Thursday, September 05, 2013

The blue castles of romance

Some romances are so romantic that I read them over again, even though I know the plot – and the gratifying happy ending – by heart. A favourite of mine among these has always been The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (1926).

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

Unlike her more famous books, like Anne of Green Gables, The Blue Castle is written for a grown-up audience. The heroine Valancy Stirling is twenty-nine, plain, and a spinster, much to the unhappiness of her (very unlikeable) family. She is unhappy without knowing what to do with her life, and she wouldn’t be given any leeway to change her life even if she did know. She only has her books and her daydreams.

At the beginning of the book, Valancy is given only a year to live, which makes her realise she’s never really lived. Liberated by the impending death, she takes the charge of her life, much to the horror of her relatives. She moves away from home to take care of a dying friend, ostracised by the society because she has borne an illegitimate child.

She also strikes a friendship with Barney Snaith, an odd, recluse man the whole town is convinced is a criminal. When Valancy’s friend dies, unwilling to return home, Valancy proposes to Barney, telling him she only has less than a year left herself and that she would want to live a little before she dies. He agrees and brings her to his home, the blue castle of the title, an old house in a remote island.

The romance between Barney and Valancy is sweet, a friendship turned to love with misunderstandings keeping the pair apart. There are plenty of hidden or mistaken identities, and letters lost and misplaced. And the romance is achieved without a kiss exchanged. Quite a lot is needed before the two can have their happily ever after, which being one of the sweetest endings I won’t give away. Read the book yourselves.

For years, I simply went to the library whenever I wanted to read the book and borrowed it. It was out of print and, anyway, old books like that don’t show up on bookstores all that often. But then I stumbled on it in a second-hand bookshop and I immediately bought it. Finally the happy owner of The Blue Castle, you’d think I’d read it at least once a year ever since, but I have to confess that owning it has been enough. I haven’t read it since. Maybe I’ll pick it up again one of these days. Perhaps you will too?

Here is the proposal scene:

“There is something you can do for me,” she said, evenly and distinctly. “Will you marry me?”

For a moment Barney was silent. There was no particular expression on his face. Then he gave an odd laugh. “Come, now! I knew luck was just waiting around the corner for me. All the signs have been pointing that way today….But why—why?”

“For two reasons.” Valancy was still a little breathless, but she looked Barney straight in the eyes while all the dead Stirlings revolved rapidly in their graves and the living ones did nothing because they did not know that Valancy was at that moment proposing lawful marriage to the notorious Barney Snaith. “The first reason is, I—I”—Valancy tried to say “I love you” but could not. She had to take refuge in pretended flippancy. “I’m crazy about you. The second is—this.” She handed him Dr. Trent’s letter.

Barney opened it with the air of a man thankful to find some safe, sane thing to do. As he read it, his face changed. He understood...”