The Blue CastleJune 15, 2013
I’m exceedingly thankful to Jenn right now for recommending a book that sounded so exactly like what I wanted that, less than seven hours after she posted the link, I’m already writing a review. I think this means my reading drought is over, although it will probably be hard to tell until after the Stanley Cup final is over too.
The book is The Blue Castle, and I expect that some of you have already read it, because it’s by L.M. Montgomery, and if you love Anne of Green Gables and are in the habit of reading public domain fiction, you’ve probably read everything of hers that’s available. I sort of love Anne of Green Gables, just…selectively. And The Blue Castle isn’t public domain here in the US, but Project Gutenberg Australia is a beautiful thing.
Anyway. This is one of those books where a woman with a deeply unsatisfying life turns over a new leaf — or has one turned over for her — and comes into her own. Like Gertrude Haviland’s Divorce, or Now, Voyager. Or A Woman Named Smith, but less so. It’s such self-indulgent fantasy, but it’s my favorite kind. The heroine of The Blue Castle is Valency Stirling, a 29 year old spinster, frustrated and unhappy and firmly under the thumb of her widowed mother and a vast array of aunts and uncles. When she visits a doctor to ask about her recurring chest pain and he diagnoses her with terminal heart disease, she finds that knowing she’s only got a year to live is what she needed to cure her of her fear of her family. She strikes out on her own, becoming nurse/housekeeper/companion to the dying daughter of the local drunk, and then marrying a man who is rumored to have done all sorts of terrible things.
She gets the material things she’s been wanting — a husband, nice clothes, a home of her own, better looks — but, more importantly, she learns to speak her mind and trust in her own judgment and, you know, have fun. And it’s a delightful journey to accompany her on. There were things I didn’t love, too: the specific awfulness of Valency’s family would have worked better for me if Montgomery rubbed their faces in Valency’s transformation a bit more, for example, and I would have liked some of the romantic bits to be taken down exactly one notch. Also, there was one of those passages where a woman discovers she’s in love and doesn’t expect anything to come of it but somehow feels that her unrequited love has transformed and validated her life, and I find passages like that kind of irritating. On the whole, though, The Blue Castle is approximately as perfect as I want it to be.
There were ways in which I identified with Valency very much. Her feelings — at least, the ones that don’t feel a little performative — are real feelings. But one thing that interested me as I read was the ways in which I didn’t identify with her. I (obviously) read a lot of old books, but somehow they don’t usually make me think of the ways in which certain things — the things that have an impact on my day to day life — have changed since they were written. This one did. I’m not that much younger than Valency, and I have things in common with her, but…I don’t know. In Valency’s world whether a woman is married or unmarried is barely her choice, and I took a moment this evening to be thankful that even whether or not you want to be married is a choice in mine. It was nice.