Thursday, May 27, 2010

With Reverent Hands: The Blue Castle

With Reverent Hands

I bring you with reverent hands / the books of my numberless dreams.
-WB Yeats, "A Poet To His Beloved"

WB Yeats, I'm sure, gave books to his beloved that he valued highly himself, and that he handled with reverence.  If you had to recommend a book you revered to someone, what would it be?
I'm asking you to highlight one book.  One book that you adore, that you prize, that changed your life, that you would save from a burning building, that you found serendipitously on a library shelf or at a used bookstore, looking lonely and ignored.  A book that thrills you but that, you have come to realize, no one else has really ever heard of, much less read.  With Reverent Hands is all about those books- the ones that deserve a wider audience than they are given and that you want everyone to go out and read, even if they are out of print.

This is a guest post series, not a meme!  If you would like to participate, please email me and I will send you a template for you to do a guest post.  Thank you!

This week's post is by Rachel, who blogs at A Fair Substitute for Heaven, one of the first blogs I ever started following!   She's been blogging since 2006, so if you have yet to find her, you're just not looking hard enough!  Rachel is a proud Canadian (which shows in her selection below) and it shows in her blog.  I also adore her because she loves Anne of Green Gables, hates Nicholas Sparks and watches whatever the Canadian equivalent of Masterpiece Theatre is.  A woman after my own heart!

What book are you highlighting?  
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery 

Vintage The Blue Castle
When did you first read it? 
My last year in high school. I had just turned 18. I remember reading it in one sitting, flipping back to page one and reading through again.  I read nothing but this book for three months. Everything else tasted flat and I kept returning to Valancy’s world. 

What is it about?  Please give a brief summary.  
Valancy Stirling is a 29 year old spinster living in a small Muskoka, Ontario community where those unmarried are scorned for their inability to land a man. Stifled and obsolete, Valancy never quite gives up a hope of romance ---delving daily into the beautifully poetic nature books of her favourite author John Foster to escape the rigid and condescending world of her mother’s daily routine..  One day, Valancy learns that the queer pains she has had around her heart are an acute and deadly heart disease. Upon learning she has but one year to live, Valancy throws caution to the wind and decides not to say or do anything she doesn’t want to do.  Upon emancipating herself and shaking off the shackles of convention and society,she finds her fairy tale. 

What makes the book stand out to you?  Why do you love it?  

So many reasons!  

If Anne is the portal to Montgomery’s idealized PEI and the Emily series Montgomery’s most autobiographical, The Blue Castle is the portal into Montgomery’s romantic nature. Having studied Montgomery extensively (I wrote my thesis on how Victorian Literature informed LM Montgomery’s novels and life-writing) and as a long time collector (I have every edition of The Blue Castle ever published), I most love the books which give the reader a peek into Montgomery’s psyche. The Blue Castle embodies Montgomery’s personal ideals: she yearned to find a hero with whom she shared a preternatural kinship (the “kindred spirit” of her Anne novels), a hero with whom she shared an aesthetic and creative sensibility ( Barney is the perfect yin to Valancy’s yang) as well as someone who would help her establish the home she never had in her youth. Moreover, her imagination often constructed a Byronic ideal: whose brooding nature reflected some of the landscapes she would often paint in her (self-proclaimed) “purple prose.”  Reading The Blue Castle is, for a Montgomery fan, as insightful as peeking into her published selected journals: you leave with a slice of who she was-- in a far more pronounced way than in Anne.  Barney and Valancy’s romance unfolds into a pitch-perfect snapshot of Montgomery’s romantic dream!   

The Blue Castle
On another Montgomery note, it is her first departure from her Victorian romances.  Instead, she sets her Canadian Fairytale in the age of flappers and automobiles; somehow breaking from the conservative traditions that informed her earlier works and imagination and transposing her personal nature of romance into a modern world: one that at times frightened and perturbed her.
Please finish this analogy:  If you liked _____________, you'll probably enjoy this book.
Obviously, if you like LM Montgomery’s “purple prose” from the Emily of New Moon books and the Anne series, you will find a kindred spirit here.  Margaret Atwood based her Lady Oracle on the Blue Castle and Colleen McCullough her Ladies of Missalonghi was inspired by The Blue Castle: so those are two other alternatives.  I think if you liked Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or even Jane Austen’s Persuasion you are in good company here. I recently read a few books by magic-realism writer Sarah Addison Allen and think that fans of that type of work are also at home here. 

What sort of person would you recommend to read this book?  
I think anyone who wants to learn more about Canada’s literary canon. I argue this is the first novel with a female emancipation agenda to come out of my country : we had female writers---Frances Brooke and Catherine Parr Trail--- but novels by Canadian women were still a rare breed upon its publication 

Do you have any quotes you would like to share?
The Blue Castle is chock-full and I nearly have the entire thing memorized. 

But, the most potent quote to me is: 

Fear is the only original sin. Almost all of the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that someone was afraid of something.


  1. I've been wanting to read this ever since Rachel at Book Snob reviewed it a while back. It's not so easy to find a copy though. I'll have to look harder. It sounds like just the type of book I'd love. And thanks for pointing me to Rachel's blog - A Fair Substitute to Heaven. I haven't been there yet.

    1. Please read it!! It's one of the most beautiful books ever written, I promise you! :)

  2. Anonymous5/27/2010

    I love Anne of Green Gables and always try and re-read it everytime I go back home. I only discovered The Blue Castle sometime in the last year and never realised Montgomery had written anything for adults, especially one set during this period of female emancipation. Great recommendation and I'm definitely going to check this one out!

  3. I've heard about this book and it sounds wonderful! I'll have to find it. I loved the Anne books growing up!

  4. Anonymous5/27/2010

    I LOVE this book. So so much! What a great post about it - will be off to explore now!

  5. I always think of re-reading LMM's novels in the summer, likely linked with the idea of school vacations affording more opportunities for re-reading, but this one would be a great read for any season: there are some beautiful autumn and winter bits in The Blue Castle too. It's such a terrifically spirited tale!

  6. I never ever ever get tired of re-reading the blue castle.

    I have read it, literally, hundreds of times. It's just so "feel good" --- like chocolate.

    and, as I get older, its importance to me changes.

    I hope everyone picks it up! And then visits Muskoka! I am from Muskoka originally and luckily now live in toronto---close enough to steal back to "Valancy's land" ---esp. in the summer!

  7. I picked up this book a few years ago after reading some really great reviews of it, but since then, it has languished on my shelf because...well, I don't know why!! Your review was extremely well crafted and intelligent and makes me want to insert this book right into the TBR pile. Thanks for sharing this great review! I hope I get the chance to read the book soon, and that I love it as much as you do!!

  8. The Blue Castle is way my favorite of Montgomery's books. I read it far later in life than I did the rest of her books, and I thought it was fantastic. Ugh, except for most of the excerpts from John Foster's books. I deplored Valancy's taste in literature.

  9. I so want this book! But Mrs. B. is right - hard to find. My library doesn't carry it, and for a while Amazon didn't even carry it, although I see as of today they have 6 new copies and 8 used copies.

  10. The Blue Castle is also my favourite L.M. Montgomery, so it's nice to see it getting some blog love. I'm surprised it's not more available, I don't remember when I first read it, but I guess it must be easier to find in Canada.

  11. Sounds very nice. Great pick!

  12. The quote alone makes me want to read The Blue Castle.

  13. A lovely post on a wonderful book! I actually didn't know that about r Lady Oracle. I must read it asap!

  14. Anonymous6/13/2010

    I also was unaware that Atwood's Lady Oracle has roots in this book. Fascinating! I'll have to track it down.

  15. I first read this book when I was 13.and on the edge of emancipating my own soul. It's so nice to find someone with a common love of this story. I've read it more than any other book. I've had two copies completely fall apart in my hands from over reading. It is my love!


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