Goodreads: Mistress Pat
Series: Pat of Silver Bush #2
Publication Date: 1935
Pat Gardener wishes nothing would ever change, but life goes on even at Silver Bush, where Judy thinks of visiting her friends across the sea, a new family moves into Bets’ old house, and Cuddles suddenly blooms into a woman. Pat writes about it all to her best friend Hilary Gordon—the tall tales of the new farmhand, the unexpected visit from nobility, and the new additions to her family. But though she insists that Hilary is nothing more than a friend, she never can bear to tell him about the suitors who come calling for her. The sequel to Pat of Silver Bush.
Every time I reread a Montgomery book I marvel anew at her ability to depict such rich characters and to draw me into their lives. Her stories contain no plots like the ones we might today expect–there are no mysteries to be solved, no quests to fulfill, not even a journey to take. She simply chronicles the everyday happenings of a household and, in doing so, opens our eyes to the beauty and the wonder that surround us all. Even when depicting sorrow and pain, her books seem to offer comfort and hope, reminding us of that great message “You are not alone.” Her stories are like no others I know and they remain elusive when I attempt to pinpoint their unique quality. There’s just something about them, like a warm home or a good friend. They are simply right.
Mistress Pat, of course, is no exception, though is some ways I see it as darker or at least a little sadder than some of her other works. Oh, of course, Montgomery is always darker and sadder than you seem to remember. Anne falling off the roof or sinking in the river are images that have perhaps invaded our cultural consciousness, and Montgomery’s most famous heroine has thus connected the author with ideas of youthful innocence and idyllic childhoods. But there are also the deaths, the partings, and the misunderstandings. The wild, eerie tales about lost or vengeful souls and the petty gossip that reveals the cruel or hard side of certain neighbors. All these things are just as unmistakably Montgomery as her optimistic heroines or her beautiful nature scenes. Even so, there’s something about Pat that makes me mourn a little.
Anne and Emily make their mistakes, but Pat’s simply seem to go on and on, and perhaps the worst part is that she doesn’t even realize it. Her story is interspersed with happy episodes. Judy is back with all her fantastic tales and a new hired man, Tillytuck, joins her to add his own outrageous additions. The two of them in the kitchen competing to tell the best yarn cannot help but entertain. And, of course, there are the beaux who come around, not only for Pat but also for her suddenly grown-up sister Rachel. As Tillytuck observes, they do add spice to life. As if life weren’t exciting enough what with new friends down the road and a projected visit from nobility no less. And yet… And yet. Something about Pat’s life isn’t right and we all know what it is. There’s no Jingle.
Pat somehow deludes herself into thinking that her life is fine, but deep down she, like the readers, must know she’s settling because she thinks she has to. There’s a gaping wound in her story begging to be filled by the friend who has stood by her side for so many years, loving her without ever asking anything in return. One might think that the absence of Jingle (or Hilary, as we must now call him) would be a defect in the work–how can one have a Pat story without Hilary? And yet it all seems to fit so perfectly. Montgomery is describing the trajectory of a life with all its mistakes, its false starts, and its dead ends. She could do no otherwise. She isn’t creating this story. She’s merely telling it.
At least such is the power of Montgomery’s pen that I believe this is so. Everything about the story seems so right that I would never have Montgomery rewrite it, even to spare, if not Pat, at least me. To do so would seem dishonest. After all, real life is seldom all flowers and sunshine. Sometimes the clouds come and sometimes they don’t lift.
Reading Montgomery is a rare experience and one I feel privileged to share. She possessed a unique vision that she shared with the world and, in doing so, invited us all to see anew the mystery and majesty of life. It is incredible that she does so by focusing on what so many others would overlook–ordinary people leading their ordinary lives.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.