In spite of being familiar with Anne of Green Gables from a very early age – I don’t think I can remember not knowing about that red-headed snippet – it wasn’t until I reached my early teens that I realized there were other books, even series, by the same author. I felt as though I’d stumbled on buried treasure when I discovered a few battered paperbacks by L.M. Montgomery that weren’t about Anne (as much as I loved her). Over the years, I managed to get my hands on quite a few of her other novels, ranging from sweet romances to poignant stories about orphans (a common theme with L.M. Montgomery, I’ve noticed).
One of my favorites would have to be Jane of Lantern Hill. It’s an adorable story about indefatigable Jane Victoria who lives in with her mother and grandmother on Gay Street (which does not live up to its name at all). Life is stifling, with a controlling grandmother and a mother who never learned to stand up for herself or the ones she loves. Her parents have been separated since she was a baby, and as a result, Jane has never known her father. Until one fateful day when she’s eleven years old, that is. A letter from her dad arrives in the mail requesting that she come visit him on PEI for the summer.
Jane, loyal to her beloved mother, assumes that her father is a jerk and grudgingly departs on her visit. While gone, she discovers that the perspective she’s always had isn’t entirely accurate, and tasting true freedom for the first time, blossoms under its influence. Maybe the ending isn’t the most plausible on earth, but it is satisfying. Definitely on my comfort-read shelf. I love, love, love sensible Jane. She is awesome.
Next up is an entirely different sort of book (even if it does feature the commonality of a uber-controlling mother figure): The Blue Castle. Valancy is 29 years old, an old maid and never been truly happy a day of her life. From the day she was born, she’s been under the thumb and watchful eye of her controlling mother. She’s not allowed to spend more than ten minutes at a time alone in her own bedroom. She’s only allowed one frivolous book from the library per month (and only because it’s not really frivolous, but about nature). She’s pushed and made fun of and controlled. Her only escape is in her books and her imagination, the imaginary home she’s always wanted: her blue castle.
And she is sick of it. When she learns that she has a heart condition that leaves her with months to live, she decides that enough is enough. With the simple letter from a doctor, she embarks on the adventure of her life and pursues freedom. It’s funny, adorable and yes, unrealistic in several ways, but a fun, comfort read. And while some plot twists are unrealistic, the characters are very real and Valancy’s mother’s controlling ways* are most definitely realistic. This book surprised me when I first read it because while it is distinctly L.M. Montgomery’s style of writing, it was very different from any of her other books I had already experienced. Surprised in a good way – it was not what I expected, but it exceeded my expectations.
*This common thread of controlling female/motherly characters in L.M. Montgomery’s novels intrigues me. I haven’t read up on any of her biographies or journals in a long time, but there had to have been at least one or two women in her life that gave her the inspiration to put these controlling characters on paper. Interesting…