I read somewhere that Mark Twain referred to Anne Shirley as “the dearest and most loveable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.” Have you ever read “Anne of Green Gables?” How about any of L. M. Montgomery’s other books featuring Anne Shirley, maybe eight in total? Ever seen the fantastic movies made in the Eighties, starring Megan Follows as Anne? (Anne will always have Megan’s face in my mind). If you’ve read at least the first book and/or seen the movies, you might remember scenes such as Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, Anne getting her friend Diana drunk with “raspberry cordial,” and Anne’s many wild and imaginative schemes. Good stuff, I’m telling you!
Now, forget all the “butterflies, lollipops and rainbows.” Anne of Green Gables is full of sad undertones. Anne is orphaned and sent to live with a kindly but somewhat emotionally distanced older couple who must grow, over time, to love her. She never gets any “breaks,” but creates them herself. Through courage, wit and her continued use of imagination and sheer determination, she succeeds in creating a happy life for herself. This is one of the many reasons I love L.M. Montgomery’s books.
Now: forget Anne! Ever hear of Valancy?
A dear book-loving friend introduced us twenty years ago, and I’m forever indebted. Thanks, Barbara! One of L.M. Montgomery’s lesser-known books is entitled “The Blue Castle,” and all I can say is, it rocks!!! (No apt Victorian equivalents of this expression came to mind. Do forgive me!) It’s the early 1900’s, and Valancy is an “old maid,” living with an unfeeling mother and supremely annoying aunt, and the description of her colorless life is chilling. Yes, chilling! Then, one day, Valancy is shocked to learn that she has only a year to live. What she decides to do with her final year on earth is fantastic, and results in some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read. Yes, the book is around a century old, so some passages and dialogue might seem wordy and stilted-sounding to modern ears. Not quite as much as when reading Jane Austen, mind you. J
Anyway, I adore Valancy, and I also love another character. He’s s a man who, in my mind, rivals even the famed Mr. Darcy. The man is named Barney Snaith.
Barney?? Yes, it’s a horrible name for a romantic hero, but Barney Snaith he is, and he is a true hero! The love story that occurs between Barney and Valancy is truly one of the sweetest, most genuine love stories I’ve ever read. "The Blue Castle" also provides the reader with many, many examples of L.M. Montgomery’s wit and perfect ability to describe a character with a few, choice words:
· “Mrs. Frederick (Valancy’s mother) had been a Wansbarra and the Wansbarra smile was not an asset.”
· “She (Valancy) had always liked the old sinner (a man named Roaring Abel). He was such a jolly, picturesque, unashamed reprobate and stood out against the drab respectability of Deerwood and its customs like a flame-red flag of revolt and protest.”
· “[Cousin Gladys] had neuritis—or what she called neuritis. It jumped about from one part of her body to another. It was a convenient thing…always if any mental effort was required she could have neuritis in her head. You can’t think with neuritis in your head, my dear.”
· “Uncle James. Handsome, black, with his sarcastic, trap-like mouth and iron-grey side-burns, whose favorite amusement was to write controversial letters to the Christian Times, attacking Modernism. Valancy always wondered if he looked as solemn when he was asleep as he did when awake. No wonder his wife had died young.”
· Valancy describes herself in this way: “…apart from her eyes she was neither pretty nor ugly—just insignificant-looking.”
· She thinks of Barney like this: “He was not a great talker. He told a great deal in a few-well-chosen words…and he had a knack of saying things without opening his mouth at all. ‘I like a man whose eyes say more than his lips,’ thought Valancy.”
The requisite happy ending is reached by the end of the book, not without a few twists and turns. Should you read this book? If you’re a guy, maybe not. But, if you’re a girl, yes! If you swoon over Mr. Darcy (whose first name is Fitzwilliam, and who is not a self-made man), or drool over Mr. Rochester (a liar who is willing to commit bigamy) then you must give Barney a chance! You must, I tell you! Tip: You can buy the paperback online for .99, plus shipping. No, you can’t borrow my book. I read it so many times it fell apart.
Cheers to Ms. Montgomery, and happy reading!