from Atlantic Canada, I’m probably biased, but I’m very happy that she turned down the chance to go to New York! Of course she wants to stay home! And, of course Mr. Carpenter is right! 🙂
        What do you think? Stupidly, I just assumed everyone would agree with her decision, but that might not be the case. I would love to hear different perspectives!

      • juliae1 says:

        I don’t think my younger reading self picked up on LMM/Mr Carpenter wanting Emily to make good as a *Canadian* writer; maybe Emily herself did not see this at first either. Have things changed much for you? They haven’t in Australia.
        Another thing that hit me this time: no woman is considered really successful if she remains unmarried. That hasn’t changed! And yet Aunts Elizabeth and Laura are spinsters.
        It could be, one rule for the Murrays … but is this implied?

      • Naomi says:

        I don’t remember Emily’s chance to go to New York at all from the last time I read the books (probably in my late teens). I do remember the dog story, though – it’s funny the things that stick!
        Yes, Miss Royal’s failure because she was unmarried really struck me this time, too. I’d like to think that’s changed, but maybe you’re right…It certainly hasn’t changed as much as it should. Good question!
        I don’t know if Elizabeth and Laura are considered successful – but they *are* well respected. I guess your family name can go a long way?

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