The Books: The Blue Castle (L.M. Montgomery)

Daily Book Excerpt: YA/Children’s books:

6a00c2251fc04a604a00c2251fc2c7604a-500pi.jpgThe Blue Castle – by L.M. Montgomery. Another excerpt!

The heavenly third act of the book (first act: Valancy at home with her family, second act: Valancy living with Abel and Cissy) is when she moves out to Barney’s island, after the death of Cissy Gay. It’s shocking. Cissy dies – and so Valancy is faced with a choice. Or, seemingly, she has no choice. She has to go home and live with her disapproving family again. Go back to her old cringing shy spinster self. But too much has changed. She now only has 8 months to live, or whatever it is … and so … she makes up her mind. And she asks Barney Snaith to marry her. I mean – go, Lucy Maud, with the shocking-ness!! Valancy tells the truth to Barney: Look, I only have 8 months left to live, and I love you. I know you don’t love me … but would you be willing to marry me and be with me until I die? Would you do that for me? And he contemplates it … and he finally says to her, “You know I don’t love you … I’ve never thought of being in love. But you do that I have always thought you were a bit of a dear.” And he agrees. So Valancy marries Barney Snaith. To the absolute HORROR of her family, who all remain convinced that Snaith is some sort of embezzler, or murderer, or man on the run. Lucy Maud does not, of course, take us into the marriage bed – but she suggests it … and it’s an interesting situation because: Valancy loves Barney but Barney does not love Valancy. However, he accepts her fully into his life – there’s one room in his cottage that he will not allow her to go into (this all becomes clear later – he calls it Bluebeard’s Chamber, as a joke) – but other than that – Valancy is perfectly free to do whatever she wants. And they obviously have a romantic relationship. Her family catches glimpses of her riding around town in the jalopy with Barney. Or – HORRORS! – eating out at a Chinese restaurant. There is a whimsy in the relationship … which just comes off as so appealing. It reminds me a bit (without the neuroses and the torture, of course) of the love affair in Notorious. Ingrid Bergman says to Cary Grant, “This is a very interesting love affair.” He asks, “Why?” She says, “Because you don’t love me.” He says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Valancy and Barney are unconventional. Completely.

So here’s an excerpt (the book has a lot of chapters like this … almost like montage shots … Valancy’s time on the island, her marriage to Barney, what the two of them do together, how easy it is between them – but Lucy Maud is so good at this kind of writing – It’s a montage, yes – but it never loses its specificity. We never feel like, as in some montages, that this is an author being LAZY, being unable to get us from point A to point B logically – so they resort to a montage. Lucy Maud uses these montage sequences very deliberately – and you really get the sense of this relationship. Of the seasons passing, of their feeling for each other growing, etc.)

These montage-chapters are absolutely sensuous.

Excerpt from The Blue Castle – by L.M. Montgomery.

Valancy toiled not, neither did she spin. There was really very little work to do. She cooked their meals on a coal-oil stove, performing all her little domestic rites carefully and exultingly, and they ate out on the verandah that almost overhung the lake. Before them lay Mistawis, like a scene out of some fairy tale of old time. And Barney smiling his twisted, enigmatical smile at her across the table.

“What a view old Tom picked out when he built this shack!” Barney would say exultantly.

Supper was the meal Valancy liked best. The faint laughter of winds was always about them and the colours of Mistawis, imperial and spiritual, under the changing clouds, were something that cannot be expressed in mere words. Shadows, too. Clustering in the pines until a wind shook them out and pursued them over Mistawis. They lay all day along the shores, threaded by ferns and wild blossoms. They stole around the headlands in the glow of the sunset, until twilight wove them all into one great web of dusk.

The cats, with their wise, innocent little faces, would sit on the verandah railing and eat the tidbits Barney flung them. And how good everything tasted! Valancy, amid all the romance of Mistwis, never forgot that men had stomachs. Barney paid her no end of compliments on her cooking.

“After all,” he admitted, “there’s something to be said for square meals. I’ve mostly got along by boiling two or three dozen eggs hard at once and eating a few when I got hungry, with a slice of bacon once in a while and a jorum of tea.”

Balancy poured tea out of Barney’s little battered old pewter teapot of incredible age. She had not even a set of dishes – only Barney’s mismatched chipped bits – and a dear, big, pobby old jug of robin’s-egg blue.

After the meal was over they would sit there and talk for hours – or sit and say nothing, in all the languages of the world, Barney pulling away at his pipe, Valancy dreaming idly and deliciously, gazing at the far-off hills beyond Mistawis where the spires of firs came out against the sunset. The moonlight would begin to silver the Mistawis. Bats would begin to swoop darkly against the pale, western gold. The little waterfall that came down on the high bank not far away would, by some whim of the wildwood gods, begin to look like a wonderful white woman beckoning through the spicy, fragrant evergreens. And Leander would begin to chuckle diabolically on the mainland shore. How sweet it was to sit there and do nothing in the beautiful silence, with Barney at the other side of the table, smoking!

There were plenty of other islands in sight, though none were near enough to be troublesome as neighbours. There was one little group of islets far off to the west which they called the Fortunate Isles. At sunrise they looked like a cluster of emeralds, at sunset like a cluster of amethysts. They were too small for houses; but the lights on the larger islands would bloom out all over the lake, and bonfires would be lighted on their shores, streaming up into the wood shadows and throwing great, blood-red ribbons over the waters. Music would drift to them alluringly from boats here and there, or from the verandahs on the big house of the millionaire on the biggest island.

“Would you like a house like that, Moonlight?” Barney asked her once, waving his hand at it. He had taken to calling her Moonlight, and Valancy loved it.

“No,” said Valancy, who had once dreamed of a mountain castle ten times the size of the rich man’s “cottage” and now pitied the poor inhabitants of palaces. “No. It’s too elegant. I would have to carry it with me everywhere I went. On my back like a snail. It would own me – possess me, body and soul. I like a house I can love and cuddle and boss. Just like ours here. I don’t envy Hamilton Gossard ‘the finest summer residence in Canada.’ It is magnificent, but it isn’t my Blue Castle.”

Away down the far end of the lake they got every night a glimpse of a big, continual train rushing through a clearing. Valancy liked to watch its lighted windows flash by and wonder who was on it and what hopes and fears it carried. She also amused herself by picturing Barney and herself going to the dances and dinners at the houses on the islands, but she did not want to go in reality. Once they did go to a masquerade dance in the pavilion at one of the hotels up the lake, and had a glorious evening, but slipped away in their canoe, before unmasking time, back to the Blue Castle.

“It was lovely – but I don’t want to go again,” said Valancy.

So many hours a day Barney shut himself up in Bluebeard’s Chamber. Valancy never saw the inside of it. From the smells that filtered through at times she concluded he must be conducting chemical experiments – or counterfeiting money. Valancy supposed there must be smelly processes in counterfeiting money. But she did not trouble herself about it. She had no desire to peer into the locked chambers of Barney’s house of life. His past and his future concerned her not. Only this rapturous present. Nothing else matterred.

Once he went away and stayed away two days and nights. He had asked Valancy if she would be afraid to stay alone and she had said she would not. He never told her where he had been. She was not afraid to be alone, but she was horribly lonely. The sweetest sound she had ever heard was Lady Jane’s clatter through the woods when Barney returned. And then his signal whistle from the shore. She ran down to the landing rock to greet him – to nestle herself into his eager arms – they did seem eager.

“Have you missed me, Moonlight?” Barney was whispering.

“It seems a hundred years since you went away,” said Valancy.

“I won’t leave you again.”

“You must,” protested Valancy, “if you want to. I’d be miserable if I thought you wanted to go and didn’t because of me. I want you to feel perfectly free.”

Barney laughed – a little cynically.

“There is no such thing as freedom on earth,” he said. “Only different kinds of bondages. And comparative bondages. You think you are free now because you’ve escaped from a peculiarly unbearable kind of bondage. But are you? You love me – that’s a bondage.”

“Who said or wrote that ‘the prison unto which we doom ourselves no prison is’?” asked Valancy dreamily, clinging to his arm as they climbed up the rock steps.

“Ah, now you have it,” said Barney. “That’s all the freedom we can hope for – the freedom to choose our prison. But, Moonlight” — he stopped at the door of the Blue Castle and looked about him – at the glorious lake, the great, shadowy woods, the bonfires, the twinkling lights — “Moonlight, I’m glad to be home again. When I came down through the woods and saw my home lights – mine – gleaming out under the old pines – something I’d never seen before – oh, girl, I was glad – glad!”

But in spite of Barney’s doctrine of bondage, Valancy thought they were splendidly free. It was amazing to be able to sit up half the night and look at the moon if you wanted to. To be late for meals if you wanted to – she who had always been rebuked so sharply by her mother and so reproachfully by Cousin Stickles if she were one minute late. Dawdle over meals as long as you wanted to. Leave your crusts if you wanted to. Not come home at all for meals if you wanted to. Sit on a sun-warm rock and paddle your bare feet in the hot sand if you wanted to. Just sit and do nothing in the beautiful silence if you wanted to. In short, do any fool thing you wanted to whenever the notion took you. If that wasn’t freedom, what was?

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17 Responses to The Books: The Blue Castle (L.M. Montgomery)

  1. Harriet says:

    Oh, indeed, Valancy. That sounds heavenly to me, too. Just the sort of life I would love. I do so enjoy watching her come alive throughout this book.

  2. charlene says:

    Oh, I love, love, love this book!!

    This is probably weird of me… but I have always kind of wondered whether they were having sex. On one hand… they ARE married, and I’m sure she wanted to experience it before she died. On the other hand… it seems like the sort of thing Barney wouldn’t do with someone he knew (or thought he knew) he didn’t love.

  3. red says:

    Charlene – yeah, I wonder that too. So I guess I’m weird too. But you can’t help but wonder … because it’s not a regular marriage – with no courtship – a strange circumstance … so … what goes on there???

    Whatever it is, they obviously worked it out – because they seem content with each other – I just love these montage sections.

  4. charlene says:

    hee, glad I’m not the only one! I wonder if it never really actually crossed L.M.’s mind, though… If I had to guess, I’d say they probably didn’t. Okay, I’ll stop obsessing now.

    These montage sections are really just great… her new life makes me kind of jealous! But in a good way. Thanks for posting this!

  5. Harriet says:

    I’ve actually discussed that in another group of friends. We pretty much agreed that it did, indeed, cross Maud’s mind.We also came to the conclusion that when Barney agreed to marry Valancy, he agreed to everything marriage entails. In short, yes, there was sex in the marriage. At the very least we know from the book that they shared a bed–there was only one in the house.

  6. charlene says:

    Huh. Good point, Harriet– I’d forgotten about the bed. And I guess it isn’t like marriages with sex without love didn’t exist.

  7. Su says:

    I love this book! There must be some romance between Valancy and Barney when he talks about the “kissable dent” between her collar bones- pretty racy stuff for Lucy Maud!

  8. sheila says:

    Su – very racy!!

    Love this book so much – it’s so cool to realize how many fans are out there.

  9. Alice says:

    Here’s why I question whether Valancy and Barney had sex: she could get pregnant, and she was going to die. If you had less than a year to live, would you want to get pregnant? Would Valancy? Would any of Montgomery’s characters? Would she want to die with a seven or eight month fetus, knowing the fetus would die with her? Would she want to give birth and then die, leaving Barney alone with an infant? Or is it presumed that they used birth control? And here’s a second reason: Barney, at the beginning of their marriage anyway, did not love her. Would Montgomery want one of her characters to make love to the heroine if he wasn’t in love with her? He never even declared his love until after she left him. Having said all that, I can think of just as much justification for the argument that they DID have sex (which basically boils down to: They were MARRIED!), so I am completely torn as to whether they did or didn’t.

  10. Lauren says:

    I’ve come late to this conversation, but I can’t resist adding: the paragraph about berry-picking answers the question about sex, I think. “How pretty blueberries were–the dainty green of the unripe berries, the glossy pinks and scarlets of the half ripes, the misty blue of the fully matured! etc.” And the mention of strawberries… the strawberry has had erotic associations for centuries (as well as associations with modesty and virtue). Very erotic paragraph (and modest!); L.M.M. constructed it carefully.

  11. sheila says:

    Lauren – love that analysis – thank you!

  12. Amy says:

    I think Barney loves Valancy even before they married…he just can’t admit it because of the hurt of his previous relationship. That is why he keeps stopping by Roaring Abel’s to see her, and take her out, and rescue her from Chidley Corners. He loves her very much, and is sorry for her. He tells her, at the end, that he had to be sure he could trust her. And they definitely have sex, right away after marriage. Why do you think Valancy is grinning like an idiot when she returns to Deerwood four days after her wedding? People knew how to prevent pregnancy back then, so they obviously practiced birth control of some sort (remember Cissy’s comment that she “didn’t know…some things,” which is code for not knowing about birth control and thus, she got pregnant.

  13. Kate says:

    Like Amy said, I think Barney had feelings for Valancy early on. The scene in the garden when they first talk kind of gives away that Barney sees a dimension to Valancy other than prim old maid. Valancy very openly adores Foster’s books, so that would have drawn Barney to her, as well. Barney takes her out to the Port several times on what are essentially dates, and after the funeral he goes a long way out of his way to come back to Valancy to ask if there is anything he can do for her. You get the feeling he’s preparing himself to miss her. What’s brilliant about L. M. is how subtly Barney’s feelings are suggested. He’s a mystery, and that’s what puts our knickers in a knot, right there with poor passion-addled Valancy. And like Lauren said, L. M. makes a lot of allusion to intimacy. Most of it passes over the heads of modern readers who are accustomed to having it spelled out for them. But we do know that Barney engages in all the normal gestures of affection–caresses, hand-holding, compliments, kisses, embraces, adorable pet names, good-natured teasing–so why not sex? This book was originally billeted as an adult fiction, and when consider some of the elements–Barney waxing poetic over her ankles and her collarbones, Valancy bragging to her family about the feel of Barney’s arms around her, the many, many references to them sleeping next to each other–you can only really conclude that these things were considered rather racy and directly allude to the physical relationship between the two, and that’s what made it adult fiction. Besides, after all of L. M.’s groundwork to convince us in prior chapters that everything is oh-so natural and easy between Valancy and Barney, are we supposed to believe there would be this awkward elephant in the room when it came to sex? Nah. Barney sincerely likes Valancy, even if he didn’t realize he loved her; he finds her attractive and tells her so; he’s been single for ten years and we all know what that does to a man; Valancy is in pursuit of life experiences of all kinds and is hell-bent on solving her envy of other, desired women; plus, she’s crazy about him. They totally got it on.

    I love finding other fans of TBC. Maybe here my little rant won’t even sound crazy. Here’s hoping.

  14. Allie says:

    I read some article somewhere about L.M. Montgomery years ago–and it was talking about sex in her books and it quoted that passage when Valancy comes to tell her relatives that she married Barney and she sees that her rose bush (which she had for years and which never bloomed) is now miraculously blooming after her marriage “Great, crimson, velvety blossoms. Fragrant. Glowing. Wonderful.” The author (I wish I could remember who wrote this article) talked about how this was almost certainly Montgomery’s ways of saying Barney and Valancy were having sex (and quite good sex, too). I agree.

    I also think that in the scene where Valancy proposes to Barney there is an implication that she wants to have sex with him when they’re married. There’s this kind of oblique line that comes after Barney reads the letter from Dr. Trent, when it’s said that Barney “understood–more perhaps than Valancy wanted him to.” I’ve always thought that what he understands is partly her desire to have sex before she dies.

    Plus, the real proof is that in the chapter when they’re married and he takes her to the island for the first time–that chapter ends with him kissing her in a very romantic way before they enter the house. Montgomery then basically “fades to black” before things can get more intimate (like we’re leaving Barney and Valancy to their privacy) and the next chapter begins with Valancy walking to her mother’s house a few days later…incredibly happy and then there’s the stuff with the rose bush, her comment about loving to have Barney’s arms around her, etc. I believe that there’s no way they weren’t having sex.

  15. Anya says:

    I was more than thrilled to get to know how much this book is loved! Everyone, thank you for all the above comments. I guess I’m weird too, as the notion of sex between Valancy and Barney often makes me sleepless at night. Your comments definitely cast a lot of light on the issue. :-) I just love Allie’s comment on the rose bush and Kate’s comment on the subtlety of Barney’s feelings and his gestures of affection. On one hand, he seems to be so tender and compassionate for Valancy, and, all the same, he truly makes her feel like a Woman because he behaves like a Man. I’d also say that Barney fell in love with his Moonlight much, much earlier than he realized that he loved her. Harriet wrote: “when Barney agreed to marry Valancy, he agreed to everything marriage entails”, whereas Alice said: “Would Montgomery want one of her characters to make love to the heroine if he wasn’t in love with her?” Such mixture of sweet responsibility and love, only to make the other person happy, is so Barney-like! What a romantic book!

  16. Rose Rowland says:

    Of course, they were having sex. In this way, many older books are more sophisticated. They just take sex for granted and move on. They were married. They had sex. She told him NOT to treat her differently because of her heart condition. And condoms have been around since the 18th century in different forms and certainly Barney would have the sense to use them. So, yes. They had good sex.

  17. Wendy Smith says:

    I have been enchanted with this story since the very first time I read it. The magical romance between Barney and Valancey is better than any modern movie! I agree with pretty much everyone here that their marriage was consummated, however, I am also grateful that it is not spelled out in lurid details. This is a book that I can share with anyone!
    I lent it to a co-worker and when she returned it she said, “I kept waiting for the sex scene.” From the intelligent and respectful conversation on this board, I would have to say, she missed it.
    I’m so glad that there are so many people who love this book as much as I do! I am a part of a book club and this month we are doing The Blue Castle! I’m super excited! I’m hosting and I am trying to make treats, beverages, and snacks from the book. Anything that stands out to you? I mean, I don’t really want to boil a bunch of eggs and have bacon strips of the ladies to dine on…

    Okay, to my favorite part of the book: I love the dinner party! It is so completely hilarious!! It is even funnier to me because I can almost put one of my own family members in each seat assigned to L.M. Montgomery’s characters! So funny!!!!

    Thank you all for your thoughts and for sharing your love of this great book!!!

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