Emily Readalong: Emily’s Quest

Contains spoilers!

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.

My copy.

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.

Story developments

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 Book

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.

The End

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.

Book Covers

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?

In case you missed it, here are my thoughts on Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs.

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!

Further Reading:

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.

Re-reading Emily: L.M. Montgomery, Again by Buried in Print – “On this rereading, I was most struck by the sense of what matters in stories and why they continue to matter, in Emily’s world, in L.M. Montgomery’s world, and in my own wordy world. One of the reasons that I have returned to L.M. Montgomery’s stories so often is the idea that she cares about nothing happening.”

A Heapin’ Helpin’ of Hygge: My Month of May in Food and Books by Mama Muse Me – “The Emily series is about the making of a writer, so having a season when Emily does not write is almost like having the life stolen from the book.”

35 thoughts on “Emily Readalong: Emily’s Quest

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I appreciate the extra context you’ve provided. I’d like to read a biography of LMM one day. (I read set #5 — must have been from the library about 20 years ago. I also like the set with photographs of farmhouses and lupines.)

    • Naomi says:

      I think set #5 is one of the most popular ones. I see it around in all the used book stores and libraries. I like the pictures of the farm houses and lupines, but I don’t feel like they belong on the Emily books. They are pretty, though – I’m especially drawn to the last one with the full moon – I want to explore that house!

  2. A.M.B. says:

    It’s so nice to see all of these covers in one place! Like you, I admit to feeling really frustrated by Emily and Teddy’s communication skills. But it makes the ending more special. I’m sorry I haven’t posted about Emily since the first month (I’ve been reading along, but haven’t had time to blog about it).

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks the book is better because of Teddy and Emily’s faults! It might be LMM’s finest example of miscommunication! But, although, it seems like it goes on forever, there have been decades-long misunderstandings in some of her other stories. They just don’t feel as painful as this one does.
      Don’t worry about your posting or not posting!! I’m just happy to have you join in! 🙂

  3. Sarah Emsley says:

    What a triumph it is to have inspired Aunt Elizabeth to laugh! And to make her feel that it’s possible to get at the “real truth” through fiction. Even at New Moon, change is possible.

    Do you think it’s believable that Emily and Teddy don’t say anything to each other after the engagement is called off? I wondered about that, given that they’ve known each other so long, and, as you say, there’s nothing to lose at this point. Is the agony prolonged just so the book can be longer?

    I like your point about the difference between Anne talking about “the depths of despair” and Emily experiencing what it really feels like, with the insomnia, the dread of the future, and the absence of colour.

    Thanks so much for hosting this readalong, Naomi! I’d been meaning to reread the series, and I’m glad you inspired me to put these books at the top of my list for this year. Any plans for a Pat of Silver Bush readalong someday? Or The Story Girl and The Golden Road? I think my next LMM-related book will be Budge Wilson’s Before Green Gables.

    • Naomi says:

      I like your point that even at New Moon, change is possible. I think change/progress or the lack of it is a theme in a lot of LMM’s stories, but it’s not always front and center.

      I totally wondered about the believability of Teddy and Emily not speaking after the wedding-that-didn’t-happen! And I wondered at it a couple of other times, as well, along with the fact that Ilse didn’t suspect that Emily was in love with Teddy (what else are best friends for?). I also would have thought that Mrs. Kent would be anxious to repair her wrongs. So, yes, I think it might all be a plot to lengthen and agonize as long as possible. It was the shortest book of the three. I also thought her engagement with Dean went on longer than I remember. It’s probably the most flawed of the three books, but I have to admit that I loved it all anyway. 🙂

      I have actually already been thinking about which ones I will read next! Any requests?
      I’m happy to hear you’re planning to read Before Green Gables. I watched the first episode of the new Anne of Green Gables last night, and would love to discuss the differences between Anne’s memories of her past compared with the story Budge Wilson imagined.

      • Sarah Emsley says:

        Yes, why didn’t Ilse see that Emily was in love with him? She’s clever in other ways. Emily of New Moon remains my favourite of the three books, partly because Montgomery does seem somewhat impatient with the story in the two sequels.

        There are so many to choose from for a future readalong! I might vote for The Story Girl and The Golden Road. I haven’t read either of those since I was, maybe, eleven or twelve. I also remember liking Jane of Lantern Hill. The Blue Castle would be worth thinking about, since it’s the one LMM started writing in between Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. And it’s so different from the Anne and Emily books. I don’t think I could commit to another readalong right away, and I don’t know what your schedule is like, but maybe next winter?

        I was thinking about Budge Wilson’s approach to Anne’s story when I watched the first episode of “Anne: the Series.” Let’s compare notes after I reread Before Green Gables!

      • Naomi says:


        And I was thinking the same thing about The Blue Castle. That’s probably one of my more recent re-reads, but not so recent that I wouldn’t read it again! Jane of Lantern Hill is another favourite. Let’s just assume we’ll eventually get to them all!

        I was trying to determine which book was my favourite, and I would probably agree with you that the first one is the better book, but the one I’m reading at the time always seems to be my favourite. 🙂

      • Sarah Emsley says:

        Excellent! Let’s read them all. My friend Kate was telling me this afternoon about A Tangled Web and Kilmeny of the Orchard, which she’s been reading/rereading recently. I’d like to reread those ones as well. I spent a great deal of time reading Montgomery’s novels between the ages of 10 and 12. It’s definitely time to reread the others, in addition to Anne and Emily.

      • juliae1 says:

        I would be interested to hear what you and Sarah think of Before Green Gables. I thought it was a wonderful addition to the canon, so well researched as to the social background and so evocative of Nova Scotia. This is all very foreign territory to Australians. I always wondered about Anne’s early days. The orphan theme is common enough in books but I always want to know what the conditions really were or how much is invented for effect by the author.
        Seemingly, not much by LMM!
        However, this book was universally disliked by anyone I lent/gave/recommended it to.

      • Naomi says:

        I really enjoyed Before Green Gables. It depicted her life as a hard one before going to Green Gables, but not so awful as to squash her desire to imagine and hope for something better.
        It’s true that LMM didn’t give Budge Wilson much to go on – she doesn’t dwell very much on Anne’s past.

        I’ve been watching the new Anne of Green Gables series (the one with Amybeth McNulty), and it has taken a different approach again to exploring her time before Green Gables. Anne has flashbacks to her time with the Hammonds or at the orphanage, and they’re quite dark and miserable.

      • Sarah Emsley says:

        I was a fan of Budge Wilson’s short stories, so I was really looking forward to Before Green Gables, and I loved it. I thought her interpretation of Anne was consistent with the Anne we know from Montgomery’s novels. The heroine of the new “Anne: The Series” is very interesting, but she’s a different character altogether.

    • juliae1 says:

      I didn’t like that Emily thought it more of a triumph to get Aunt Elizabeth to laugh than anything else … I suspect that does presage giving it up for good once she marries Teddy. He won’t give up his art, that’s for sure. There’s a mixed message here.
      I can’t help wondering about Perry: he was the first to appreciate and value Emily and he never wavers. He wouldn’t have got in the way of her career as he won’t with Ilse. He was rather fobbed off!
      The whole story now feels rather contrived, which is different to when I was a much younger reader.

      • Naomi says:

        I didn’t get the feeling that Emily plans to give up her writing after marrying Teddy. I just assumed she would continue on.
        I do agree with you about Perry, though – I feel like he was too easily dismissed. I loved that he loved Emily for her brain! But I like to think that doesn’t mean that Teddy doesn’t, just because he’s not as vocal about it. 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    I must find some Emily books for my daughter before she outgrows them. I love seeing all those covers – some are decidedly more appealing than others!

  5. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    Again, I have not read your entire review, since I haven’t read the books yet. But I did see your reference to Colonel Brandon, which makes the book all the more appealing. I also love to look at all the covers over the years. I am happy to see that my set (Set #4) is positioned closer to the top than the bottom. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      #4 is beautiful! Wouldn’t it be fun to own them all? But now I sound like my daughter when she talks about collecting all the different Harry Potter sets!
      Haha – Dean’s vigil by Emily’s side just reminded me so much of Colonel Brandon, I couldn’t resist mentioning him. 🙂

      • juliae1 says:

        Colonel Brandon is a more mature character. He has no idea of manipulating Marianne into doing what he wants. It’s too fashionable in the JA world to write him off as stodgy. A man who plans an elopement and fights a duel?? Can’t see Teddy doing that.
        Perry might …

  6. Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel says:

    I must read Emily series one day. I love Anne and I am sure I will love Emily. Thanks for putting up all the different covers. I like the fourth one the best. They are the Tundra editions I believe? I am glad you enjoyed spending your time with Emily

  7. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    There are some beautiful covers in the batch you shared! I’ve never read these books, nor have I read anything beyond the first Anne. Somehow I missed these in childhood, I don’t know why. I really do need to read them someday!

  8. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Awww, I love it so much when Emily publishes the book. I like it when Miss Royal writes to her and tells her that she was right not to take the job in New York. And obviously it’s always nice when the Murrays of New Moon stand behind Emily and get all excited about her reviews.

  9. The Cue Card says:

    I feel a bit old school but I like the book covers #5 down from top (long skirt, white blouse). I will get to the Emily books sometime. Sounds like the author struggled a bit more with these.

    • Naomi says:

      I think those covers are a favourite of many – they’re the one I see around the most. I’m very attached to my own, because I grew up with them, even though I know they wouldn’t be what others would choose.

      • juliae1 says:

        People do seem more interested in the covers than what is between them …
        In the end, I had to force myself to finish the book! I had toothache and the dentist was closed for Easter. Quest was no distraction: it was too sad. LMM is describing a classic case of exogenous clinical depression here — that is, caused by outside influences.
        I think she is writing from her own experience.
        Teddy is the pits. I don’t think he’ll ever get over himself.
        There’ll be room for only one baby in that household!

      • Naomi says:

        Your last comment made me laugh!
        I admire you for being able to read the book so critically, and not holding onto your childhood sentimentality, like I am.
        I think Teddy and Emily’s communication skills were terrible, and they had way too much pride. But I also like to make lots of excuses for it – it being LMM’s fault for writing the book that way is my favourite excuse – Teddy and Emily had no control. 🙂
        Thanks so much for joining in the readalong – it’s been a lot of fun!

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