The Blue Castle #ReadingValancy

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!

My e-book doesn’t have a cover, but I love the depiction of Valancy on this one.

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.

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35 comments

  1. It’s a pity an author who is/was so popular with young women adopts such a derogatory attitude to being single. In Australia at this time there was a much stronger sentiment towards questioning the value of marriage for women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Were more women striking out on their own and refusing to get married? It’s so strange to me how different parts of the globe can be so different. I’ve always tried to learn more about other countries, but talking to book bloggers has made a tremendous difference.

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      • I have read that more (a greater percentage of) people were married in the 1950s than at any other time in history, and that gives us a distorted idea of what is ‘normal’. Even today, in popular culture, it seems to me that marriage is much more normalized in the US than it is in Australia or Britain.

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  2. I love everything you’ve said in this review. And I’m so glad you liked it! Now I can’t wait for tomorrow’s. 🙂
    Good idea, btw, to have one with spoilers and one without!

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  3. Great point about how Montgomery doesn’t suggest Valancy’s anxiety will disappear right away as soon as she’s happy.
    “Daredeviltry” and “screaming purple” are fabulous. I just searched for the word “purple” in the novel and I was interested to see how often it appears, whether the reference is to the dreaded Purple Pills or to the beloved purple sky, purple island, and “purple solitudes of Mistawis.” (It’s “a whole purple world,” to borrow a phrase from Sheree Fitch’s book Mabel Murple, one of my favourite picture books.) What a contrast with the “drab and colourless” life described in the first chapter.

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  4. […] The Blue Castle was something different from what I’m used to. Our heroine was an anxious person with validation issues, and our hero was a slobby runaway dreamer with a P.O.S. car. Or was he? I felt it was very odd that Montgomery chose to hide that Barney Snaith was Valancy’s favorite author, John Foster. What is the purpose of this? I wondered if Montgomery was trying to say something about the state of publishing. Although John Foster is beloved in Valancy’s town, how popular is he elsewhere? Perhaps it was shameful to be a writer at this time; Barney certain scoffs when Valancy mentions or quotes John Foster’s work. If he knows his wife loves Foster’s books and was practically saved by them when she lived with her mother, why not admit that he is the voice behind the pen? […]

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  5. Snobocracy sounds incredibly modern – a lovely word that I fully intend to adopt as my own… 😉 I haven’t read this and am not sure I will, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Re Wadholloway’s comment above, I think in the UK one reason so many women remained unmarried was because of the constant wars that meant young men were always in short supply. But ‘old maids’ were still seen as second class – we still are, I reckon!

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  6. I love LMM! I haven’t read The Blue Castle in many years, even though I have a copy of it in my dining room (close to where I sit with my laptop!). It’s too bad I couldn’t participate in this read-along!

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  7. I always think it’s interesting to read books written long ago through a modern lens. It’s not just the diction, but the ideas themselves that seem outdated. That being said, there’s something almost validating when you see a character struggle with something you can relate to yourself. I think I might use the phrase “screaming purple” in a future conversation, if only to see what other people’s reactions are to it.

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