My family binge-watched the second series of Anne With An E over Easter, which led me to seek out The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Despite having loved the Anne of Green Gables books so much that I partly named Honey-Bunny after the main character, I had never previously read The Blue Castle.
The main character is Valancy Stirling, a 29-year old woman living in Deerwood with her nagging, unpleasant mother. The Stirling clan treated Valancy with disrespect and she was the constant butt of sly and unkind digs. Valancy was constantly passed over in favour of anyone else who was considered to be more important than she was.
Valancy escaped her unhappy reality by daydreaming of a blue castle in Spain to avoid the worst of her clan’s treatment. Her greatest joy in life was reading books by a reclusive Canadian naturist.
When she was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, Valancy stopped being a victim to her family and started to live. She didn’t tell her family of her diagnosis but began her revolution by speaking her own mind. After shocking her family with her candid opinions, Valancy went to live with a notorious drunk to care for his dying daughter, Cissy Gay, who had been shunned by the rest of the Deerwood community after having had a child out of wedlock.
While living at the Gay’s home, Valancy got to know Barney Snaith, a mysterious man who the people of Deerwood suspect of being a criminal, the father of Cissy’s baby, and worse. Valancy fell in love with Barney and after Cissy died, convinced that she had nothing to lose, told Barney she had less than a year to live and asked him to marry her.
Barney agreed and they moved to his remote cabin on an island where Valancy was the happiest she had ever been, even though she knew her life will soon be over. By this time the Stirling clan were so scandalised by Valancy they wouldn’t speak to her.
Valancy was a real victim in the first half of the story, crying herself to sleep as she dwelled on her unhappiness, and recounting every mean thing that had ever been said or done to her. I liked her much better once she started to stand up for herself, say what she really thought and do what she wanted to. I also liked that she shingled her hair and bought herself some clothes that she actually liked.
I was aware before I began reading The Blue Castle that the plot was extraordinarily similar to that of one of my favourite books, The Ladies of Missalonghi by Australian author Colleen McCullough, who denied plagiarising The Blue Castle. Having read many other books by McCullough I think she was a good-enough writer on her own merits not to have plagiarised The Blue Castle on purpose. The most common opinion is that McCullough probably read the story as a child and subconsciously remembered the plot. The heroines of each have very different personalities and morals, despite the similarities in the plots. The Ladies of Missalonghi is a much cheekier book, one where the reader feels as if they are in on the joke but The Blue Castle is written as a straight romance.
I prefer my old favourite A Tangled Web, which is L.M. Montgomery’s other adult novel but can see why The Blue Castle is as beloved by her fans as any of her other works.