Jane of Lantern HillJune 17, 2013
General consensus seemed to be that, after The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill was the best L.M. Montgomery book. So, when I detached myself from the internet yesterday and had a mini reading spree, it was the first thing I read. I mean, after I finished the Nero Wolfe book I was in the middle of.
I’m sorry I’m late to the L.M. Montgomery party, but I’m not sorry I’m getting to read these books for the first time now. There are children’s books that I’ve read as an adult and wished I had read as a kid, but Jane of Lantern Hill isn’t one of them. Yes, reading it at the appropriate age would have been a very different experience, but I don’t think it would have necessarily been a better one; I have so much more context for things now. This is just me trying to rationalize, though. Mostly I can’t imagine enjoying Jane of Lantern Hill more when I was a kid than I did yesterday.
The setup is strikingly similar to that of The Blue Castle — the unhappy girl living in a strict, female-dominated household whose only escape is via her imagination, the awful aunts and uncles and the privileged cousin, etc. But Jane is a kid, and her family includes some non-awful people: her mother and father, who are estranged. Jane and her mother live with Jane’s grandmother, who basically hates everyone but Jane’s mother, and takes active pleasure in making Jane’s life miserable.
This is abuse. Her grandmother uses everything Jane does to reinforce a narrative where Jane is useless and terrible at everything and has “low tastes.” Anything that Jane does well or likes to do is either ignored or food for further criticism. Every nice thing that her grandmother gives is is secretly meant to make her unhappy. And Jane responds, as people being abused often do, by becoming bad at all of the things she’s told she’s bad at. It’s pretty uncomfortable reading.
But this is a mostly cheerful children’s book, and so there’s something irrepressibly humorous and interested in Jane that her grandmother can’t kill, and she gets to exercise those faculties when she goes away to spend the summer with her father on Prince Edward Island.
Jane’s first summer with her father is almost too perfect. They instinctively get each other, in a way that was enough like an idealized version of my relationship with my father that it almost made me uncomfortable. But only almost. What’s great about this section, though, is Jane’s confidence. Free of her grandmother’s influence, she knows she’s capable of doing all sorts of things. It’s interesting that so many of those things are in the areas of cooking and housekeeping — things her grandmother never repeatedly told Jane was awful at because she never allowed her to try them in the first place.
Even better is the fact that Jane takes some of that confidence back home with her at the end of the summer. And yes, she stands up for herself a little more, but my favorite thing is that her knowledge that she’s a capable person sticks with her and allows her to continue to be a capable person, doing better in school and becoming less clumsy. It’s great.
So, yeah, this book was so good for me in so many ways. I didn’t love the ending as much as I loved the rest, but I also don’t see how else Montgomery could have sorted things out, so I don’t really want to complain.
When I was finished with Jane of Lantern Hill I went on reading people’s recommendations/things I’ve waited for too long to read. Next up: The Adventure of Princess Sylvia, because I got mixed up and didn’t remember I was supposed to read Princess Virginia instead.
ETA: I kep meaning and forgetting to say that the book Jane of Lantern Hill reminds me of most is Keineth, which is a recommendation in itself.