So, when on vacation, I always take an ambitious pile of books – a pile I know I will never finish reading, but I bring them all anyway. I love to bring books that are old friends when I go on holiday – books that I can read in a leisurely fashion – returning to old friends in a gentle and relaxed manner.
The Blue Castle is one of my most beloved books. Although Montgomery is famous for her Anne of Green Gables series (which I most certainly love), I am incredibly fond of The Blue Castle and Jane of Lantern Hill. This is, perhaps, one of the earliest “romance” books I ever read, but the beauty of this story is that it manages to be innocent and thought-provoking at the same time. Even though I have read this book many, many times, it never fails to make me laugh, to make me tear up, and to make me pause.
At the age of 29, Valancy is “on the shelf” in old-fashioned Deerwood. An unimportant member of a large and gossipy clan, Valancy lives with her widowed mother and her father’s cousin, and spends her days trying to do what she is supposed to, living by the dull, strict rules of her mother and the rest of the Stirlings. Never in love and with no real possibility of it in her future, Valancy is more or less resigned to a long, boring life that will continue along the same road it always has.
But Valancy isn’t as meek and mild as the clan believes her to believe, and when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she grabs the reins of her own life and begins to do what she pleases. In pre-World War I Canada this isn’t anything too crazy, but it’s plenty crazy enough for her family, who thinks that Valancy has gone out of her mind when she begins speaking up at clan gatherings, purchasing pretty clothes, and sliding down the banister.
However, all of that is just a prelude to Valancy’s real adventure – she agrees to go nurse an old school-mate who is dying of consumption, a decision that changes the rest of Valancy’s life.
My friends, I genuinely love this book. Valancy is one of my very favorite heroines of all time, and her self-discovery is a wonder to behold. She is funny, kind, and intelligent. Montgomery weaves a story around her that is both pathetic and endearing, but never too mushy. She touches lightly on topics that were a bit daring for the time, like Cecily’s unwed motherhood, with grace and an underbite of challenge. This is a book that I have always wished had a sequel.
As a sidenote, I will mention that two of my brothers and my dad have also read this book and loved it. Montgomery has the knack of writing about girls/women in a way that has universal appeal – while womanly, they never come across as “girly.” Valancy, and most of Montgomery’s other heroines, has true grit. While romantic, it is also tough. Valancy is no wimp, and her story is one that is challenging and engaging.
It is a quick, light, happy read, but crafted perfectly. The story unfolds exactly as it should – the timing is exquisite. Every word in this book is precisely the right one for the moment – not a one is out of place or unnecessary. I cannot recommend The Blue Castle highly enough.