Content Warning: scattered mentions of the main character not being beautiful. She’s almost always told to her face, which some may find disturbing, but she also ruminates on the subject herself as a character flaw.
Firstly, I have to thank Naomi at Consumed by Ink for hosting the November #ReadingValancy read-along. Secondly, you can read more posts about The Blue Castle by scrolling to the bottom of Naomi’s post entitled “5 Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Like The Blue Castle.”
I originally bought an e-book (two for one!) of The Blue Castle and The Tangled Web. These are L.M. Montgomery’s two novels for adults, which I got after I finished read the 8 main Green Gables books last summer. However, you know how book buying goes; you get it and treasure it as a purchase and visit in your heart/brain a lot. But that’s it. So, Naomi’s read-along was a nice push!
The Blue Castle is a somewhat predictable novel that comes in around 218 pages. It stars Valancy Stirling, an old maid at 29 who lives with her emotionally manipulative mother and doofy widowed cousin who needs stinky medicine rubbed on her back each night. Ugh!
Although it doesn’t sound like the Stirling clan is rich, characters make a lot of Valancy’s breeding and how she doesn’t fit with the rest of them because she’s a bit homely and dull. What they don’t know is Valancy is dull because she’s obedient. Valancy suffers from chest pains — and I wasn’t surprised; she cries herself to sleep every night. So, she sneaks off the doctor who later mails her a letter with his diagnosis: she’ll be dead in a year if she experiences anything too exciting. What is she to do? Why, everything she’s ever wanted, of course!
Montgomery gives a clear picture of how readers are to think of Valancy. Single women are a problem of their own creation, we’re told, because “the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.” In contrast to Green Gables, Valancy’s home is in a town that is described as run down a gray, a setting that matches her feelings in the beginning. But, there is something (dare I say) sexual in The Blue Castle. While Valancy’s mother says, “It is not maidenly to think about men,” Valancy dreams up a castle in her head filled with rotating male figures based on her current tastes. Not just one man, Valancy? Scandalous!
Mostly, though, Valancy is anxious. I appreciated the attention Montgomery paid to anxiety. While it seems like everyone suffers from a chronic condition of it today, it’s easy to think the condition is new because there’s no readily apparent anxious characters in older fiction. Valancy suffers from fear of nearly everything. If a small incident happens, she worries herself sick about it for at least a week. Thanks to experience, I knew right away that Valancy’s chest pains were likely anxiety attacks, and she has them throughout the novel until her situation changes long-term. Anxiety doesn’t go away immediately when one is happy, and I’m glad Montgomery didn’t imply as much.
Anxiety can stem from validation issues. I relate to this, and other readers may, too! It’s another psychological issue that people — especially women — struggle with that I don’t see acknowledged in a lot of fiction. When Valancy goes to the doctor’s office to see what’s wrong with her heart, she is interrupted by a phone call: the doctor’s son has been in a terrible auto accident and must leave! His diagnosis was not yet given, so Valancy feels like “she was not even of any importance as a patient.” She feels ignored, which ties in to a memory of a boy who had pinched her and made her shriek when she was a girl. Though she told on him, the boy claimed Valancy was playing with a kitten that scratched her, thus producing the shriek. He was believed over her. It isn’t until Valancy can validate herself that she feels more encouraged by life.
One of my favorite elements of The Blue Castle, though, is the funny diction. Oh, how Uncle Benjamin couldn’t quit calling Valancy “dippy” when she starts defending herself (if you adopt a curmudgeonly old man voice in your head, it’s even better). Great words like “daredeviltry” and “snobocracy,” “mad scamper” and “ensphered.” “Screaming purple.” Have you ever in your life given a color the adjective “screaming”??
The Blue Castle had so many sweetheart moments (and Montgomery doesn’t make them too saccharine) that’s it’s a true delight to read. Even more obvious than in Anne Shirley’s series, Valancy finds love and purpose in a multitude of relationships, making it a balanced, lovely read.
Check out my special post meant for those who have read The Blue Castle. It will have spoilers, but some fun ranting, too.