When it came to writing the sequels to her novels, Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery “felt little interest“. According to Mary Henley Rubio in The Gift of Wings, it was “only her personal discipline that got her through the sequels, where her feisty heroines had to be tamed“. “Maud complained in her journals that she could never write of young girls as they really were, very interested in boys and with growing sexual urges.” Considering this restraint she felt, there are moments in Emily Climbs that show Emily’s inner conflict and torn loyalties between the feelings she has for Teddy and her desire to forget about marriage and concentrate on her writing career.
I’ve made up my mind that I shall never marry. I shall be wedded to my art.
When Teddy tells Emily she’s the “sweetest girl in the world”…
Emily thrilled, from the crown of her head to the toes of her slippered feet, with a sensation of hitherto unknown and almost terrifying sweetness – a sensation that was to sense what her “flash” was to spirit.
When Teddy and Emily’s eyes meet at the Old John House, “Emily was never really to belong to herself again”.
I am conscious of three sensations. On top I am sternly composed and traditional. Underneath that, something that would hurt horribly if I let it is being kept down. And underneath that again is a queer feeling of relief that I still have my freedom.
But I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Emily’s writing life
In Emily Climbs, Emily is permitted to go to school in Shrewsbury for the next three years (from age 14 to 17), as are her friends Ilse, Perry, and Teddy. She is to board with dour Aunt Ruth while she is there, resulting in delightful misunderstandings and disagreements. And she has promised Aunt Elizabeth she will not write any fiction for the three years that she’s there, which is an attempt on Elizabeth’s part to break Emily of her writing ‘habit’. When she was asked to give up writing altogether, Emily refused, turning down her chance to go to Shrewsbury at all, knowing that she could not keep the promise. So Aunt Elizabeth softened it to include only fiction, since fiction is the most ‘sinful’ part anyway.
Emily Climbs is all about Emily’s ambition to become a writer. She’s determined to overcome all obstacles to climb her “Alpine Path”. (Sarah has written a wonderful post about Emily as a reader, as well as a writer.) She must write, she can’t go a day without it. And she begins having success with her poems and pieces that she sends off to magazines, most notably with “The Woman Who Spanked the King”. As she begins making small amounts of money off of her writing, even Aunt Elizabeth sees the worth in it and lifts the fiction ban.
The fat, black “Jimmy-book” seemed to her like a personal friend and safe confidant for certain matters which burned for expression and yet were too combustible to be trusted to the ears of any living being.
… it seems to me there is something beyond words – any words – all words – something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it – and yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t reached for it.
Story and character developments
Remember creepy Dean? He and Emily are still close, but the older she gets the more jealous he becomes of her friendship with Teddy…
“Tell that young imp of a Teddy Kent to keep your face out of his pictures. He has no business to put you into every one he draws.”
And her writing….
I think he has a little of the Priest jealousy of sharing anything, especially friendship, with anyone else – or with the world. I feel thrown back on myself. Somehow, it has seemed to me lately that Dean isn’t interested any longer in my writing ambitions. He even, it seems to me, ridicules them slightly… ‘It will do very well for a school essay, but – ‘…
And then he calls Emily his property!
Dean laughed as he said it. But I held my head high. I am not anybody’s ‘property’, not even in fun. And I never will be.
Then there is Mrs. Kent, Teddy’s overbearing and jealous mother (again jealousy). She wasn’t going to allow Teddy to go to Shrewsbury, but Emily found the opportunity to speak her mind. Emily and Mrs. Kent have a little showdown on p. 55 – 58, during which Mrs. Kent accuses Emily of “stealing her son”. They argue about who Teddy will go home with and who is allowed to “command” him to do things, and then Emily tells her she is a “foolish and selfish woman” and that “you will make your son hate you”. A couple of times in the book, Emily mentions that she believes Mrs. Kent to be “haunted” by something. But we still have not found out what her story is.
Even though Mr. Carpenter is no longer Emily’s teacher, she still takes her writing to him to be critiqued. She knows he will always tell her the truth, and that the better her essays are “the more he will rage over them“. He cautions her against too many italics and against writing poetry in the spring. He claims that “spring has been responsible for more trash than anything else in the universe of God.”
I like to think of The Disappointed House as one of the characters, and it appears again in Emily Climbs… hinting of ‘tomorrow’…
I am always so sorry for it – it is a house that has never lived – that has not fulfilled its destiny. Its blind windows seem peering wistfully from its face as if seeking vainly for what they cannot find. No homelight has ever gleamed through them in summer dusk or winter darkness. And yet I feel, somehow, that the little house has kept its dream and that sometime it will come true.
Aunt Ruth plays a big part in this book. Emily has to live in her house and put up with her rules and criticisms and endless sniffing. I think, though, the worst part is her obvious distrust of Emily; she is continuously calling Emily “sly and deep”.
She is always watching me – even when she says nothing – does nothing – I know she is watching me. I feel like a little fly under a microscope. Not a word or action escapes her criticism, and, though she can’t read my thoughts, she attributes thoughts to me that I never had any idea of thinking.
But even Aunt Ruth comes around in the end when Emily is being slandered with malicious gossip. After taking care of the situation she reminds Emily, “Remember, you’ve got a family behind you“.
Incidents, accidents, and gossip
Even in Emily’s day (especially in Emily’s day?) growing up is not easy. Emily Climbs is full of entertaining incidents, big and small, distressing and not-so-distressing. When a boy tries to kiss Emily after walking her home, he gets his face slapped. Emily gets locked in the church one night during a storm, and, much to her horror, realizes that she is not alone. Unbeknownst to visitors, Emily hides in the broom closet so she is not seen in her “ridiculous” apron (she’d “rather be bad than ridiculous”), and ends up hearing rude things said about her and other members of the Murray family. Emily and Ilse’s friendship gets put to the test when Emily discovers, after going to class, that someone has drawn a moustache on her face. After being forbidden by Aunt Ruth to take part in the school play, she takes part anyway then finds herself locked out of the house. Emily and Perry are caught “kissing” by Aunt Ruth.
One of the funniest misunderstandings in the book is when Emily goes to interview Miss Royal at her house and lets in a dog that she believes to be Miss Royal’s. The dog proceeds to behave very badly and neither one of them try to stop it, each believing the dog to belong to the other.
The worst case of gossip in the book is the time that Emily, Ilse, Perry, and Teddy are caught in a snowstorm and are forced to stop and stay at the Old John House overnight. The scandal was so bad that it was destructive to Emily’s social standing in Shrewsbury, and caused her to lose her desire to write.
People remembered that old Nancy Priest had been a wild thing seventy years ago – and hadn’t there been some scandal about Mrs. Dutton (Aunt Ruth) herself in her girlhood? What’s bred in the bone, you understand. Her mother had eloped, hadn’t she?… Then there was that old story of bathing on Blair Water sandshore au naturel. In short, you didn’t see ankles like Emily’s on proper girls. They simply didn’t have them.
Around the time Montgomery wrote Emily Climbs, she had been a victim of her housemaid’s gossip, and felt infuriated by it. In The Gift of Wings, Rubio suggests that this incident in Emily Climbs “reflects Maud’s own sense of victimization” and that she wanted to show “the power of gossip to destroy reputations”.
On the subject of bathing on the sandshores of PEI
I was thrilled to see it mentioned, on more than one occasion, that Emily and Ilse like to go swimming. Once they even caused a bit of a scandal when they forgot to bring their swimming costumes with them and swam in their petticoats instead. (Gasp!) I’ve always wondered why LMM never wrote about Anne going swimming. Surely, she did!
My family and I have been swimming in the ocean at PEI my whole life. When I was young, our family liked to go camping at Stanhope, which is also where we took our own kids camping when they were very little.
We’ve also tried out many of the other beaches around the province at both the National Park and the Provincial Parks. My husband and I took a two-week trip around PEI on a tandem bicycle after we got married, visiting most of the Provincial Parks (and beaches) along the way. And my friend and I took a similar trip a few years earlier (in a car), during which we found ourselves in the same situation as Emily and Ilse – a beautiful swimming spot but no swimsuits. In our case, we were also without petticoats, but, as no one else was around, we decided to go for a dip anyway.
In Emily of New Moon, there is a supernatural element to the story when Emily sees in her fever dream what really happened to Ilse’s mother years ago. This element is brought back in Emily Climbs when she uses her “second sight” to help find a lost boy. I tried to find more information on the topic of LMM and the supernatural, but no luck. If you know anything about it, please let us know!
Emily’s first proposals
Emily receives her first two proposals by the end of Emily Climbs. Whenever I read about these proposals I’m always very glad that I’ve never had to worry about them. I have such a fear of hurting people’s feelings that I probably would have ended up married to the first guy who came along! Luckily for Emily, she doesn’t have this problem.
Here are her thoughts after refusing both Andrew Murray and Perry Miller…
I don’t know which is worse – to have somebody you don’t like ask you to marry him or not have someone you do like. Both are rather unpleasant.
Emily’s big decision
When Miss Janet Royal comes to town from New York City and her literary career there, it is partly because she wants to meet the person who wrote “The Woman Who Spanked the King”, And once they meet, she offers to take Emily back to New York with her – she could get Emily a job and start her on her way to a wonderful career.
Once Emily gets permission to go with Miss Royal, she finds she doesn’t feel excited about it. “I only feel that I ought to want to go.” Miss Royal advises that she’d be a fool to stay, while Mr. Carpenter advises that she stay and keep her “Canadian tang and flavour”. In the end, Emily decides that she wants to stay at New Moon and make it on her own in a place that she loves and inspires her. Besides, “people live here just the same as anywhere else – suffer and enjoy and sin and aspire just the same as they do in New York“.
And don’t we have L.M. Montgomery and all her work as proof of this?
Some good lines…
That is one reason I want you to marry me when the time comes, Emily – I’ve got to have a wife with brains. (Good old Perry – ahead of his time!)
Tell Emily to go back to Shrewsbury and learn all she can – but to hide it and show her ankles. (Aunt Nancy)
I find it not always easy to be sure whether your deeds are good or bad.
… there’s no use trying to live in other people’s opinions. The only think to do is to live in your own.
It’s not only that I love my room and trees and hills – they love me.
If we don’t chase things – sometimes the things following us can catch up.
There isn’t any such thing as ordinary life.
Something to think about: When Miss Janet Royal comes home to Shrewsbury from New York after being away for 20 years, she is more likely to be looked down on as an Old Maid than admired as a successful career woman. In a comment on my post about Emily of New Moon, Juliae1 suggests that this hasn’t changed. What do you think?
Coming in April: Emily’s Quest
In case you missed it, my thoughts on Emily of New Moon
“I Have to Write”: Emily Climbs by Sarah Emsley – “When I read this series for the first time, I’m pretty sure I focused more on Emily as a writer than on Emily as a reader. I was inspired by her determination to create a literary career for herself, to keep writing despite “brutal rejection slips and the awfulness of faint praise” (Chapter 22). Like Montgomery herself, Emily adopts the metaphor of climbing the “Alpine Path” when she thinks about her literary ambitions: “she would climb it, no matter what the obstacles in the way—no matter whether there was any one to help her or not” (Chapter 5).”
#ReadingEmily And The Three Most Influential Words of My Reading Life by Jaclyn at Covered In Flour – “I’ll love this. There are many scenes in the Emily trilogy, which made great impressions on me as a child – but none quite as much as Emily’s first disappointed look around her room in Shrewsbury, her squaring her shoulders, turning to the window and saying those three words in Emily Climbs.”
Slice of Life at Mama Muse Me – “I love how L.M. Montgomery continues the supernatural element from the first book. […] I really like how L.M. Montgomery just hints at something uncanny, but she does not go over the top with the supernatural elements.