The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery

The Blue Castle is one of those books that completely and utterly warms your heart and lifts your spirits, leaving you with a big smile on your face and a long sigh of satisfaction at the closing of its pages.

This was my first L M Montgomery; after reading a review of it over on Vintage Reads and after hearing Elaine at Random Jottings wax lyrical about L M Montgomery, I decided it was high time to address the fact that 23 years of my life have managed to pass without an L M Montgomery book so much as featuring in them. I confess; I have not even read Anne of Green Gables. Shocking, I know! Serendipitously, after deciding I quite fancied reading The Blue Castle, and being disappointed to see that it was both out of print and very difficult to get hold of at a reasonable price, I managed to pick up a lovely copy cheaply on ebay and so the wonderful world of Valancy Stirling entered my life.

Valancy is 29; a plain, dull old maid, living with her widowed mother and Cousin Stickles, who treat her like a child and give her no freedom whatsoever. Cowed by the constant reprimands of her domineering mother and the rest of the varied Stirling clan who live in their small Canadian country town, Valancy is miserable but too afraid to do anything about it. She is the butt of family jokes, treated like a disappointment and an inconvenience by her own mother, and denied any opportunity to express her vivid imagination. Ever since she was a child Valancy has escaped her miserable existence by wishing herself away to her dream world, in which she lives in her beautiful ‘Blue Castle’ and is loved by a dashing young man. Only in her Blue Castle can Valancy be the woman she wants to be, but she wakes up on her 29th birthday with the realisation that she has nothing to look forward to, and she cannot go on living in a fantasy world. Something has to give.

So, Valancy makes her first step towards independence by going to see a doctor disapproved of by her family about a little heart problem she has been worried about. Devastatingly the doctor writes to her after her appointment to tell her that she only has a year to live; and with this news to give her the push she needs, Valancy decides to go out and live her life, for herself, for as long as she has left. To the shock and shame of her family, she ups and leaves to keep house for the local drunk and his fallen daughter who is dying of TB. While there, she becomes aware of her capabilities, finds happiness in her life for the first time, and even falls in love. From then on, the sky is her limit…but what will happen when her year is up??

I can’t tell you how much I LOVED this. It was such a simple, gentle story, but profound in its message that everyone has the capability of living a full and interesting and happy life, and that living your life in fear is a waste of your potential no matter how frightening taking those first steps into the territory we so fear may be. Valancy is so loveable, and her family so lacking in understanding of the spirit of adventure and romance that lights up her heart, that you can’t help but want everything to come right for her as she sets out on her journey of self discovery. The heartwarming story of how Valancy finds her very own real life Blue Castle is absolutely brilliant and, as Writerspet said in her comment on my previous post, it’s the sort of book where ‘everything you want to happen, happens.’ It’s practically perfect in every way, much like Mary Poppins, and this is going to become a comforting staple in my reading diet to lift my spirits whenever I feel down. What a magical, wonderful, gem of a book. It doesn’t deserve to be so forgotten, and I urge you, if you can find a copy, to read it, and believe in your dreams again!

54 comments

  1. Since you say it's hard to find Blue Castle I've got a challenge in front of me but this does sound like my kind of book. Read Anne of Greene Gables–I did for the first time this last year and I loved it!

  2. I'm glad that you loved The Blue Castle. I can't imagine what it must be like to have never read Anne of G G. How wonderful for you to be discovering the joys of reading LMM.

  3. This sounds so lovely! I haven't read anything by Montgomery, but think I need to change that in 2010. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

  4. This sounds enchanting! Perhaps Persephone will republish it … I wonder whether Elaine has already approached them?I admire your perseverance and luck in tracking down old, out-of-print books. Good luck finding more and bringing them to our attention.Please read Anne of Green Gables (and its sequels). I have the DVD boxset of the adaptation and it is such a pleasure. I am due a long overdue and comforting reread of the books.

  5. I think I got this out from the library when I was in my LMM phase, but I don't think I ever read it as the story doesn't sound familiar to me. It sounds fabulous, though, so if I see it in a bookstore, I'll be sure to pick it up. Greaet review🙂

  6. I definitely want to read this one, and think I will make an effort to pick it up while I'm back home in Canada over Christmas (the book may be out of print in most countries, but I can hardly imagine L.M. Montgomery books going out of print in her mother land!). I loved Anne of Green Gables as a little girl, but have never tried any of LMM's other books. I've read about this one on a few blogs now and think it's time to revisit a favourite childhood author!

  7. I've been anticipating your review of this. I too, have yet to read L.M. Montgomery and wasn't sure where to start. It sounds so lovely. I'm off to find one on ebay now and other booksellers…hope I find a good copy.P.S. I'm reading Little Women now and loving it.

  8. Thanks for the shout-out! Even back in Canada, this is sort of an unknown title (my family happened to get it from a library that was getting rid of worn-out books). I have a major craving for a re-read, now.

  9. Old Bookworm – I think you may have a challenge ahead of you, but a fun one – I love the thrill of the chase when it comes to tracking down old books! I have Anne of Green Gables on my pile waiting for me – I am so excited to read it now!Geraldine – Hello! Thanks for commenting. I know, it's so much fun discovering a new author that everyone seems to love so much!Jackie – It really is! I'm glad you haven't read Montgomery either – perhaps we should both read Anne of Green Gables in 2010!Claire – It is just the sort of book Persephone should republish…I am sure Elaine must have sung its virtues to Nicola…I will find out, and if not, suggest it!Thank you – and yes, I am going to read Anne of Green Gables next year. I'm on a mission to read more L M Montgomery now!Aarti – I think you will love this – I hope you find it soon!Steph – I'm sure Canada will have it in print! I hope you find it and can read it soon – revisiting childhood favourites is always such a lovely experience!Literary Stew – Yay for another person discovering LMM! I hope you find a copy – please let me know if you do! Oh and I'm so glad you're loving Little Women! It's one of my favourites!Writerspet – It's a pleasure! Oh really? How interesting! I'd love to hear your thoughts if you do have a reread!

  10. I've been wanting to read this for ages as I've loved LMM's writing since I was a little girl. I'd love it if Persephone was to reprint it, but I wonder if it might be tricky negotiating the rights with the LMM estate…

  11. I'm glad you liked it! And thanks for raising Blue Castle awareness in the blogosphere! 😛 If you're going to read more of her books (Anne of Green Gables is good but not as good as some of the others, in my opinion), can I recommend Jane of Lantern Hill as a superb standalone? It's not dissimilar to The Blue Castle in some ways (Jane is shy and a bit repressed & eventually comes out of her shell), but the story is different, and a lot of fun. And then the Emily of New Moon books are my other favorites – she wants to be a writer, so I identified with her SO MUCH. Emily of New Moon is the first one, and then Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest.

  12. Oh I am so happy you liked this book. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it and read it at least once a year. And yes Jenny's Book is right – Jane of Lantern HIll is also gorgeous. It is wonderful when somebody else you know reads and enjoys one of your own loved books.Hooray!!

  13. Rachel, I haven't read Anne of Green Gables yet, too! I also saw The Blue Castle at Vintage Reads and wanted to read but couldn't find a copy at the library. Hope Persephone publishes it..

  14. I had never read any Hodgson Bennett before I read The Shuttle not even The Secret Garden so I loved your thoughts on reading Montgomery when you had missed her childrens classics, sometimes its just the way. This book sounds like a complete gem and I am most jealous that you found it!

  15. There was a news story this morning that a first edition of Anne of Green Gables was coming up for auction at Sotheby's. It was purchased by the current owner for five figures! The Blue Castle is not a title of Montgomery's that I'm familiar with but it does sound lovely. Wonder if my library has it…hmmm, off to find out!

  16. This sounds great! If I get to see it somewhere, I'll pick it up. Thank you for introducing it to us! By the way, I began to read "No name" the other day, and so far, I'm really liking it.🙂

  17. I agree that this is practically perfect in every way.Of course the Anne books are great, but my favourite by Montgomery are the three Emily books.

  18. This one sounds gorgeous – I had never heard of it before even though I am a huge Anne of Green Gables fan. I will have to try and track it donw – somehow, someway!

  19. I'll have to track down a copy here to satisfy my re-reading urge – my original copy is locked up in Canada. The parents live in Italy right now so I don't have any access to my childhood favourites!

  20. Julia – Yes, that could be a problem…though they've managed to reprint Frances Hodgson Burnett so you never know!Jenny – Thank you! I shall be looking out for those then – they sound fabulous! I have the first Anne to read so I'll give that a go too.Elaine – It really does sound like a favourite of yours! It's all thanks to you that I had such an urge to discover LMM for myself so thank you! I shall be off on a journey of discovery now!Claire – Yay I am not alone! Oh that's no good – I hope you'll find a copy somewhere!Simon – Thank you! Discovering an iconic author for the first time is such a fun experience and it's also lovely because I have so many more books to track down and read! Darlene – Five figures?!?! My budget doesn't stretch to that! So glad you found a copy at the library – I can't wait to read your thoughts!Novel Insights – Oh that's not my copy – mine is scabbier than that, but still very beautiful! It is such a cosy read – perfect for lifting the spirits in these cold winter months!Leticia – I do hope you manage to find it! Oooh do let me know how you find No Name! I hope you love it as much as I did!Sarah – Hmmm another vote for the Emily books…I'll have to hunt those down!Karen – It is gorgeous! I hope you find a copy – there seems to be more in the US than in the UK so you might get lucky.Writerspet – Locked up?! Poor Blue Castle! Maybe your library might have one?

  21. Rachel, so glad you loved this book. Loved your review. This book has such a cult following now somebody needs to republish it!

  22. Vintage Reading – Thank you! I know, I know – gorgeous novels like this should NEVER be allowed to go out of print!

  23. I am so glad you loved it! I devoured all Lucy Maud Montgomery's books as a child, so it's always tricky wondering how much of my love for her work is based on happy memories and how much on the merits of the books. I see a few recommendations for "Jane of Lantern Hill", and I'm heartily piping up in agreement. If you have trouble finding it, please let me know and I can loan you mine.

  24. "The Blue Castle" is the only one of L. M. Montgomery's novels (there are 22)not set in Prince Edward Island; it is set in the Bala/Muskoka area of Ontario (about 2 hours north of Toronto). There is a small museum there honouring the book and author. This is also one of LMM's few books featuring an adult main character instead of a child or young adult main character. Colleen McCullough ("The Thorn Birds") was sued by the Montgomery Heirs when her novel "The Ladies of Missalonghi" was published; it was considered too close to the plot of "The Blue Castle" and she was accused of plaguarism.L M Montgomery fans might enjoy this website — http://inglesideimpressions.com with information on All Things Anne and LMM. There are also hints for visiting PEI and Green Gables. Background books on Anne of Green Gables, Secret Garden, Little Women, and "Little House" series are available here.

    1. I’m very interested in the law suit you mentioned. Having just finished The Laides of Missalonghi, I posted on McCullough’s Wikipedia page about her reliance on The Blue Castle. I suspected that a lawsuit might have happened.

      Do you know more?

      1. I have a little information on it if you haven’t found out about the suit. I would be glad to share with you.

  25. I love the sound of this book: I shall have a good scout around for it. I don't know if you've read any of her journals but please do give them a try they are really very good.

  26. I love all of Montgomery’s books….and a couple of years back, there was a time where most local bookstores stocked her books. I was lucky to get my copy then. If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables …you most likely will enjoy the prequel “before green gables” by budge wiilson. I read that last year and found it the perfect link to understand Anne better.

  27. I freaking LOVE this book. I read it in the exact reverse order from you–after I had read and loved everything else by LMM I came across it, and it was like the Flying Spaghetti Monster himself had reached down and touched my life in a special way.

    If you liked Blue Castle you might love her other non-YAish novel, A Tangled Web. You can find it (and a link to the Blue Castle, for your readers who can’t find it) here: http://www.tickledorange.com/LMM/Etexts.html

    Great review!

  28. Great review and wonderful to find both a late bloomer in LMM reads (I didn’t read her until my early 20s) and a Valancy champion. I am surprised by how many people have not known about this charming book. Thank you for getting the word out.

  29. I couldn’t believe all these wonderful people have also read the Blue Castle! I loved this book because it just made me so happy. Period. I have not met any other adult who reads LM Montgomery so I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. I didn’t read any of her books until I was 25! So, I guess I’m one of the LM Montgomery late bloomers.

    Something interesting though is that I’ve read The Ladies of Missalonghi and I’ve always wondered if it’s just a coincidence that they have the same plot.

  30. I am 81 and have been reading and re-reading L. M. Montgomery since the age of 10! I have all her novels and short stories, many of them falling apart now. I also love her Journals and poems. I visited the Island some years ago and stayed in the Shining Waters Inn and I would love to go again,

  31. It was wonderful. Visited Green Gables, Lover’s Lane, The Haunted Wood.the remains of The Homestead where L. M. M.lived with her grandmother and of course Park Corner, where the Emily books were set. Walked on Cavendish (Avonlea) beach and loved the red, red cliffs. I still dream about it!

  32. I’ve just finished The Blue Castle, after reading your recommendation, and I loved it. L M Montgomery’s descriptions of the moon and the island retreat are outstanding, and the characterisations of Valancy and her awful relatives are fabulous. Jane of Lantern Hill will always be my favourite LMM though, I first read it when I was about eight, and I still have my late mother’s copy of this book.

  33. Following on from my comment (above) I’ve made arrangements to visit Muskoka and Bala when I am in Canada in early July. I’ll be staying with my sister in Guelph, Ontario, and she said that the Muskoka area is what they call ‘cottage country’ – it’s where people go for holiday breaks and weekends, as it’s within easy driving distance of Toronto and the surrounding area. I will be making sure I visit the museum dedicated to LMM. I can’t wait!

  34. Read this as a library book decades ago and never heard it mentioned since. Really pleased that so many people like it – it is my favourite Montgomery – even better than the ‘Emily’ books.

    1. At times of stress I always read L.M.Montgomery. I am working my way through all her novels at the moment and they are really helping me at this difficult time.
      Margaret Jones.

      1. I had a very enjoyable time yesterday re-discovering ‘The Blue Castle’, thanks to your kindly prompt.

        I have dug out a 1915 review of ‘Anne of the Island’ which I hope may also cheer you – http://www.moulderslane.wordpress.com.

        I hope your difficult time will soon pass and that your wanderings in the sunlight of Avonlea bring you eventually into the sunlight of the world.

      2. Many thanks for your comments. I enjoyed all the excerpts on your web-site. Have now reached Anne’s House of Dreams, (my favourite Anne book) and am feeling much better.

      3. I’m so pleased you’re feeling more the thing, thanks to ‘Anne.’

        Flora Klickman has some excellent advice for those going through difficult times in the 1916 G.O.P; I’ve been thinking of doing a little synopsis and review of the articles and stories in this, with some further excerpts, each month, seeing it’s a hundred years ago, and will include some of her very sensible suggestions.

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