Goodreads: The Blue Castle
Valancy Stirling is twenty-nine and she has never lived. Her mother and her cousin control what she does, where she goes, and whom she speaks to. But then Valancy learns that she has a fatal heart condition and only one year before she dies. Determined to enjoy life before it is too late, Valancy moves out and suddenly happiness does not seem so far away.
“Fear is the original sin. Almost all of the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something. It is a cold slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear, and it is of all things degrading.”–John Foster
The Blue Castle is one of only two adult novels written by L. M. Montgomery (the other being A Tangled Web) and thus of particular interest to her fans. It focuses on a twenty-nine-year-old “old maid” who is repressed by her family and afraid to speak back to her nasty relatives. The content is innocent enough that you can find this volume shelved with the children’s books (The adult content might be considered to be a few curses and a girl who had a baby outside of marriage.), but the story itself is a mature one, one that focuses on bitterness and time lost. It is a story that the old will respond to more fully than the young.
L. M. Montgomery is often associated with idyllic childhoods–an association that overlooks the pain and suffering her heroines must overcome. The Blue Castle, however, contains a darkness that is harder for readers to overlook. It begins with Valancy waking up on her birthday and facing a life of loneliness and stifled feelings, a prospect that seems intolerable. Even as Valancy begins to find the courage to be herself, she remains on the fringes of a small-minded society that would rather see a young woman die alone in poverty before they associate themselves with her shame. Valancy ultimately attempts to escape the pettiness around her by retreating into the wilderness. But there are suggestions that no retreat can be permanent. Duty will always call a person back.
The story, however, still feels uplifting because it suggests that anyone can find the courage to live and that that courage can make all the difference. Valancy gives of herself to others and does the right thing, even when the right thing will socially stigmatize her. She becomes the bright beacon of her world, the promise that everything is not as bad as it seems. And she is rewarded. Beauty comes to those who seek it. Montgomery’s love of the Canadian wilderness shines here as she lingers over trees, birds, and waters.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that The Blue Castle also contains an unlikely but utterly romantic love story. Barney Snaith possesses neither the name nor the appearance of a typical romantic lead, but his kindness, integrity, and thoughtfulness all make him the perfect hero. Valancy and Barney seem to be living in a fairy tale and, even when it seems too good to be true, readers just want to believe.
If you are a Montgomery fan, The Blue Castle provides all the sharp characterization, ironic wit, and beautiful landscape descriptions that your heart could desire. If you are not a Montgomery fan, The Blue Castle might just make you one.