5 Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Like The Blue Castle #ReadingValancy

Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote The Blue Castle in 1924, at the same time as she was attempting to write Emily’s Quest. Unlike the last Emily book, LMM enjoyed writing The Blue Castle. In The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume III: 1921-1929, she writes “I have enjoyed writing it very much. It seemed a refuge from the cares and worries of my real world.” (Feb. 8, 1925) And “I am sorry it is done. It has been for several months a daily escape from a world of intolerable realities.” (Mar. 10, 1925)

When she wrote The Blue Castle, LMM had intended it to be for adults. According to Mary Henley Rubio in The Gift of Wings, she was tired of being pegged only as a children’s author. But it was often treated like a children’s book anyway. As a result, “its mature subject got it banned for children in a number of places”. LMM found herself facing the same unfairness her characters must face. “While she was censored for mentioning an unwed mother (who dies, no less), young writers like [Morley] Callaghan were earning praise for sympathetic treatment of down-and-outers and prostitutes.”

However, she did enjoy much success with The Blue Castle. She writes in her journal on Jan.22, 1927 that she received a letter from Mr. Stokes saying that “they have done so well with it that he wants me to write another similar to it as soon as possible.” Which, I believe, becomes A Tangled Web. (Maybe that will be the next Readalong?)

It’s probably been almost 10 years since I read The Blue Castle, and before that I was in my teens. I noticed this time around that there were several times I found myself wondering why I love this book so much. Because, despite all the reasons I can think of not to love it, I still do. Unabashedly.

5 reasons why I shouldn’t like The Blue Castle, but do anyway:

1) Constant reminders of Valancy’s plain and ordinary looks. And just as many of her cousin Olive’s great beauty.

Okay, I have to admit that I did get tired of hearing about the characters’ looks… I really noticed it in this book more so than the others I’ve re-read.

But… the point is that looks don’t matter. Olive may be beautiful, but she’s a pain in the butt. And Valancy may be plain, but she’s smart and interesting and kind and has earned the love of a better man than Olive will ever find (um, and other people too). And the plain girl turned glowing and lovely in the eyes of a man should make my eyes roll, and probably would if written by a contemporary author, but LMM wrote this almost 100 years ago when it was (presumably) still fresh material.

2) In her post about The Blue Castle, Sarah mentions the lack of ambition Valancy seems to have in comparison to Anne Shirley and Emily Byrd Starr, outside of personal happiness. “Valancy is ambitious about finding love—she despairs that “no man has ever desired her” (Chapter 1)—but while she is a reader, she’s never had any professional ambitions.”

But… Valancy grew up without love. When you have love, maybe it’s easier to focus on other ambitions, but when you don’t, perhaps it’s all you can think about. Her happiness with Cecily and Roaring Abel suggests she wasn’t necessarily looking only for romantic love. As well, it was 1926, a time when women didn’t have many choices; the easiest way to get away from her family for the long term was through marriage.

3) Implausibility. There are a lot of things that happen in The Blue Castle that are unlikely. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

But… this is actually part of what makes it a fun read. The implausibility also adds to the unpredictability of the story. In Rubio’s biography, she states “This book is wonderfully implausible, but readers willingly suspend their disbelief.”

4) Barney seems to get away with a lot of secrets while they’re married, and Valancy doesn’t seem the least concerned. This could be one of the items included in #3, but I wanted to mention it separately. If it were me, I’d be dying of curiosity about Barney’s past and what he’s doing in his secret room.

But… I don’t know what it’s like to know you could die at any time. Maybe you stop caring about secrets and pasts and just enjoy what you can. Maybe we should all try it.

5) The Blue Castle is basically a romance novel, and I don’t normally read romance novels. (Admittedly, I haven’t tried one in a long time, but the ones I’ve tried have not converted me.)

But… As much as The Blue Castle is a romance, it’s also full of truths about people and how the world works. I like to think of every feminist remark and scornful dig at society in her books as LMM’s way of fighting against it all, as well as a way for her to live vicariously through her characters.

As Mary Henley Rubio says in her biograpy, “The book provides genuine insights about how personalities are moulded. It also captures and defuses the corrosive and explosive rebellion in its author’s soul.” And… “The hard-hitting but hilarious verbal exchanges between well-sketched characters expose all of Maud’s disdain for social sham and hypocrisy, and must have left many of the readers of her time gasping for air – some in shock, others in laughter.”

But most of all… I love the way LMM writes. Reading her books makes me feel young again. And like the world is a beautiful place where anything can happen.

 

Some favourite passages…

[Opening paragraph] If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been entirely different. She would have gone, with the rest of her clan, to Aunt Wellington’s engagement picnic and Dr. Trent would have gone to Montreal. But it did rain and you shall hear what happened to her because of it.

“Fear is the original sin,” wrote John Foster. “Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that someone is afraid of something. It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading.”

Isn’t it better to have your heart broken than to have it wither up?… Before it could be broken it must have felt something splendid. That would be worth the pain.

Men had the best of it, no doubt about that. This outlaw was happy, whatever he was or wasn’t. She, Valancy Stirling, respectable, well-behaved to the last degree, was unhappy and had always been unhappy. So there you were.

I’ve been keeping up appearances all my life. Now I’m going in for realities. Appearances can go hang.

But Valancy, between the devil of disloyalty to clan and the deep sea of fuss and clatter and advice, thought she would take a chance with the devil.

It had never occurred to him [Valancy’s uncle] that women had to be, or ought to be, made happy.

The greatest happiness… is to sneeze when you want to.

“Warm fire—books—comfort—safety from storm—our cats on the rug. Moonlight,” said Barney, “would you be any happier now if you had a million dollars?”

We chose November for our readalong because of this passage from the book about November in Mistawis, Ontario (where The Blue Castle is set).

November–with uncanny witchery in its changed trees. With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills. With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes–days full of a fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the grey beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines. Days with a high-sprung sky of flawless turquoise. Days when an exquisite melancholy seemed to hang over the landscape and dream about the lake. But days, too, of the wild blackness of great autumn storms, followed by dank, wet, streaming nights when there was witch-laughter in the pines and fitful moans among the mainland trees. What cared they? Old Tom had built his roof well, and his chimney drew.

Who else could make November sound so good?

 

Other Blog posts  on The Blue Castle (If you have one, let us know in the comments!):

Sarah Emsley: “Going in for realities” in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle

Sarah Emsley/Bethie Baxter: Valancy Stirling’s Inner Life

Brona’s Books: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Rohan Maitzen: My First Romance? L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle

Miss Bates Reads Romance: Opening-Line Mini-Review: L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle

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33 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Like The Blue Castle #ReadingValancy

  1. fayecheeseman says:

    Thanks so much for following Literasaurus Naomi. Loved that the first post of yours I saw when I came over to your site was about LM Montgomery. I’ve been such a fan of hers since I was about 10 and have the Mary Henley Rubio biography on my TBR. I hadn’t heard of The Blue Castle so that’s another TBR title for me… Faye

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I like how you’ve structured this post. It’s great when a book grabs you in spite of everything. I don’t think I ever read this one, even though I read through all the Anne/Emily books plus some other minor Montgomery works in my early teens.

  3. Sarah Emsley says:

    I think you’re exactly right about why Montgomery’s novels appeal to so many readers: they make us feel “the world is a beautiful place where anything can happen.” I loved the book, but I guess I did find the implausible parts hard to accept. Maybe because I’ve been reading her journals, and learning about all the things that stopped her from finding happiness and the kind of professional success she craved. I see what you mean about how those implausible parts can make the novel fun to read, but I suppose I wasn’t quite willing to suspend my disbelief. I’m going to read it again and see what happens this time around. Maybe now that I know just how far she stretches the concept of “reality,” I’ll find it easier to play along with the idea that anything can happen.

    • Naomi says:

      I totally get where you’re coming from. And that’s why I felt like I needed to write about this – another version of me (a voice at the back of my head) kept trying to tell me I shouldn’t be liking this book as much as I do. When I say it makes me feel young again, I suppose what I mean is that my younger self had no problem suspending my disbelief. I’m glad that I’m still able to do so, but also aware that it was harder for me now than it has been in the past. Which I find really interesting.

  4. buriedinprint says:

    You’re quite right: those are all great reasons to not love it. But your reasons for loving it are every bit as solid! And I’m so glad you included that November quote. I’m only reading two chapters each weekday and it’s not even summer yet (in the story) so I was really starting to wonder if I’d imagined that whole November thing, but there it is!

    • Naomi says:

      I decided to let my inner child win out for this read, but I sure didn’t find it as easy as I used to! 🙂
      The October quote is lovely, too, but it’s so much more common to find ones for October.

  5. The Cue Card says:

    I like how you set up this review. Some books you just love despite the problems you might see in it. I can understand that. You’re a true LMM fan.

  6. annelogan17 says:

    haha I’m the same way you are-I love certain books despite their obvious failings, but that’s what makes reading so fun no?

    And books that make us feel young again, also a huge plus! Harry Potter does this for me 🙂

  7. Sandra says:

    Hmm, for some reason I’d been unsubscribed from you. (Probably a cat’s paw on the keyboard!) Put to rights again now fortunately – this post is really helpful. I’ve yet to begin the book but I feel I’ll appreciate it all the more having read these various posts. I think you’ve captured LMM’s writing for me: the world is a beautiful place where anything can happen. I first read Anne as an adult, at a time when that was exactly the message I needed. And LMM has continued to deliver that for me. Can’t wait to start this one!

    • Naomi says:

      I’m so glad you’ll be reading it!
      Thanks for your insights into reading LMM for the first time as an adult. I didn’t know if it was *just* her writing and her stories, or if was also because I read them all for the first time when I was young. I’m glad to know they can make us all feel young!
      I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

  8. Sharon says:

    I just finished reading it. Love it. I thought the ending was a little sad, though. I wanted them to go on living on their island just as before. Barney buying a new car, cutting his hair and dressing respectably also seems like selling out. But I love how Valancy overcame her fear of what people thought of her and seeing how it changed her and even the people around her. I wonder if LMM was also wrestling with her own fears. Maybe writing Blue Castle helped her.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad you loved it!
      It’s interesting to see how her confidence changed the way others saw her and treated her. I loved that she was finally happy with herself and the way she was living, despite what everyone else thought. I do think LMM’s personal life played into this as she wrote it. I believe she was tired of always worrying about what other people thought.
      I found the end kind of bittersweet for the same reasons as you. It’s nice to think of them hiding away on their island forever! But I suppose Barney’s changes come because, with Valancy, he doesn’t feel the need to hide anymore – he’s finally content to be who he is.

  9. ofmariaantonia says:

    I love your list of why you SHOULDN’T LOVE this book, and yet DO LOVE it anyway. You’ve nailed it! (I find Montgomery at her best when she’s creating amazing characterizations. Valancy is flanked by such a wonderful cast or quirky people; some endearing and some showing warts and all!)

  10. Brona says:

    What a wonderful post for this delightful book Naomi! I love your comment about this book making you feel young again – it had the same affect on me. It also made me feel innocence and carefree somehow too.

    The Blue Castle was a lot sadder and meaner in spirit than I remember from the first read a few years ago. That is, some of the characters were sadder and meaner in spirit than I had remembered.

    Thank you for hosting this readlaong which was all the prompt I needed to lose myself in this sweet little treasure of a book again 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I’m so glad you were able to join in!

      I agree – I don’t remember it being so harsh. A lot of her characters are downright abusive. It’s scary to think that was acceptable behaviour in the past!

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