Archive for the ‘Montgomery, L.M.’ Category

Oh, such high hopes I had for these ones!

Reviews I’d read and the past experiences I’d had with some of these authors led me to believe I’d love these books. But for various reasons, these were the reads that failed to thrill to the expected levels in 2012.

(I’ve read much “worse” books this year, but in all of those cases I had no expectations of excellence, so the disappointment wasn’t so deeply felt.)



In alphabetical order of author’s surname.


1. A White Bird Flying (1931)


Miss Bishop (1933) 

by Bess Streeter Aldrich

A double whammy of disappointment from this author, whose mild historical romances I generally quite enjoy. Both of these books started off wonderfully well, but by midway through each I was thoroughly out of sympathy with the heroines, and their every thought and action served only to annoy.

Laura in White Bird Flying seriously over-estimated her artistic abilities, and when she did chuck her not-very-viable dream of becoming a writer (key requirement: you have to be able to write) to marry her long-suffering swain, she rather moped her way through her not-very-exciting married life in much the same way as she’s drooped through college. Perhaps if she’d dreamed less and applied herself more? A bit of a whiner, was Laura, with a strong sense of her own “specialness”.

Ella Bishop, of Miss Bishop, might as well have been walked around with a “kick me” sign taped to her back. Her continual self-sacrifice buys her a few moments of gratification here and there, and a public ovation when she’s turfed from her job at the worst possible moment, but she still ends up a penniless old maid, having given and given and given all her life with no return from her selfish hangers-on. The author seems to approve. I really wanted Miss Bishop to show some selfishness and gratify a few of her own deep down desires, instead of being such a darned good sport all the way through. This whole story just irritated me. Grrr.

2. The L-Shaped Room (1960)


The Backward Shadow (1970)

by Lynne Reid Banks

I so wanted to enjoy the story of Jane Graham, a very liberated young woman who forges ahead with her life regardless of the opinions of those around her. I should have liked her, I wanted to like her, but ultimately I came away feeling that she was a morbidly self-centered and stunningly rude little piece of work. I pity her poor kid. I couldn’t make it through the second book of the trilogy, and I can’t even recall the title of the third book. Seems to me it focusses on Jane’s difficulties with her child. No wonder; I’m sure the mother-child relationship is as dismally ill-fated as all of Jane’s other relationships.

Too unspeakably dreary.

(However, Stuck-in-a-book’s Simon liked this one a lot, so don’t take my word for it; please read what he has to say, too. Most of his reviews agreeably jive with my own opinions, but this was a rare exception.)

3. Adventures of a Botanist’s Wife (1952)

by Eleanor Bor

A promising-sounding memoir of travels throughout northern India in the 1930s and 40s. In reality, the writing was a bit flat, and not nearly as interesting as I’d hoped for. The author didn’t include nearly enough detail either about her own thoughts and feelings, or about the botanical and geographical wonders of the areas she was moving through. A chore to finish; I kept expecting it to pick up, but the narrative deteriorated as the book progressed. This one could have been so wonderful; a sad disappointment.

4. Pippa Passes (1994)


Cromartie v. The God Shiva Acting Through the Government of India (1997)

by Rumer Godden

A pair of duds from veteran storyteller Godden. Written in the last years of her life, it is apparent that Godden’s stamina is failing in carrying these fictional ideas through to the higher level achieved by many of her earlier books. Moments of lovely writing, but generally not up to the standard I had hoped for from this master storyteller.

Pippa Passes concerns an impossibly gifted young dancer and singer and her trip to Venice with a ballet troupe. Previously sheltered and protected Pippa is ripe for romance – she attracts the amorous attentions of a dashing young gondolier and her lesbian ballet mistress. Unsatisfactory throughout; a sketchy sort of resolution which I cannot even really remember only a few months after my reading. That says it all. Godden was 87 when this one was published; I’m sure she felt tired; the story reads like she couldn’t really be bothered to refine her slight little romantic tale.

Cromartie vs. The God Shiva is also a disappointment, though a more ambitious, better-written story than the forgettable Pippa. A promising premise: a priceless statue of the god Shiva has surfaced in Toronto; it is believed to have been stolen from its niche in a temple alcove in a hotel on the Coromandel coast of India, with a clever replica substituted for the original. Romance, mystery, and tragic sudden death are all elements in this promising but shallow creation, the last published work by the veteran writer, who died shortly after its publication, at the venerable age of 90. Kudos to her for writing until the end, but sadly this last work is not up to the fine quality of many of her earlier novels.

5. The Middle Window (1935) 

by Elizabeth Goudge

One of Goudge’s very earliest published works – it was preceded by a forgettable (and forgotten) book of poetry, and the well-received Island Magic in 1934. The Middle Window is a sort of super-romantic Scottish ghost story, and it just didn’t come off the ground, atmosphere of Highland heather and noble-but-doomed ancestors notwithstanding. Lushly purple prose and terribly stereotypical characters, with a plot both predictable and outrageous in its premise. Some sort of weird reincarnation features strongly. Goudge herself blushingly dismisses this one in her own assessment of her works in her marvelous autobiography, The Joy of the Snow. Interesting only as a comparison to later books, to see how much better she could do once she found her stride. I’d heard it was pretty dire, but I’d hoped the panning comments were over-critical. They weren’t.

6. Mrs. de Winter (1993)

by Susan Hill

Contemporary “dark psychological thriller” writer Susan Hill takes a stab at a sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Some things are best left alone. I wish I could erase this dreary piggyback-on-a-classic tale from my memory. What was I thinking, to read this? What was anyone thinking, to commission this train wreck – er – car crash – of a misguided pseudo-sequel? I hope Daphne puts a ghostly curse on Susan Hill for this defamation of her (du Maurier’s) characters. They might have some issues, but no one, not even fictional characters so firmly in the public domain as Max and his unnamed second wife, deserve to be tampered with like this. Ick.

7. The Honorary Patron (1987)

by Jack Hodgins

Hodgins is a very clever writer, but my own mind couldn’t quite stretch enough to take some of the mental steps needed to fully enter into the spirit of this ponderously gleeful “magical realism” word game. I definitely saw and smiled at the humour, appreciated what Hodgins was getting at with his sly digs and cynical speeches, but found it terribly hard to push my way through to the end. This wasn’t the happy diversion I’d been expecting.  Another time, maybe a deeper appreciation. Perhaps. But in 2012 at least, a personal disappointment.

8. Friends and Lovers (1947)

by Helen MacInnes

One of thriller-espionage-suspense writer MacInnes’s several straightforward romances – no guns, spys or dastardly Soviet plots in sight. I’d read and enjoyed a number of the thrillers, and one of the romances – Rest and be Thankful, so when Friends and Lovers crossed my path I quite eagerly snapped it up, took it home, and settled down for what I thought would be a good vintage read.

Two star-crossed lovers triumph over family roadblocks and challenging personal circumstances to eventually wed. Essentially humourless, this was a disappointing read, and not anywhere close to as entertaining as I’d hoped it would be. The hero was terribly, jealously chauvinistic; the heroine was ultimately spineless where her swain is concerned. I didn’t like or respect either of them by the end of the tale. The author was capable of greater things.

9. Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910)


A Tangled Web (1931)

by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Canadian literary icon Lucy Maud Montgomery has written some wonderfully entertaining books, but these two don’t count among them as far as I’m concerned.

Kilmeny presents an unbelievably lovely, incredibly musically talented, but vocally mute innocent country girl who is avidly pursued by the much more worldly Eric. A brooding Italian foster-brother acts as a rival in love. Aside from the rather creepy gleefulness with Eric displays upon his discovery of Kilmeny – “So young, so pure, so innocent – let me at her!” – the hateful prejudice the author displays towards the “tainted by his blood” Neil is exceedingly off-putting, even allowing for the era of the writing.

A Tangled Web concerns the internal struggles of a large family as each individual tries to prove worthy of inheriting a hideous heirloom – an old pottery jug. More dirty linen is displayed than I am interested in seeing; it could have been salvaged by better writing and non-sarcastic humor – both of which I know the author could have pulled off – but it missed the mark on all counts. I tried but couldn’t bring myself to even like most of the characters, and the author throws in a gratuitous racial slur on the last page which dropped this already B-grade novel more than a notch lower in my esteem.

10. The New Moon with the Old (1963)

by Dodie Smith

Yearning after a book of the same quality and deep appeal as my decided favourite read by this author, I Capture the Castle, I was ever so eager to experience some of her other quirky tales. And I was careful to ensure that before turning to the first page, my mind was consciously emptied of preconceptions and expectations, to be able to give New Moon a fair trial unshaded by the brilliant sun of Castle.

Even without a comparison to my favourite, The New Moon with the Old was not what I had hoped for.  Investment consultant (or something of the sort – I can’t quite remember the job description, just that there were clients and large sums of money involved) Rupert Carrington gambles and loses on an ambitious scheme involving his other people’s funds. He goes into hiding to escape prosecution, leaving his four offspring to fend for themselves with only a recently hired housekeeper to keep all of the practical wheels of a luxurious household running. Never having to have worked, and faced with the need to earn money to feed and clothe themselves, the four Carringtons – aged 14 into the early 20s – make forays into the larger world, taking on occupations as diverse as actress, novelist, composer and “mistress to a king”.  While not conventionally “successful”, all four land jam-side-up, being taken under the wings of various wealthy sponsors; swapping Daddy’s protection for the patronage of others.

I wasn’t so much shocked by the sexual/intellectual sellings-of-themselves most of the siblings indulged in, as by the ready acceptance of the father’s betrayal of the trust of his clients. This is never rectified; a skilful lawyer is obtained to get Rupert off the legal hook, and by the end all is looking potentially lovely in the Carrington garden. Cute characters and funny situations didn’t quite sugarcoat this one enough for me to swallow without gagging. Darn.

Read Full Post »

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1911. This edition: 1st World Library, 2007. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4218-4202-8. 312 pages.

My rating: 9/10. What a delicious period piece. Loved it! Why have I not read this one before?

Beautifully evocative of golden childhood summers in a faraway time. Sweet, but never cloying; the very human children keep it real.


An absolutely charming set piece about a group of cousins and friends spending a mostly idyllic summer together on Prince Edward Island.

The narrator is a grown man, Beverley King, looking back on his childhood, when he and his brother Felix travelled from their home in Toronto to spend the summer on the old family farm while their widowed father travelled to Rio de Janeiro on business. They are to stay with their Aunt Janet and Uncle Alec, and cousins Felicity, Cecily and Dan. Nearby is another motherless cousin, Sara Stanley, living with her Uncle Roger and Aunt Olivia, with a father in Paris. Uncle Roger’s hired boy, Peter Craig, and a neighbourhood friend, Sara Ray, round out the group of children.

Nothing much happens in this book, but the days are nonetheless filled to the brim with interesting incidents. The cousins and friends do their chores, play, squabble and run wild as often as they are able. They are generally good children, but not unreasonably so, and their numerous falls from grace drive the narrative, along with the endless succession of tales told by cousin Sara Stanley, the self-named Story Girl, who has an endless collection of anecdotes from a myriad of sources – local and family fables, legends, fairy tales and Greek myths – something for every occasion. Gifted with a natural dramatic ability, Sara Stanley could “make the multiplication table sound fascinating”, as she does on one memorable occasion.

Observant, restless Bev; chubby, sensitive Felix; self-confident, proud Dan;  beautiful, bossy, domestically talented Felicity; sober, stubborn, peace-loving Cecily; plain, imaginative Sara Stanley; over-protected, tear-prone Sara Ray; self-sufficient, passionate Peter – these are the eight personalities which make up the core group, though other family members and friends – and a few animals – take their part as well. Ranging in age from eleven up into the early teens, glimpses of the young men and women the children will become are very much in evidence, though childhood emotions and interests still hold sway.

Tragic (and joyful) family love affairs, a mysterious locked blue chest filled with a disappointed bride’s prize possessions, magic seeds, poison berries, various “hauntings”, a neighbourhood “witch woman”, reports of the end of the world, a competition regarding dreams, adolescent crushes, a brush or two with death – all of these (and more) serve to add spice to this halcyon summer, looked back on with fond memory by the adult narrator. A few clues as to what the future holds are given – hired boy Peter is deeply in love with beautiful, scornful Felicity; the Story Girl will perform before royalty in Europe – but by and large the narrator stays focussed on that brief time between heedless childhood and care-filled adult life.


This book, along with The Golden Road, The Chronicles of Avonlea and The Further Chronicles of Avonlea, was the basis for a highly successful CBC-Disney television series co-production, Road to Avonlea, which was widely broadcast from 1990 to 1996. I completely missed this one, having by then entered my “no television” years, but reports by L.M. Montgomery aficionados claim that the show departed drastically from the books, both in characters and plot. Canadian actress (and now screenwriter and film director) Sarah Polley played the Story Girl in the series.

The Story Girl is followed by The Golden Road, another Montgomery book which has been on my shelf for some time, but which I have also not yet read – I will be remedying that this winter. If it is as charming and amusing as The Story Girl, I am in for another nostalgic literary treat.

Read-Aloud: The Story Girl would likely work well as a Read-Aloud for ages about 8 and up – there will be some rather long-winded parts here and there as episodes as set up, so you may need to self edit depending on your listeners. A few of the stories are a wee bit gruesome – in one reference a lost child is found the following spring as only a “SKELETON –  with grass growing through it”; ghosts are often referred to; there is a neighbourhood eccentric thought by the children to be a witch – if you are at all concerned over such themes it would be best to read ahead a bit to see if the material is acceptable to your listener’s sensibilities. Many references to and some plots centered on religion. All very era-appropriate. Nothing too extreme, in my opinion, but you may want to preview, especially before starting this with younger children.

Read-Alone: For reading alone, this one is most likely best for older children, say 11 or 12, to adult.

The largest challenge the reader will find themselves faced with, though, is envisioning, or, in the case of a Read Aloud, replicating the Story Girl’s magical talent for tale telling. Good luck! (And enjoy.)

Read Full Post »

A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1931. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1989. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-7710-6160-9. 306 pages.

My rating: 5/10. This one had its moments, but the confusing set-up, generally unlikable characters, hasty and improbable resolutions to various conflicts and romances, and jaw-dropping (in the most offensive way) final few lines kept me from enjoying it to the full. I would not recommend it.


I am very ready to move on with this novel, so this will be the briefest of reviews. (Coming back to add that it got rather long after all. But it was fast to write, so that counts for soomething.) For more, visit the Goodreads page. I am in the minority with my distaste for this book, but it really left me quite cold. I might re-read it at some point far in the future, but right now all I want to do is return it to the library and wipe it from my brain.

Opinionated, critical, near-death Aunt Becky has called a clan meeting – a “levee” – to discuss who of her vast extended family will inherit a prized hand painted jug, brought from Holland as a marital gift several generations before. She proceeds to read her own obituary and lay out some cutting critiques of everyone present as one last demonstration of her emotional hold over the intertwined Dark and Penhallow families.

She dies soon after, and the reading of her will is attended in full family force. But Aunt Becky has one last trick up her sleeve. There will be a waiting period of a year before the heir to the jug is revealed, and in the meantime, everyone had better be on their best behaviour, or risk losing their chance to inherit.

Something like sixty family intermarriages between the two clans have created a complicated network of relatives and in-laws, and the author tosses us in head first. It took quite a few chapters before I had any sense of who was who, and, it was more work than it was ultimately worth – lay this one down at your peril! I did that and had to start all over again to reacquaint myself with the vast cast of characters.

  • Joscelyn Dark has been estranged from her husband Hugh since their marriage night; only Aunt Becky has been privy to the reason why. What happened that night?
  • Sweet Gay Penhallow is engaged to Noel Gibson, but her vampish flapper cousin Nan has decided to steal Noel away. Roger Penhallow has been secretly in love with Gay for years – should he seize this chance to step in?
  • Orphaned, illegitimate youngster Brian Dark is the abused chore boy on his strict uncle’s farm; even his pet kitten does not escape his uncle’s wrath. Will justice prevail?
  • Peter Penhallow has been off roaming the world, but he surprises everyone, including himself, by falling head over heels in love with his childhood enemy Donna Dark, who has been married and widowed in the meantime. Does Donna return his passion?
  • Margaret Penhallow is a mild, plain-featured, un-sought-after old maid who has one great wish. Will she ever achieve it?
  • The two Sam Darks, Big and Little, are cousins who have lived together in harmony for thirty years. Why have they parted ways over a silly little statue and a ginger cat?

There are more situations brewing and boiling over, but those are the main threads, and the resolutions are a long time in coming in this ambitiously-plotted story.

My impression of the whole thing was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep; there was very little chance to get to know any of the characters, and I found myself annoyed at all of them, except perhaps wee innocent Brian, and quietly good Roger.

The final few sentences of the story were what sealed this novel’s fate with me; the author includes a completely gratuitous and blatantly racist and misogynist exchange between the newly reconciled Sam Darks. I will include it here for you to read for yourself. I’ve whited it out just below; highlight it to read it if you feel the desire. They are speaking of Little Sam’s nude statue of Aurora, “Goddess of the Dawn”, which was the original reason for their quarrel.

“What you bin doing to that old heathen immidge of yours?” demanded Big Sam, setting down half drunk his cup of militant tea with a thud.

“Give her a coat of bronze paint,” said Little Sam proudly. “Looks real tasty, don’t it? Knew you’d be sneaking home some of these long-come-shorts and thought I’d show you I could be consid’rate of your principles.”

“Then you can scrape it off again,” said Big Sam firmly. “Think I’m going to have an unclothed nigger sitting up there? If I’ve gotter be looking at a naked woman day in and day out, I want a white one for decency’s sake.”

The End

Yeah. The end for me, too. This is Lucy Maud at her very worst. I won’t dismiss her many other works, because some of them are beautifully written and deeply moving, but this one bothered me in more ways than one, and the ending passage disgusted me, “consider the times” or not.

Read Full Post »

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1937. This edition: Bantam Books (Seal), 1989. Paperback. ISBN: 0-7704-2314-0. 217 pages.

My rating: 8/10. Jane Victoria Stuart is one of the more likeable young heroines in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s repertoire. Great gaps in believability here and there, but overall an engaging tale for romantic souls from youth (say 12-ish) to adult.


Jane Victoria Stuart is eleven years old, and for eight of those years, the years she can remember, she has lived in a huge mansion in Toronto with her extremely wealthy, emotionally frigid grandmother and her delicately beautiful, weak-willed mother. As far as she knows her father is dead. He is never mentioned, except in snidely allusive references by her grandmother to “Victoria’s” tainted ancestry as demonstrated by her “low” tastes – a desire to cook and fraternize with the housekeeper in the warmly cozy kitchen, and a friendship with the young maid-of-all-work in the boarding house next door.

Grandmother makes no secret of her distaste for Jane Victoria – every creature comfort is provided but emotional needs go unfulfilled. Jane, as she secretly calls herself in defiance of her grandmother’s preferred Victoria, shares a deep love with her mother, but open demonstrativeness is impossible – even a glance or a motherly caress is deeply resented by bitter and jealous grandmother, who clings to her own daughter with fierce possessiveness.

The days go by uneventfully, and the future stretches forth relentlessly, until a chance taunt by a schoolmate reveals a secret which has been hidden from Jane by her grandmother and mother. Her father is not dead, but very much alive, and her mother is neither widowed or divorced but rather in a limbo of estrangement, unable to move either forward or back in the restricted social life engineered by the household matriarch.

Jane confronts her mother with the news and asks if it is true, and in one of her rare human moments Grandmother apologizes to Jane for keeping the secret for so long. But now that you know, consider him as dead, she orders Jane, and Jane solemnly and willingly agrees – this man who has abandoned her and made her mother so miserable is best forgotten.

Imagine Jane’s dismay when a letter comes soon after from Prince Edward Island, requesting Jane’s presence at her father’s summer residence over the summer holidays. With great trepidation Jane sets off into the unknown and greatly dreaded wider world.

Needless to say, everything works out, and happy endings abound. But before we get to them there are a number of little dramas which must be worked through, some more unbelievably than others.

A really nice heroine, practical and earnest and well-deserving of the good things which eventually come her way. Give this one to your pre-teen daughters, but don’t forget to read it yourself; mildly melodramatic and ultimately very satisfying.

Might make a good read-aloud, for ages maybe 8 and up. Marital troubles and divorce are central plot themes, as is emotional abuse by Jane’s grandmother, but these are necessary to the building of tension in the storyline. Rather reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess in mood, I thought, including the improbable (but most satisfactory) way everything clicks into place in the end. No loose threads – all neat and tidy! Jane would approve.

Disney made a movie of this one a few years back, which I’ve not seen, but apparently it departs wildly from the original story and is not recommended by aficionados of the book.

Read Full Post »

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1926. This edition: McClelland-Bantam (Seal), 1988. ISBN: 0-7704-2315-9. Paperback. 218 pages.

My rating: After reading Kilmeny of the Orchard, an easy 10, but stepping back a bit, for general comparison to other novels of this vintage and genre (I’m thinking D.E. Stevenson here, I must admit, because I’ve been discovering her light romantic novels these past few months) how about a nice solid 8/10. Will that do, Blue Castle fans? I did enjoy re-reading this one, after a hiatus of many years.


Though often referred to as one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “forgotten” books, the internet abounds with reviews – its page on Goodreads – The Blue Castle  alone has over one thousand reviews, and seven thousand plus ratings. It scores an extremely respectable 4.22/5. This is a well-loved book!

Anything I say here would be superfluous to the discussion; I know others have covered this ground before, often with great eloquence and passionate approval. I’ll put forward my opinion nevertheless.

Montgomery’s stories tend to be full of stuffy matriarchs and patriarchs making life miserable for their cowed extended families; the worm turning sets the narrative in motion and has the reader cheering for the underdog; if all goes well we come to the end with a better appreciation for what makes everyone in that fictional little world tick. The Blue Castle is no exception; it follows the pattern perfectly, and with satisfying results. This story almost defines the comfort read, and I suspect that is how most of its advocates use it, to administer a little boost of fantasy and happy ending to real lives fraught – and whose life is completely free of these? – with anxiety and sadness.


Valancy Stirling is having her twenty-ninth birthday, and her level of depression couldn’t be much lower. Living with her emotionally distant mother and whiny, elderly Cousin Stickles, Valancy’s days are a repetitive round of dusting and duty jobs; the attic chests overflow with the quilts the three have spent their countless hours piecing together, and every moment of Valancy’s time must be accounted for and justified.

Idleness was a cardinal sin in the Stirling household. When Valancy had been a  child she had been made to write down every night, in a small, hated, black notebook, all the minutes she had spent in idleness that day. On Sundays her mother made her tot them up and pray over them.

But Valancy has an even more insistent woe. In a world which values a woman by her achievement of a “good” marriage, Valancy is a confirmed spinster. No man has so much as looked at her with interest, and as her unvoiced desire for love increases with the years, so does her drabness and depression. Valancy is very much on the shelf, an unwanted piece of merchandise, and her large extended family, from her own bullying mother, to her perennially teasing rich bachelor Uncle Benjamin, to her gorgeous, patronizing, engaged-to-be-married cousin Olive, don’t let her forget it for a second.

Valancy’s only escape is into daydreams of a fantasy life.

Valancy, so cowed and subdued and overridden and snubbed in real life, was wont to let herself go rather splendidly in her day-dreams. Nobody in the Stirling clan, or its ramifications, suspected this, least of all her mother and Cousin Stickles. They never knew that Valancy had two homes–the ugly red brick box of a home, on Elm Street, and the Blue Castle in Spain. Valancy had lived spiritually in the Blue Castle ever since she could remember. She had been a very tiny child when she found herself possessed of it. Always, when she shut her eyes, she could see it plainly, with its turrets and banners on the pine-clad mountain height, wrapped in its faint, blue loveliness, against the sunset skies of a fair and unknown land. Everything wonderful and beautiful was in that castle. Jewels that queens might have worn; robes of moonlight and fire; couches of roses and gold; long flights of shallow marble steps, with great, white urns, and with slender, mist-clad maidens going up and down them; courts, marble-pillared, where shimmering fountains fell and nightingales sang among the myrtles; halls of mirrors that reflected only handsome knights and lovely women–herself the loveliest of all, for whose glance men died. All that supported her through the boredom of her days was the hope of going on a dream spree at night. Most, if not all, of the Stirlings would have died of horror if they had known half the things Valancy did in her Blue Castle.

For one thing she had quite a few lovers in it. Oh, only one at a time…At twelve, this lover was a fair lad with golden curls and heavenly blue eyes. At fifteen, he was tall and dark and pale, but still necessarily handsome. At twenty, he was ascetic, dreamy, spiritual. At twenty-five, he had a clean-cut jaw, slightly grim, and a face strong and rugged rather than handsome. Valancy never grew older than twenty-five in her Blue Castle, but recently–very recently–her hero had had reddish, tawny hair, a twisted smile and a mysterious past.

Aha! That last lover has a counterpart in the real world, who shall soon be introduced. In the tradition of all romantic novels, something is about to happen.

In Valancy’s case, the immediate something is her independent decision to go secretly to a doctor for a consultation about her increasingly severe heart pains, which she has kept hidden from her overbearing family. She can’t go to the family doctor, as word would soon be out, so she decides instead to consult old Dr. Trent, a noted heart specialist who lives in the same (fictional) Ontario town of Deerwood as the Stirling clan.

Dr. Trent doesn’t say much during the examination, and while Valancy waits for his return to the consulting room, a phone call sends the doctor rushing away on another emergency. Valancy goes home no more enlightened as to her condition than she was before the appointment, but some weeks later a letter comes from Dr. Trent. He is sorry that he had to leave her hanging, but he has some bad news for her. Miss Sterling has an incurable heart condition, and could die at any moment. She might last a year at most, with extreme care and good luck. In the meantime, avoid all exertion and strong sentiment, and hope for the best. (Those of you with keen eyes will spot a clue in this paragraph. It’s there in the book, too.)

The diagnosis of imminent death sends Valancy over the edge. With nothing to lose, she immediately starts to voice the many thoughts regarding her relatives which she has kept hidden all these years. They are taken aback at mousy little Valancy’s sudden outspokenness. Not sure how to handle her, they retreat into enclaves to murmur “Crazy!”, but by and large they back off and observe her with startled eyes, an improvement of sorts from the previous incessant teasing.

Valancy then goes one further. She decides to move in with a childhood friend who has been a victim of circumstance (summer job away from home, love affair, illegitimate baby which only lives for a year etc.) and is now dying of “consumption” (tuberculosis). The good people of Deerfield have distanced themselves from the sad fate of Cissy Abel, especially since her father just happens to be the town drunk, “Roaring Abel”. The only person who has shown any sympathy for poor Cissy is another social outcast, the mysterious Barney Snaith, who is a reclusive type who lives alone on an island in nearby Lake Mistawis, showing up occasionally to beat around town in his decrepit old car in the company of Abel.

Valancy has only seen Barney twice before, but has been intrigued by his oddly handsome appearance and devil-may-care attitude. Wonder if that means anything? What do you think, dear fellow readers?

So that’s the set-up. (And oops, I forgot to mention that Valancy’s only other emotional outlet in her long, dreary twenty-nine years, other than her Blue Castle daydreams, has been reading the works of a certain John Foster, who writes romantically about the wonders of the natural world. Valancy has whole passages of his works memorized; she has been surreptitiously reading his books for years, as often as she can smuggle them from the sympathetic librarian and past her eagle-eyed mother.)

Poor Cissy dies. The Deerwood townspeople, influenced by the Stirling clan who have decided they need to regularize Valancy’s move to the Abel home by rallying round her, hypocritically show up in great force for the funeral. With Cissy dead and buried, Valancy is now rather at loose ends, and, to prevent having to return to her stifling old life, she comes up with an audacious idea.

And here I will leave you. I’m sure you will be able to make some good guesses as to what happens next. Or maybe not!


Super-sentimental, but with a goodly leaven of outspoken criticism of societal and moral hypocrisies. Valancy speaks out and we cheer her on, wondering only that it took her so long to cast off the shackles of manners to do so. No, that’s not quite right. Valancy stays terribly polite; she merely exposes the sugar-coated – and sometimes blatantly naked – rudeness of the other people who have been immune to comment because of their aggressive superiority.

The plot has some cute twists and turns, and a not very surprising (but perfectly fitting) “surprise” ending.

Valancy’s island cabin to me is much more of a daydream ideal than her lavish Blue Castle in Spain; I sighed a bit over the thought of a cozy, tiny house on an island, with no need to earn an income or worry about the drains,  or deal with obnoxious neighbours or bossy family members (not saying that I have either – oh no! – but Valancy has had them, in spades, so my pleasure in her escape was purely vicarious in that aspect) – anyway – the vision of her island idyll is pure comfortable fantasy and I wish I could go there occasionally in real life versus merely through the escape of reading.

A more mature book in many ways than the earlier novels featuring Anne, Emily and the residents of Avonlea and other P.E.I. environs. It is often mentioned that this was written “for adults”, but there is nothing objectionable which a teen of today couldn’t handle; I’d say age range twelve and upwards would be just right. Definitely a “romance novel”, and could be classified as something of a “girls’/women’s book”,  though the men in my life have read and enjoyed it for the humour and the gently diverting story. Happy ending, in the best fairytale tradition.

And check out this Pinterest page, which I stumbled upon while searching out a picture of the probably fictional Grey Slosson car which Barney drives. Some lovely images collected here which I thought added greatly to this quite charming novel. And look at this lovely cover illustration, found on that page. I thought this was much better than that on the cover of my own paperback copy!

Blue Castle Images – Valancy’s World

Read Full Post »

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1910. This edition: Ryerson Press, 1968. 5th Canadian Printing. Hardcover. 256 pages.

My rating: 3/10. (And I’m being generous.)


Boo, hiss.

I’m going to say this straight away. I did not like this book. If it were authored by anyone other than the iconic Lucy Maud Montgomery, it would already be in the box out in the porch, heading for the charity shop next trip to town. As it is, I will keep it just because I do like complete collections of things, and I have many (most?) of L.M. Montgomery’s other novels and short story collections, but I will not be re-reading it any time soon, if ever.

Oh, this book is so dismal, in so many ways.

Here I extend an apology to those of you who love this story, and see it as a sweet fairytale, and are able to accept it as a product of the time it was written in. That’s all well and good, and I often do the same, but in this case I look at the author in question, see that this novel was published two years after Anne of Green Gables – which is a very different (and much better) book in every conceivable way – and shake my head at the author. How could she?!

In the interests of full disclosure, I did read a number of reviews before I tackled this story, and I was prompted to read this for the Canadian Book Challenge by these two bloggers, Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm, and Christine at The Book Trunk.

Letters From a Hill Farm Review – Kilmeny of the Orchard

The Book Trunk Review – Kilmeny of the Orchard

Nan and Christine between them eloquently present the “for” and “against” arguments, and I was truly curious to see in which camp I would make my home.

Nan, Kilmeny’s all yours.

Hi there, Christine. Is there room for me by your fire?!

Spoilers follow. If you want to read and judge for yourself without my input stop here.


“Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
        But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny’s face;
        As still was her look, and as still was her ee,
        As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
        Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.
        .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
        Such beauty bard may never declare,
        For there was no pride nor passion there;
        .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
        Her seymar was the lily flower,
        And her cheek the moss-rose in the shower;
And her voice like the distant melodye
        That floats along the twilight sea.”

                                  — _The Queen’s Wake_
                                                 JAMES HOGG

Wonderfully promising start with a quote from James Hogg’s narrative poem about the lovely Kilmeny who spends seven years in fairy land and comes back mutely unable to tell what she has seen. So far, so good.

And the first few chapters are quite promising as well. We meet a young man, Eric Marshall, as he graduates from college one glorious springtime day, and we nod and smile at Montgomery’s flowery description of the scene.

The sunshine of a day in early spring, honey pale and honey sweet, was showering over the red brick buildings of Queenslea College and the grounds about them, throwing through the bare, budding maples and elms, delicate, evasive etchings of gold and brown on the paths, and coaxing into life the daffodils that were peering greenly and perkily up under the windows of the co-eds’ dressing-room.

A young April wind, as fresh and sweet as if it had been blowing over the fields of memory instead of through dingy streets, was purring in the tree-tops and whipping the loose tendrils of the ivy network which covered the front of the main building.  It was a wind that sang of many things, but what it sang to each
listener was only what was in that listener’s heart.  To the college students who had just been capped and diplomad by “Old Charlie,” the grave president of Queenslea, in the presence of an admiring throng of parents and sisters, sweethearts and friends, it sang, perchance, of glad hope and shining success and high achievement.  It sang of the dreams of youth that may never be quite fulfilled, but are well worth the dreaming for all that. God help the man who has never known such dreams–who, as he leaves his alma mater, is not already rich in aerial castles, the proprietor of many a spacious estate in Spain.  He has missed his birthright.

And here’s our young hero:

Eric Marshall, tall, broad-shouldered, sinewy, walking with a free, easy stride, which was somehow suggestive of reserve strength and power, was one of
those men regarding whom less-favoured mortals are tempted seriously to wonder why all the gifts of fortune should be showered on one individual.  He was not only clever and good to look upon, but he possessed that indefinable charm of personality which is quite independent of physical beauty or mental ability.
He had steady, grayish-blue eyes, dark chestnut hair with a glint of gold in its waves when the sunlight struck it, and a chin that gave the world assurance of a chin.  He was a rich man’s son, with a clean young manhood behind him and splendid prospects before him.  He was considered a practical sort of fellow, utterly guiltless of romantic dreams and visions of any sort.

Eric has decided to join his father in the family retail business – his father is a successful department store mogul – much to the dismay of Eric’s older cousin, Dr. David Baker, who feels Eric’s talents would be better used if he were to pursue a law degree. But Eric nobly holds out that his father’s occupation is good enough for him. What a good son, I thought. Attaboy!

But before Eric can settle into his life in business, he receives a letter from a close friend who is working as a teacher on Prince Edward Island. The friend has fallen ill, and must take a leave of absence from his position. Will Eric please come and take over the school for the last part of the term?

Eric happily agrees, and off he goes to the Island. He is much taken by the beauty of the setting, and by the quaint friendliness of the natives. The only jarring note is struck one evening when he sees an elderly man and a young man together.

Eric surveyed them with some curiosity.  They did not look in the least like the ordinary run of Lindsay people.  The boy, in particular, had a distinctly foreign appearance, in spite of the gingham shirt and homespun trousers, which seemed to be the regulation, work-a-day outfit for the Lindsay farmer lads.  He
had a lithe, supple body, with sloping shoulders, and a lean, satiny brown throat above his open shirt collar.  His head was covered with thick, silky, black curls, and the hand that hung down by the side of the wagon was unusually long and slender. His face was richly, though somewhat heavily featured, olive
tinted, save for the cheeks, which had a dusky crimson bloom. His mouth was as red and beguiling as a girl’s, and his eyes were large, bold and black.  All in all, he was a strikingly handsome fellow; but the expression of his face was sullen, and he somehow gave Eric the impression of a sinuous, feline creature basking in lazy grace, but ever ready for an unexpected spring.

The other occupant of the wagon was a man between sixty-five and seventy, with iron-gray hair, a long, full, gray beard, a harsh-featured face, and deep-set hazel eyes under bushy, bristling brows.  He was evidently tall, with a spare, ungainly figure, and stooping shoulders.  His mouth was close-lipped and
relentless, and did not look as if it had ever smiled.  Indeed, the idea of smiling could not be connected with this man–it was utterly incongruous.  Yet there was nothing repellent about his face; and there was something in it that compelled Eric’s attention.

Eric shrugs and moves on. That evening, his landlord fills him in on the story. The elderly man Thomas Gordon, a local farmer, and the boy is an Italian orphan whose mother died at his birth. His father immediately deserted and has not been seen since. He was raised up by the Gordons, bachelor Thomas and his spinster sister Janet, but nature is apparently proving stronger than nurture.

“Anyhow, they kept the baby.  They called him Neil and had him baptized same as any Christian child. He’s always lived there.  They did well enough by him.  He was sent to school and taken to church and treated like one of themselves.  Some folks think they made too much of him.  It doesn’t always do with that kind, for ‘what’s bred in bone is mighty apt to come out in flesh,’ if ‘taint kept down pretty well.  Neil’s smart and a great worker, they tell me.  But folks hereabouts don’t like him.  They say he ain’t to be trusted further’n you can see him, if as far… 

Later this same evening, Eric goes for a walk and stumbles upon an old orchard, trees in full bloom. Wandering through the fragrant dusk, he hears the delicate strains of a violin, and, tracing them to their source, startles a lovely young maiden playing ethereal and perfectly in-tune music among the apple trees. Eric thinks she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and eagerly approaches her but the girl gasps in terror and flees, uttering not a word or a sound.

More investigation reveals that this is the mysterious Kilmeny Gordon, niece of the afore-mentioned Thomas and Janet Gordon, and house mate of Italianate Neil. She lives in seclusion and seldom appears in public; apparently she is mute, and also is cursed by being an illegitimate child. Her mother was married to a man, Ronald Fraser, whose first wife was mistakenly thought to be dead; when the first wife showed up very much alive. Ronald abandoned wife number two and went off with wife number one, to die “of a broken heart” shortly thereafter. Kilmeny is born  into an atmosphere of grief and resentment, and has been unable to speak since birth, though apparently her “organs of speech” are normal enough. Kilmeny’s mother is quite a piece of work – sullen and angry at her sad fate, she takes it out on everyone in the family, and I can’t help but think her death, which has occurred three years prior to the opening of the story, was probably a huge relief to all concerned.

I’m going to condense the rest of the story, though you can probably figure out what happens next.

Neil is already in love with Kilmeny. Eric falls in love with her and dismisses the prior claim of the shifty Italian fellow. Kilmeny communicates through the strains of her violin music (Neil, also innately musically gifted by his inborn heritage, apparently only had to show her how to hold the bow and her vast natural ability did the rest) and by writing on a slate hung around her neck. The courtship proceeds with Eric marvelling at this luscious find – a pure, innocent, beautiful girl – all his! Oh, go slow, do not frighten the shy little thing! – and with Kilmeny totally in awe of this handsome, obviously noble, manly man from another world.

And oh yes, the locals all call Eric “Master”, presumably because of his schoolmaster role, but it sounds a little odd in daily conversation, as if it should be accompanied (and it often is) by forelock tugging of the peasant-before-nobility type.

Eric is predictably infatuated with Kilmeny, and persists in haunting the orchard in her company, until his landlady mentions that perhaps it would be nice if Eric would go to Kilmeny’s guardians and mention his interest. “Never thought of that!” says Eric (I’m paraphrasing) and off he goes to immediately win over the dour and suspicious Gordons with his shining goodness and innate nobility. (Neil glowers in the corner.)

What else? Let’s see. Oh – Kilmeny wonders at why Eric is so taken with her – “I’m so ugly!” she moans – oops, sorry – writes on her slate. Turns out that she has never looked in a mirror in her whole eighteen years – her mother broke them all in a fit of pique after her abandonment, and Janet and Thomas have never thought to replace them.

Eric proposes, because despite Kilmeny’s “great affliction” he can’t wait to get his hands on this delectable young creature. Kilmeny refuses him. Scritch, scritch, scritch -“I will only marry you if I gain the power of speech!”

Eric calls in his old friend Dr. Baker, who examines Kilmeny and decides, along with her aunt and uncle, that her affliction has been caused by her mother’s trauma, visited in some mysterious way upon the newborn babe. If a great surge of desire to speak were to come over Kilmeny, she would at long last be able to utter! But as this doesn’t seem likely to happen, Kilmeny and Eric decide to part.

Both mope around, until Eric, unable to withstand the desire to see his love one more time, ventures into the orchard. He passes sullen Neil, building a fence. He sees Kilmeny, and is overcome with grief and sorrow at his imminent loss. Kilmeny sees him, and she sees something else – the hot-blooded Italian is coming up behind Eric with axe upraised!

Do I need to go on?

Voice is achieved. Neil drops the axe in horrified remorse and promptly leaves the Island, removing himself permanently from the picture, to the relief of absolutely everyone. (Poor Neil. He is the one sympathetic character in this whole thing.) The engagement is back on. Eric’s father sees Kilmeny and is immediately smitten with his son’s bucolic sweetheart. Birds sing, etc. etc. etc. and the curtain sweeps shut.


There are so many objectionable elements to this melodrama. The characters are impossibly stereotyped, and the situations are contrived to the nth degree.

What was all the nonsense about Neil and his ethnic “stain”? He was raised from babyhood as a member of the family, but his demotion from Kilmeny’s foster “brother” to merely an inconvenient hired boy is swift and brutal, with no visible consequences except to Neil himself. The xenophobic comments regarding Neil’s heritage come straight from the author, via the mouths of her characters. Nowhere is there any indication that this is a plot device, except for one or two mentions that Neil’s perpetual sullenness is a reaction to the way he is viewed and treated by everyone else in his community. Damned from birth, and by birth.

And poor Kilmeny – she too is damned by birth. Because of her mother’s “sin” – rejection of her dying father’s request for a reconciliation, plus a poor marital choice – the innocent baby is doomed by some supernatural power to muteness. That doesn’t make any sort of sense whatsoever, but all of the characters meekly accept it as a viable reason and a fair enough fate.

Eric’s infatuation with the virginal Kilmeny, and his desire to teach her about love and the world is more than a little creepy, as is his willingness to abandon her because of her “affliction”. I mean, the girl has everything – unearthly beauty, musical ability approaching genius, and perfect (if tiny) handwriting! What’s a mere voice matter when she has so many other sterling qualities and delicious possibilities to offer?

The whole thing creeped me out, and I’m hard pressed to find any excuse for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s authorial sloppiness and moral negligence in this particular effort. It did remind me of some of the more forgettable of her short stories, so all I can think is that she popped it off one thoughtless day and sent it out into the world and had it accepted because of the previous excellence and best-sellerism of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea.

Not recommended.

Oh – one more thing. What is with that awful cover, pictured way above? Kilmeny looks dressed for 1940s’ tennis, but for the improbable shoes. This novel was set in horse and buggy times, dear illustrator – it was originally published in 1910! And she looks like a sturdy, athletic Nordic blond – in the book she is a delicately featured, blue-eyed, black-haired, “fairy child”. Apparently a cover illustration with only a tenuous relation to the text within is not a modern phenomenon.

Read Full Post »