Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lucy Maud Montgomery

"It is the most chilling thing in the world to say something to a person and be met by a blank wall of non-comprehension . . . So, as a rule, I am very careful to be shallow and conventional where depth and originality are wasted."
-- Letter from Lucy Maud Montgomery to G. B. MacMillan, Dec 3, 1905 (My Dear Mr. M, Oxford UP, 1992)

I was thinking, in the midst of the hoopla for the new Pride and Prejudice film, that there's another writer that I consider in the same terms as Austen, and that's Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942). Like Austen, Montgomery knew her characters and society inside and out, and we know people just like the ones that she writes about. Also like Austen (and Louisa May Alcott), Montgomery had a marvelous sense of humor.

And I'm not just talking Anne of Green Gables and its numerous sequels. Emily Climbs (1925) deals with the main character's struggles to be a writer, including fighting her loved ones' misapprehensions about the level of a writer's income (sound familiar?). I'm singling out The Blue Castle (1926), which I ran across on a fabulous Web site, Stump the Bookseller, which focuses on long-lost and reprinted treasures in children's literature. It's the sort of site where you can say, "I read a book in 1910 with a green cover. Do you know what it's called?" This bookseller usually does.

In The Blue Castle, a young woman who has led a dreary life among her critical and colorless relatives and is constantly compared to her beautiful and selfish cousin finds herself wondering, "Is that all there is?" When her doctor gives her a year to live because of a heart condition, she runs off to the woods with the bad boy of the town, sending her relatives into apoplexy, and cares for an ill friend that the town has deemed an outcast.

Surely Montgomery's message here is "Carpe Diem," and it's told in The Blue Castle with wisdom, humor, and grace.

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