As a teen I read and re-read the Anne of Green Gables series, puzzled over the brooding Emily of New Moon trilogy, and rejoiced upon discovering Along the Shore and Chronicles of Avonlea–more L.M. Montgomery to be read. When Wonderworks released the definitive three-hour Anne movies in the 1980s, my high school friends and I reveled in Anne teas and Anne sleepovers, swooning over Gilbert and worshiping at the feet of Meghan Follows.
How, in all this Avonlea infatuation, I never stumbled across The Blue Castle is a mystery as deep as Barry’s pond–admittedly shallow, as bodies of water go. Likely my fixation limited my vision to works concerning she of Green Gables. But in the end I came to Montgomery’s 1926 novel (published five years after the last–known–Anne installment) at just the right time. My fifty-first January proved an ideal season for The Blue Castle’s mix of melancholy, mystery, unexpected romance, and reverence for nature in all its seasons.
At twenty-nine, Valancy Stirling still lives with her mother and the aptly named Cousin Stickles. Valancy holds to the unshakable belief that, not only is she unloved by any of her tribe of dour relations (mother included), she has never truly lived.
Two sources of consolation sustain her: The “blue castle” to which, throughout most of her life, she has retreated in imagination. And the books of John Foster, a nature writer whose works resonate with Valancy’s own longing for the beauty and transcendance absent from her own prosaic existence.
On the brink of Valancy’s thirtieth birthday, an inconsequential but persistent heart complaint prompts her to take the bold step of calling on a doctor not stamped with the clan’s approval. But Dr. Trent’s unexpected diagnosis spurs Valancy on to even greater defiance. The consequences–and the resolution of the story–are far different from anything either Valancy or the lyrical John Foster might have dreamed up.
In the early chapters I nearly abandoned Valancy for a whiny, spineless, malcontent. Enraptured Goodreads reviews convinced me to keep going, and I’m glad I listened. Ultimately, it is the need of another that injects Valancy with the necessary gumption to do something outrageous. And when she is ready to act on her own behalf, she does so with nary a cringe nor apology.
I’ve recently been revisiting the Anne series as audiobooks. I wonder if The Blue Castle’s John Foster channels the writer the melancholy Montgomery would like to have been, had not consumer tastes demanded plot and action. Her descriptions–particularly of nature–glow with romance, while her characters enchant with their quirks.
The midstream Anne novels–I’ve most recently read Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars–lean heavily on these charms. The storyline itself represents a collection of extended anecdotes with little plot complexity. Characters and complications are precipitately introduced and summarily dispatched. Not too surprising, considering the vast volume of short stories Montgomery composed prior to Anne.
Perhaps Montgomery’s later works represent her maturation as a writer. Researching The Blue Castle alerted me to a number of other titles that had escaped my notice. Several now figure on my to-read list, including (dramatic pause), The Blythes are Quoted.
This late-breaking final installment of Anne’s story is currently sitting in my online shopping cart. The manuscript was delivered to the publisher on the day Montgomery died in 1942 and only printed, at last, in 2010. If my high school friends and I had known we might have stormed the publishing house to lay hands on the manuscript.