The Emily Trilogy // by L.M. Montgomery

  • Emily of New Moon
  • Emily Climbs
  • Emily’s Quest

Please note:  There will definitely be spoilers for these books in this review.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables and its sequels back when I was but a young’un, I read several of Montgomery’s other books as well, but Mom told me not to bother with the Emily books.  “They’re depressing,” she said, which was enough to keep turned off of them because, as those you who have been with me for a while well know, I don’t do depressing in my fictional life!  But recently a group on Litsy read through the Anne books together.  I had just reread them last year, so I didn’t join along, but that group had such a nice time with Anne that they decided to continue through some of Montgomery’s other books, starting with Emily.  And I thought to myself, I’m 38 years old, so maybe it’s time to go ahead and give these a try!  But in the end, while I’m glad I gave them a read, I didn’t really like them very well.  Much as it pains me to do so, this group of books barely rated 3* altogether, and I really had to drag myself through Emily’s Quest.

There are several parallels between Emily and Anne, and the two heroines frequently are compared to each other.  Both are orphaned at a young age, both are spirited and imaginative, both are ambitious and independent.  But while Anne is full of optimism and hope, Emily is pessimistic and always expecting the worst.  And maybe she has a good reason to do so – nothing ever seems to go Emily’s way.  While Anne’s initial situation with Marilla and Matthew seems unlikely to lead to her happiness, both of those characters soften and adjust to Anne’s rambunctious “scrapes,” they’re proud of her intelligence, and they encourage her to pursue her education and ambition.  Emily, on the other hand, is reluctantly taken in by relatives – Aunt Elizabeth, who “rules the roost;” Aunt Laura, who is sympathetic but weak; and Cousin Jimmy, who does all the hard work on the farm, but was accidentally pushed down a well as a child by Elizabeth and injured his head, meaning he’s “childlike”, despite the fact that he never does or says anything that remotely makes him seem like he’s not a competent adult, meaning I spent most of the book being confused about why everyone always refers to him as “slow” and incapable of taking care of himself.  Elizabeth is absolutely a dreadful person throughout the majority of series – she finally softens a VERY SMALL AMOUNT by book three – who never takes even half a second to consider anyone’s perspective but her own.  Time and again she willfully misunderstands and misconstrues Emily, stifling every spark of individuality that she can in a way that was painful to read.  Where Anne is surrounded, for the most part, by adults who love, cherish, and encourage her, Emily is surrounded by adults who tear her down and suppress her at every opportunity.

Part way through the first book Emily makes the acquaintance of a man named Dean.  We’re told that Dean is in his 30s (Emily is only around 12 at the time), but he basically decides that Emily “belongs” to him and there are many hints from him that he plans to marry her as soon as she’s old enough.  They become very good friends, including writing letters while he is traveling other places (where are you now, Aunt Elizabeth?!), and the whole relationship is SUPER SUPER CREEPY.  He’s so possessive and weird, with a lot of his conversations verging on grooming.  It was genuinely disturbing, especially since it wasn’t just Dean – while in the Anne books, all the children tease about “liking” each other, there is nothing serious and no genuine romantic hints until the characters are in their later teens.  But in Emily, even while she’s only 10 or 11, the adults in her life are constantly asking her (very seriously, not joking) about who she is going to marry, and frequently referring to her in physical descriptions that made me honestly somewhat uncomfortable.  (Things like being “well-formed” for her age, or talking about how gracefully she moves, like someone much older than she is, that kind of thing – not overtly sexual, but weird within the context.)

Things were slightly better in book 2 – it was my favorite of the three (which isn’t saying much, but still).  Emily is forbidden to continue her education via Queens, where she could earn a teaching certificate (as Anne & co. did), because “Murray women don’t need to earn a living.”  Throughout book 1, Emily writes constantly and is passionate about becoming a published writer someday.  Through a bit of family bargaining, Emily is allowed to attend high school in a nearby larger town, where she stays with another aunt, who, if anything, is even stupider and less imaginative than Aunt Elizabeth.  Still, there are some fun school shenanigans, and Emily actually gets to have some experiences that match her age.  Throughout, she continues to develop her writing and is still determined to forward herself – but at the end of the story, when she has an opportunity to actually go forth unto the world and really seize that ambition, she turns it down and decides to return to New Moon instead.  This decision made literally no sense to me within the context of Emily’s character, and that was part of my problem with this entire series.  We’re repeatedly told that Emily is ambitious and determined to make a living from her writing, yet she does almost nothing to actually develop her skills, and turns down chances to go out into the wider world and have experiences that would actually help her accomplish her goal.  You all know me, you know that I’m all about staying home and not being crazy, but for Emily herself, Montgomery’s decision to have her turn down this big opportunity just didn’t make any sense to me.

Basically, throughout the entire series, every time something good happens to Emily, there’s some big dose of bitterness to go with it.  She doesn’t have anything happy happen without the other shoe dropping.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And while Anne has an extremely well-developed sense of humor that frequently sees her through her difficult times, Emily spends a LOT of time crying and sighing and writing all about her hurt little feelings, and she really got on my nerves.

Finally, I got to book 3.  (Warning: Spoilery rant ahead, as I actually really disliked this book A LOT.)  Emily is close to 20 now, and living back at New Moon with relatives who still don’t really understand her, but are more willing to let her live her writing life.  She even has some stuff published.  But even though we’ve been told repeatedly that Emily is super ambitious and yearning to “climb the alpine path” to glory, we actually spend ALL of book 3 watching her make bad decisions about men.  A LOT.  Basically, Emily is in love with Teddy and Teddy is in love with Emily, but they literally can’t get their act together and constantly misunderstand and misconstrue each other, then Emily gets in a snit goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months until he comes back and she’s like, Oh he likes me after all! And then she misunderstands something he says/does so then she goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  It was SO BORING.  In the middle of all that, she gives up on Teddy and agrees to marry freaking CREEPY DEAN who has still been hanging around over the years and he’s all like “At last!  I knew you belonged to me!” and they make all these wedding plans and buy a house and furnish it and blah blah blah then Emily has a dream and realizes that actually Teddy is the only man for her!  And finally breaks up with Dean but IN THE MEANTIME freaking CREEPY DEAN has convinced Emily that the beautiful book that she poured her soul into was actually garbage and because she TRUSTS HIM she BURNS HER BOOK and then later he confesses that actually it was fantastic, but he was JEALOUS OF HER WRITING so he told it was garbage because he didn’t want her to be successful! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  And you would think that AT LEAST this would mean that Emily is FINALLY going to get together with Teddy but NO they have ANOTHER misunderstanding and in the final chapter we’re told that several years go by before they finally figure it out?!?!  While I was 100% convinced that Anne and Gilbert were meant for each other and would have a long and happy marriage, I’m not even sure Teddy and Emily are going to be able to make it 24 hours without needing couples therapy because they freaking CANNOT COMMUNICATE.

In the end, it was hard to read a Montgomery book that I liked so little as I did Emily’s Quest.  The other two books were okay – Emily of New Moon was super depressing and Emily Climbs was boring, but Emily’s Quest was just boring AND depressing, and it felt like Emily got stupider as time went on instead of smarter.  I can see why many people like Emily, who is quieter and more serious than Anne, and who has to work very hard for anything to go her way because she has just unbelievably bad luck and the most unsupportive family imaginable, but I spent most of my time wanting to slap her and tell her to get over herself.  Emily takes herself SO SERIOUSLY and there were so many things that Anne would have laughed off and moved on from, while Emily broods over them for DAYS.

It was worth reading these just to experience this end of Montgomery’s writing spectrum, but I’m so sure that I’ll never reread these that they’re already in the giveaway box.