Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Blue Castle

Montgomery, L.M. 1926. The Blue Castle. 218 pages.

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 because of it.

With The Blue Castle I had one of those wonderful this-book-was-written-just-for-me moments. Have you had one of those? Have you had one lately? It is the story of Valancy Stirling and what happens when she receives some surprising news...

Who is Valancy? She's an old maid, an unhappy woman afraid of living.
Deerwood and the Stirlings had long since relegated Valancy to hopeless old maidenhood. But Valancy herself had never quite relinquished a certain pitiful, shamed, little hope that Romance would come her way yet--never, until this wet, horrible morning, when she wakened to the fact that she was twenty-nine and unsought by any man. Ay, there lay the sting. Valancy did not mind so much being an old maid. After all, she thought, being an old maid couldn't possibly be as dreadful as being married to an Uncle Wellington or an Uncle Benjamin, or even an Uncle Herbert. What hurt her was that she had never had a chance to be anything but an old maid. No man had ever desired her. (1)
When Valancy decides to secretly go to the doctor regarding her chest pains and heart palpitations, she receives--by letter--the news that she is dying. Instead of this news crippling her, she almost sighs a breath of relief.

Valancy did not sleep that night. She lay awake all through the long dark hours--thinking--thinking. She made a discovery that surprised her; she, who had been afraid of almost everything in life, was not afraid of death. It did not seem in the least terrible to her. And she need not now be afraid of anything else. Why had she been afraid of things? Because of life. Afraid of Uncle Benjamin because of the menace of poverty in old age. But now she would never be old--neglected--tolerated. Afraid of being an old maid all her life. But now she would not be an old maid very long. Afraid of offending her mother and her clan because she had to live with and among them and couldn't leave peaceably if she didn't give in to them. But now she hadn't. Valancy felt a curious freedom. But she was still horribly afraid of one thing--the whole jamfry of them would make when she told them. (37-38)
So she decides not to tell them. And she decides to change the way she's living. Decides that the last months of her life should--for once--be lived according to what she wants. She wants her chance to be happy.

"I've never had one wholly happy hour in my life--not one," she thought. "I've just been a colourless nonentity. I remember reading somewhere once that there is an hour in which a woman might be happy all her life if she could but find it. I've never found my hour--never, never. And I never will now. If I could only have had that hour I'd be willing to die." (39)
One of the first things she does--besides beginning to live for herself--is to get out from under her family. She becomes housekeeper/nurse for "Roaring" Abel and Cissy, a 'disgraced' and now dying woman. While there she meets a strange man, Barney Snaith, whom her family does not approve of. But he is charming--to her--and she loves him. When Cissy dies, and Valancy finds herself out of a job and a place to live, she does the unthinkable: she proposes marriage to Barney.

"I thought I'd run down and ask if there was anything I could do for you," said Barney.
Valancy took it with a canter.
"Yes, there is something you can do for me," she said, evenly and distinctly. "Will you marry me?"
For a moment Barney was silent. There was no particular expression on his face. Then he gave an odd laugh.
"Come, now! I knew luck was just waiting around the corner for me. All the signs have been pointing that way today."
"Wait." Valancy lifted her hand. "I'm in earnest--but I want to get my breath after that question. Of course, with my bringing up, I realize perfectly well that this is one of the things 'a lady should not do.'"
"But why--why?"
"For two reasons." Valancy was still a little breathless, but she looked Barney straight in the eyes while all the dead Stirlings revolved rapidly in their graves and the living ones did nothing because they did not know that Valancy was at that moment proposing lawful marriage to the notorious Barney Snaith. "The first reason is, I--I"--Valancy tried to say "I love you" but could not. She had to take refuge in a pretended flippancy. "I'm crazy about you. the second is--this."
She handed him Dr. Trent's letter.
Barney opened it with the air of a man thankful to find some safe, sane thing to do. As he read it his face changed. He understood--perhaps more than Valancy wanted him to.
"Are you sure nothing can be done for you?"
Valancy did not misunderstand the question.
"Yes. You know Dr. Trent's reputation in regard to heart disease. I haven't long to live--perhaps only a few months--a few weeks. I want to live them. I can't go back to Deerwood--you know what my life was like there. And"--she managed it this time--"I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That's all." (127, 128)

Will he say yes? Will she finally get her one happy hour? Will her last months be happy ones? What does life have in store for Valancy? Read and see for yourself in The Blue Castle.

The Blue Castle is all about wish-fulfillment. It's a romantic story full of heart. Highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Laura's Reviews said...

This is one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books. It is a very romantic story and I think very overlooked in Montgomery's fiction.

Becky said...

Laura, I loved it too :) I'm glad to hear you loved it as well.

raidergirl3 said...

I love Blue Castle!
There is a wonderful musical based on Blue Castle that gets produced now and then here on PEI that is fabulous.

Zibilee said...

I've had this one on my shelf for ages, but haven't yet gotten around to reading it. It sounds wonderful though, so I will have to move it up on the pile. Thanks for the great review!

Laura Frantz said...

I'm so happy to find Montgomery's Blue Castle recognized here. It's one of my best loved books and I've reread it several times, something I usually never do. My only complaint is that it's woefully short. But it has a timelessness about it that makes it as fresh for us today as it was for readers yesterday. How can you help but fall in love with a hero by the name of Barney Snaith?!

Bless you, Becky, and joyful reading in the coming year!

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Anonymous said...

I was interested in this book until I read the excerpts. Gack! I'm surprised this was written by the same woman who wrote about Anne and Emily. I'll pass.

Manganzona said...

I love this book. I keep coming back to it and it's one of those you read in one sitting. It's the one I always read aloud to my sister. It is a humorous, slightly guilty pleasure type book with surprising insight into real thoughts and feelings.

Manganzona said...

I love this book. I keep coming back to it and it's one of those you read in one sitting. It's the one I always read aloud to my sister. It is a humorous, slightly guilty pleasure type book with surprising insight into real thoughts and feelings.

rebroxanna said...

One of the best books you have never heard of of all time. Reminiscent of the beloved Gene Stratten Porter by an author equally beloved.