This is my second-last Shelf Discovery Challenge post and read. I deliberately chose both this and Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear to round things up because they were among the books that helped me shift away from kidlit and YA books to adult reading.
The transition via The Blue Castle was almost seamless. My edition (an odd-sized McClelland & Stewart one, grass-green, not as pictured to the left) had the same format as many of LMM’s children’s books that I compulsively re-read; I met and revisited Pat, Marigold and Jane in books that looked much the same, so it didn’t feel too much of a stretch to pull The Blue Castle from the shelf.
And yet, Valancy Stirling is 29, so it was many years before I returned to The Blue Castle; the concerns of a 29-year-old woman (for all that her mother infantilized her, ruthlessly exploiting Valancy’s Old Maid Status) just didn’t hold the same charm that, for instance, re-reading the early Anne books did. (Whereas, seemingly, the true-crime, horror and endless Sidney Sheldon novels that I devoured held a charm all their own. Apparently.)
This is the first time I’ve re-read The Blue Castle since I was on the other side of Valancy’s age; now I could debate whether her concerns were of disinterest because her naivete and inexperience were so far removed from my reality. But debate is irrelevant for me, really, when it comes to reading LMM now; my reading of her work so firmly rooted in nostalgia after so many years that I slip into another place and Just Read.
Sometimes her novels feel a bit old-fashioned, especially when I’m reading something contemporary that is gritty or experimental stylistically. Sometimes the heroines’ limited experience (eg. class-wise, race-wise) grates. But mostly I appreciate a tame, nostalgia-driven re-read for those nights when I’m actually too tired to pay attention to a book, but stubbornly insist on propping up a book against the pillow until I’ve actually dozed off a few times and must admit defeat and turn out the light.
The Blue Castle is perfect for that kind of Comfort Reading. And, even though the story has an exceptionally old-fashioned feel to start, Valancy gains strength and determination as it progresses and it’s fun to watch her “come into her own”. Actually, it’s really fun. She challenges a lot of the assumptions that her small-minded, narrow-experienced family members hold forth, and some of the decisions even offend the wider community at large, and to say that’s upsetting for the lot of them is putting it mildly.
LMM herself was revolutionary in her own way, as revolutionary as a Presbyterian minister’s wife can be, daring to populate her stories with Happy-Old-Maids and Brash-and-Bold-Young-Women who refused to “know their place”, even having some of her characters poke fun at Presbyterian ministers. By the time The Blue Castle was published, nearly 20 years after the author’s immense success with Anne of Green Gables, she was willing to take on some stereotypes and give her adult heroine some rope.
I honestly don’t remember how many times I’ve read this but I remembered it fairly well, so I must have revisited it a few times in my teens, but it was a pleasure to re-read.