“Valancy was perfectly happy. Some things dawn on you slowly. Some things come by lightning flashes. Valancy had had a lightning flash.”
The Blue Castle isn’t exactly a children’s book. I’ll cave and admit it’s a bit of a romance novel. But I read it in my pre-teen years and it’s written by the author of Anne of Green Gables so I feel like that’s enough to make it qualify for this.
Valancy Stirling hits her 29th birthday, has never found love, and is quickly entering old-maid territory. As a kid I registered that things have changed since Valancy’s era (the ‘20s), but now I find that idea even more laughable. Nonetheless she’s quite distressed about it.
To be fair, it’s not just romantic love she’s lacking – her life is kind of terrible as a whole. Her large extended family is basically a stew of judgment, arrogance and foolishness, and she’s too meek to challenge anyone. She has no friends to speak of. At 29, her mother still stops her from reading novels and she can barely get away with John Foster’s nature books, which along with her dreams of The Blue Castle are her only joys in life.
So when Valancy finds out she has a heart condition and a year to live she lets loose. She tells her family what she really thinks (“Why don’t you hunt up some new riddles if riddle you must? It is such a fatal mistake to try to be funny if you don’t succeed”), she leaves home to work as a live in nurse for the town drunk’s daughter who had a baby out of wedlock, and she buys herself a dress with no sleeves. Scandalous.
Then she does what is even a little progressive by modern standards and asks a man to marry her (Lorelai Gilmore anyone?). Not just any man either but Barney Snaith, about whom rumours of crimes and misdeeds abound.
The Blue Castle is ultimately a romance novel, but it does have some substance. Lucy Maud Montgomery throws in several little twists at the end, which tie everything together quite nicely. And it’s a scenic read, set in the cottage country of Muskoka, Ontario where Montgomery once spent a holiday, and where I conveniently spent my weekend reading this book on a dock.
I think what I like most about the story is that Valancy decides her own fate, even if she waits until she doesn’t have much fate left. Sure life dealt her a pretty dreary hand, and her character is a smidgen pathetic as the novel begins, but when she finds out about her impending doom she basically punches her fears in the face and changes her whole existence. And while Valancy’s interest in Barney may be evident from the beginning, he doesn’t swoop in to whisk her away to her Blue Castle. She gets there on her own.