In The Gift of Wings, Mary Henley Rubio states that “Maud was relieved when she finished the book… It had been a chore.” But you would never get that feeling while reading it. To me it felt like it was written in a whirl of headiness; it’s a page-turner full of high emotions and dramatic plotting. It isn’t until you look at it more closely that you can see LMM’s impatience with the way she felt things needed to go.
Ambition or romance?
Like in Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs, I got out The Gift of Wings to put Emily’s Quest into context before writing my thoughts; searching for nuggets of enlightenment. One thing I learned was that “Maud’s fans were so involved in the story that many wrote her anxious letters, pressing the case for or against the various potential suitors“. “How to resolve this novel was a problem, so she put it aside in frustration.”
One thing Maud found while writing the Emily books was that the tastes of the public were changing. Women were “caught between the old attitude that they should subjugate themselves to their husbands and the new one that they could have independent ambitions for themselves. By the 1920s her books were beginning to reflect this new reality.” I noticed this theme in Emily Climbs with her conflicting thoughts: “I shall never marry” and “Emily was really never to belong to herself again“.
In Emily’s Quest, we see this theme play out even more dramatically. Is Emily’s “quest” her writing ambitions, or her search for romantic love? I found that, with the need to wrap things up “traditionally” to appease the readers, Emily’s writing triumphs got buried, and by the end the fact that she had published her first book was all but forgotten. However, with her turned-away string of suitors over the years, the message is also pretty clear that Emily was not willing to marry just anyone – she’s prepared to live with just her writing to keep her company. There was only one person in her world that could convince her otherwise. Although, with Dean, she had a very close call.
The tone of the novel
In the comments section of my post on Emily Climbs, Sarah, Julia, and I have already been discussing the change in the ‘feel’ of Emily’s Quest compared to the first two books. It seems to mix the old (Emily’s time spent alone at New Moon) with the new (Ilse and Teddy swooping in for fun-filled visits from the big city). And Sarah mentions that it feels like “Montgomery was rushing from one scene to the next, not developing them as fully as she did earlier”.
The other thing I noticed was how many dark, sleepless nights Emily was having. There was a lot of talk of loneliness, bad dreams and bitter nights, and the colour gone out of life. Anne would sometimes speak about “the depths of despair”, but I think Emily actually felt it. Maybe a reflection of Maud’s own struggle with depression over the years?
Despite the change in tone, the rushed feeling to some of the scenes, and the days of darkness Emily experiences, I still loved every minute of it.
I can always get through today very nicely. It’s tomorrow I can’t live through.
Life might, in some ways, be a thing of shreds and tatters, everything might be changed or gone; but pansies and sunset clouds were still fair. She felt again her old joy in mere existence.
Emily’s writing life and how Dean almost ruined it
While Ilse and Teddy are away at school in Montreal, Emily chooses to stay home and write. She continues to make money off her stories and poems. She even decides to try her hand at a novel. Too bad Dean takes all her hopes and dreams and crushes them in one sentence, causing her to burn (!!) her novel. Gone forever. She might never get over it. And for a long time she doesn’t – her interest in writing disappears after the burning of the book and throughout her engagement to Dean. And Dean turns out to be no Colonel Brandon; he may have sat by her side those long months after her fall down the stairs, and she may have felt closer to him than ever and agreed to marry him… but his dishonesty will catch up to him.
We already know what happens to Dean – he continually tells Emily her writing isn’t good enough, because he wants her for himself. Believing that Teddy doesn’t love her, Emily eventually agrees to marry Dean, Dean buys the Disappointed House (which gets him huge bonus points from Emily but none from me), they spend an almost wonderful summer furnishing and decorating it, but Emily tries hard not to look at the ashes in the fireplace and remember her evening spent there with Teddy – which puts a damper on things. Emily eventually realizes that she loves the house more than she loves Dean, crushing him as he crushed her dreams of writing. This is when he confesses that he actually thought her novel was good, and it is when I can start feeling sorry for him instead of angry.
But Dean did know too much. He had eyes that had seen too much. In a way that had been part of the distinct fascination he had always had for Emily. But now it frightened her. Had she not always felt – did she not still feel – that he always seemed to be laughing at the world from some mysterious standpoint of inner knowledge – a knowledge she did not share – could not share – did not, to come down to the bare bones of it, want to share?
Yet she was happy… but a crippled, broken-winged happiness – not the wild, free-flying happiness she had dreamed of.
Mr. Carpenter dies in the first few chapters of the book. It’s sad and comical at the same time – very suitable for old Mr. Carpenter. He makes Emily promise not to write to please anyone but herself, and his very last words are “Beware of italics“.
We finally get to find out the story behind Mrs. Kent. Her part in this book is agonizing for both her and for Emily. We find out why she has felt haunted all these years, as well as the fact that she is the main cause for the years-long, life-ruining misunderstanding between Emily and Teddy. Oh, Mrs. Kent, how could you?! (“It’s madness to love anything too much.”) But Emily is the best, because she is just so happy to know that Teddy did love her at one point, even if he doesn’t anymore, that she is able to forgive Mrs. Kent for ruining her life. As she did for Dean for trying to ruin her writing career. From here, Emily is determined to move on and to focus on her ambitions. She has reconciled herself to becoming the newest “Old Maid” of New Moon.
“I feel in my bones that I shall achieve old-maidenhood, which is an entirely different thing from having old-maidenhood thrust upon you.”
Really, Emily is like a Saint for all she has to endure in this book. Ilse is a handful when she comes home to visit, with her endless chatter and stories about her frivolous life in the big city. First she confesses to being in love with Perry all these years (which is not very surprising to the reader, but surprising to everyone in the book), but claims to have moved on. Then, as Emily fears, Ilse announces her engagement to Teddy. (How Ilse – who has been Emily’s best friends all these years – can’t tell that Emily is in love with Teddy, I’m not sure.) But Ilse does not love Teddy. Emily must call upon all her Murray-ness to get her through this situation. (To find out how all these events came about, you’ll have to read the book – Ilse had a significant part to play in the way Emily was reading Teddy’s actions. But Emily’s pride is what drove the nail in the coffin.)
“Well.. I’ve spilled my cup of life’s wine on the ground – somehow. And she will give me no more. So I must go thirsty.”
I think I’ll just take a minute here to mention Perry, because I think he’s one of the best characters in the book and it’s a pity that Emily shrugs him off so easily. In fact, if not for Perry, this book would have had a much different ending; misery all around.
Teddy and Emily
Emily’s Quest takes place over many years (is it 6 or 8?), and Teddy is away for almost all of that time – going to school, practicing his art, and just generally staying away from Emily. When he first leaves, they are still close and talk about dreams and rainbows, and promise to think of each other whenever they look at a certain star. But after all the communication troubles and pride, they become more distant, and eventually they stop their letters altogether, both of them under the impression that the other doesn’t care. When they do see each other, it’s very awkward and painful. (“Ilse tells me you’re bringing out a book. Capital. What’s it about? Must get a copy. Blair Water quite unchanged. Delightful to come back to a place where time seems to stand still.“)
I admit to feeling angry at both Emily and Teddy; for their pride and unwillingness to be more direct with each other from the very beginning. Their communication skills were sorely lacking! You’d think after Ilse and Teddy’s engagement was off, one of them would say something to the other… you know, just in case… there’s no longer any reason not to… nothing to lose… just pride… but no, the agony continues.
He had gone away two years ago without even a written word of farewell. Would the Murray pride condone that? Would the Murray pride run to meet the man who had held her in so little account? The Murray pride would not. Emily’s young face took on lines of stubborn determination in the dim light. She would not go. Let him call as he might. “Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad,” indeed! No more of that for Emily Byrd Starr. Teddy Kent need not imagine that he could come and go as went the years and find her meekly waiting to answer his lordly signal. (Oh, but, what if she had?)
Emily’s greatest accomplishment in this book is getting her first novel published. But it does not come easily. Her first attempt at a novel is burned and gone forever. And for a while after that, Emily gives up on her writing. But when Aunt Elizabeth is laid up in bed for a few weeks, Emily decides to try to entertain her by writing her a story – she writes a chapter a day and reads it to the New Moon folk. Even Aunt Elizabeth laughs at Emily’s story (Emily counts it as her “greatest triumph”). In pgs 145 to 148 they have an entertaining discussion over Emily’s characters, and even point out the ones they think need to be changed or taken out for fear that their relatives will think they have been put into the book.
There’s more delightful discussion as Emily reads over the various reviews of her book, in chapter 22, with Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy defending it all the way.
Emily smiled. It was better to have won her standing with the New Moon folks than with the world. What mattered it what any reviewer said when Aunt Elizabeth remarked with an air of uttering the final judgment: “Well, I never could have believed that a pack of lies could sound as much as the real truth as that book does.”
I hope LMM had such family and friends in her own corner of the world.
This book is not without its flaws of reason, but that kind of makes it better in my opinion – the anticipation it causes is agonizing. It will be no surprise to any of you that Emily and Teddy are united at the end, but after all that agony of misunderstanding and years gone by, the end feels rushed. I don’t remember it feeling so rushed; I have it blown up in my mind as something much more than it was. I didn’t even have time to cry. Maybe further evidence of LMM’s relief to have it done.
The best part is that The Disappointed House no longer has to be disappointed.
Some good lines…
A thing – an idea – whether of beauty or ugliness, tortured her until it was “written out.”
Oh, it is delightful to feel that you hold happiness in your hand and can hold it out, like a pearl beyond price, to one who longs for it.
The ghosts of things that never happened are worse than the ghosts of things that did.
Isn’t it a pity we can’t have two husbands? One to look at and one to talk to. (Ilse)
The LMM I know and love…
This afternoon I sat at my window and alternately wrote at my new serial and watched a couple of dear, amusing, youngish maple trees at the foot of the garden. They whispered secrets to each other all the afternoon. They would bend together and talk earnestly for a few moments, then spring back and look at each other, throwing up their hands comically in horror and amazement over their mutual revelations. I wonder what new scandal is afoot in Treeland.
Spring and morning were laughing to each other today and I went out to them and made a third.
While going through all the covers for the last two books, I started to notice that most of the covers went together as sets – something that was not as obvious with the Anne covers. So, I’ve put them together (they look so nice!) and ordered them from most favourite to least. More or less.
Which sets do you like best? What do you think about the feel of Emily’s Quest? Do you think it could have ended any other way? Do you have a favourite Emily book?
I’ve had such a good time re-reading the Emily books with all of you. I was thrilled with the response to my Readalong post – I had no idea there were so many enthusiastic fans. Thanks for joining me!
Laura Rereading: ‘I belong to him’ by Laura Tisdall – “Emily’s Quest is not a novel about an obsessive lover getting in the way of true, pure love. It’s a novel about obsessive love, full stop, and it’s clear that such obsession is no less damaging for its being mutual. When Emily is really confident of Teddy’s feelings for her, she becomes less herself – because exercising her true self is defined as writing.”
“She knew that a hard struggle was before her”: Emily’s Quest by Sarah Emsley – “It’s hard to listen to Emily of New Moon, who used to say things like, “I am important to myself” and “I have to write,” dismissing her writing: “Oh, I’m done with that. I seem to have no interest in it since my illness. I saw—then—how little it really mattered—how many more important things there were—” (Chapter 8).”
No Woman Is An Island – Not Even Emily Byrd Starr by Jaclyn – “Emily’s Quest is one of L.M. Montgomery’s darkest books. No sun-drenched picnics with school friends here – Emily labors alone through her days, and much of the book takes place in the bleakest months of fall and winter, matching Emily’s emotional state. Even as Emily racks up career successes – more thin envelopes containing acceptances than fat ones containing returned manuscripts these days – she feels the loss of her friends and her chance at love.”