The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery — Two 1926 Reviews
By Nava Atlas | On July 16, 2023 | Comments (0)
L.M. Montgomery (1874 – 1942), the Canadian author best known for her Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series, wrote just two novels intended for adults — A Tangled Web (1931) and The Blue Castle (1926). Presented here are two reviews from the year of the book’s initial publication.
Now in the public domain, The Blue Castle has been published and republished in numerous editions in print and audio. While the book may not be as beloved as Montgomery’s more famous series, it did make its mark.
For the first time, the story is being adapted for film. It’s hard to say when (or ultimately if) it will be released, but here’s the news of its potential adaptation.
The story’s heroine, Valancy Stirling, is considered a hopeless old maid at age twenty-nine. Infantilized and controlled by her prim and eccentric family, she takes refuge in daydreams of her “Blue Castle” and reading nature books by an author known as John Foster.
When Valancy is diagnosed with a heart ailment that she is told will kill her within a year, she suddenly feels liberated from her family, their judgements, and low expectations. She sets out to do just as she pleases, and so, the real story of Valancy’s life begins.
Though this story was originally intended for adults, there’s no reason why readers of middle grade and up wouldn’t enjoy this story of a young woman taking matters of her life into her own hands.
While it’s best to read the book without knowing too much of the story in advance so that it can delight and surprise as it unfolds without spoilers, here’s a detailed plot summary for those who might want one.
A Story Set in Ontario’s Muskoka Country
From the original review in The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada, October23, 1926): The author of the Anne of Green Gables books sets this story in Ontario, in the Muskoka country. Light is shed on the life of a small community and its individuals, with their smugness and pride and little family concerts.
Though intolerant in the matter of religion, at heart they are mostly good souls, overly fearful about what the world may think of improprieties done by one of their relatives.
The heroine of The Blue Castle is Valancy Stirling, called “Doss,” is twenty-nine regarded as an old maid. She’s thin, far from good looking, subject to colds, has a heart malady, and altogether is a poor risk.
Valancy has been repressed by her relatives all her life and her spirit has reached the point of rebellion when she reads something about fear being the worst sin. She goes to a doctor and is informed that her heart is bad and that she has but a year to live.
Strange as it may seem, Valancy is relieved and decides to hit out and have her fill of life. Her proper relatives are aghast. But in reality, she’s making a sacrifice and doing a real Christian Samaritan act.
Into her life comes an apparent rascal of a fellow, Barney Snaith, with a bad name in the community. A lonely Muskoka Island dweller, he’s not what he seems, and Valancy perceives that there’s no real evil in him.
Valancy’s path run together with Barney’s, causing a tremendous scandal. Then comes a strange romance and an even stranger denouement. The scalawag is unmasked and even Valancy is astounded. But it’s nothing to the shock of her relatives, when Barney Snaith’s true identity is revealed. It’s a skillful conclusion to a solid Canadian story.
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The Blue Castle & A Tangled Web
are available in a combined volume on Bookshop.org*
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Only a Year to Live?
From the original review in the Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, November 23, 1926): The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery is the story of Valancy Stirling, who, at the age of twenty-nine, is told that she has only a year to live.
Valancy, who is generally known as “Doss,” the nickname bestowed on her by her irrepressible Uncle Benjamin, has lived her girlhood days in mouse-like seclusion, the unhappy puppet of her dull and respectable family.
Her only release — and that a temporary one — comes from her dreams of a shimmering blue castle in Spain. The turning point comes when she is told by Dr. Trent that she has a very dangerous form of heart disease — that she can not possibly live more than a year.
The discovery shocks her into the realization of the fact that she has never enjoyed one hour of real happiness in her life, and she determines to have one fling before she dies. She astounds her relatives by insisting that they shall call her “Valancy” in the future, and by defying them on occasion.
In the end she leaves her house and goes to the cottage of the drunken carpenter, Abel Gay, to look after his daughter Cissy, who is wasting away in the last stages of consumption.
A Hardy Rebel
Of course, her relatives are scandalized, but Valancy has made up her mind to live her own life, and a little later she throws her bonnet over the mill by going with Abel to a dance at Chidley Corners.
There she suffers considerable annoyance from the persistent attentions of one or two of the male dancers and is extricated from a somewhat awkward predicament by Barney Snaith, whom she had first met at Abel’s cottage.
Snaith is a man of mystery in the village. As he does not work at a trade, he is reputed to be anything from a jail-breaker to a forger and defaulter. Consequently, when on the way home, his car runs out of gas and he stops the first motorist who passes by — it happens to be Valancy’s Uncle Wellington —the fat is in the fire.
“The next thing the Stirlings heard was that Valancy had been seen with Barney Snaith in a movie theater in Port Lawrence and after it at supper in a Chinese restaurant there.” Of course after that, any shred of reputation which she might have retained was lost to her forever.
The Northern Retreat
Of Valancy’s marriage to Barney, and the happy days she spent with him on an unnamed island in a remote northern lake; her unconscious entrance into the “secret room;” the tragic consequences that result from the visit of Barney’s uncle — these things must be left for the reader to find out.
It is all told in the author’s happiest and most sympathetic manner, and those who enjoyed Montgomery’s earlier books will doubtless be delighted with The Blue Castle.
The attitude taken by Valancy’s family appears to be a somewhat antiquated one for the times in which we live and in some ways the heroine seems to overact her part. These are small blemishes, however, which will in no way deter L.M. Montgomery’s many readers from her latest offering.
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The Blue Castle is available in several audio adaptations,
including this one on Audible*
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More about The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
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