Friday, October 20, 2023

Literary Sewing Circle: Book Talk!

 We have jumped right into the Fall 2023 Literary Sewing Circle round! Today's the day for some beginning book talk! How are you doing with the book? Have you started it yet? Finished it? Do you have any reactions you'd like to share? 

Here are a few questions to ponder today and for the next while -- whether you have begun reading, or you've only read blurbs & author interviews so far and still have something to say, join in! Although there might be a few spoilers in the questions and discussion below so if you haven't got too far yet you might want to come back to this post.

I'll add some of my own thoughts and you can reply to them or add your own impressions. If you want to hear other takes on a part of the book that you are curious about, leave your own questions in the comments, too.

1. If you decided to pick up this book and read it for this round, why? Are you familiar with LM Montgomery, or did the book just sound interesting on its own?

As I've mentioned, I've read this book many times over the years. LM Montgomery is a favourite author of mine, and I've read all her stories, plus many biography/critical works as well. I am really fond of The Blue Castle for its unusual (for LMM) setting of Ontario, as well as the more adult focus of the story. I think most people are most familiar with Anne of Green Gables, but there are lots of other interesting heroines to explore as well! Valancy is a good one, with some backbone, and humour to keep her relatable.

2. What do you think of the structure of the book? Is Valancy's family believable to you or over the top?

I like the way everything is dreary in the beginning then opens out into possibility (this reminds me a little of the way that Elizabeth von Arnim's Enchanted April starts, in a vague sense, anyhow!) Her family is just dreadful enough to make a reader cringe, but I can see how this is a realistic portrait - from Valancy's perspective anyhow. Maybe the irritating characteristics are a little bit enhanced to draw out the way that Valancy has just had enough of everything by this point. 

And it's notable how some of the relatives don't seem like they're intentionally mean or awful but their assumptions about Valancy and the way they treat her is just unbearable. I do find that each time I reread it I wish that the section with her being squashed by her family was shorter...

3. If you got news like Valancy's letter in the beginning, what would you do next? What did you think about her diagnosis?

The diagnosis sounds to me like a bit of a mcguffin -- it doesn't really matter what it is exactly, just that it electrifies Valancy and forces her to make a huge change. Once she stops caring what's going to happen to her in a penurious old age, and worrying about offending anyone that she might need later one, she can make actual choices for herself. 

I don't think she was afraid to do what she wanted because she was strictly tied to social norms (she certainly threw them off fast enough when she had the chance) but because of the fact that she had no agency, no way to support herself in life otherwise. Lack of money, or ability to earn it, is the root of her imprisonment in her family circle. If I found out that I had limited time left to me, I think I'd do something massively different as well, but there would be more choices to us these days than Valancy was able to access. 

4. Is there a particular character that you found especially compelling? Any themes  that really resonate with you?

I do like Valancy, and the way she decides to just grab what she wants once her fear disappears. She's a humble and funny heroine, with some sarcastic wit but isn't mean even to her family members. The whole thrust of the story, with Valancy taking her life into her own hands and making decisions to suit herself (and it all turning out marvellously) is always a rewarding arc to read. 

I also find Cousin Georgiana a really sweet character, and she's the only one that Valancy maintains any kind of emotional tie to. The little throwaway scene where Cousin Georgiana is hoping that Valancy is eating enough, and warm enough, in her remote home is the only time anyone in Valancy's family is shown to be thinking of her comfort and safety. It's oddly touching. 

I like Barney but never really felt he had magnetic appeal the way that perhaps other LMM heroes can be. And his gaudy father, at first glance quite terrible, turns out to be quite delightfully grateful for his son and new daughter-in-law.

5. What did you think of the relationship between Valancy and Barney? Was the development convincing? Do you think he rescued her, or did she also rescue him?

I always thought it convenient that Valancy had someone to dream about who was actually real, nearby, and nice enough to put her marriage plans to. He was definitely her escape route at the beginning, and she didn't let on that it was for any other reason that she came up with her plan. Barney seems mellow and footloose at the start, but as we begin to get hints about why he lives up back of nowhere, we see that there's a habit of cutting off emotional ties that is part of his lifestyle choices. And that Valancy unknowingly rescues him from his emotional deep freeze, too. It's a really nice balance there, for me.

6.  Is there anything specific  in the book that has sparked an idea for a project yet? Are you mulling over any ideas?

As noted in the intro to the Literary Sewing Circle, as long as you can point out what inspired you in the book, anything goes! This one has a lot of nature imagery, seasonal influences, domestic potential, varied locations, and of course the actual names and places in the book to inspire. You could really go any direction here, from the pine woods, vast lake or blizzards, to cats, firesides or Valancy's embroidered cushions, even to the cinema and Chinese restaurant they visit in town. Maybe Valancy's wardrobe will inspire you, or the colours of the sunset sky will give you ideas. Lots of options!

I'm still thinking about my potential project, trying to decide if I'm going to go with something quite literal, or something more influenced by a mood or image in the story. Hmm. Lots of options! I'll be sharing another inspiration post next week so you'll be able to consider how some of the more conceptual prompts in the story might give you ideas.


  1. I found The Blue Castle to be a really lovely read despite the fact that I don't usually go to the Romance section of the library to select a book. It was a quick read – I just kept wanting to read one more chapter! I felt the description of Valency and her feelings due to her situation were authentic (and terrible) to the period of time in which it is set. A girl who could not be married and would be tied to the family was probably a setback for both parties in reality. In fact I can relate this to my great aunt in the 1960's who never married and was 'tied' to her sister and husband.
    When Valency was stranded in the car with Barney after the dance it was her first realisation that she loved him and with this she realised she 'was no longer solitary. She was one of a vast sisterhood ….. '. It is interesting that she was not worried about not receiving love in return, this emotion enabled her to break free from the bonds of her previous life. Having the opportunity to love as opposed to how she had simply 'existed in life with no love' was like opening a curtain for her and seeing some wonderful. Such a turning point in the feel of story at that point. Even more so than when she first left home to stay with Roaring Abel Gay.

    This would be in contrast to today – or would it? I find it difficult to imagine it would be common to be satisfied with such a situation of loving with no expectation of love in return. I would have thought the need to be loved would be greater. Buy Valency was a very practical woman.

    Montgomery is a very skilled author as she is able to write in a way that the reader can actually 'feel' the emotions of Valency. Yes, it was very easy to cringe at some situations and conversations. (In a funny sort of way, it still had some Anne of Green Gables in it, except there were no children as characters.) And I loved Montgomery's descriptive style! Her ability to link emotions to nature - in the same paragraph as she describes the wonder of love, there is the description of the wind blowing, the pine woods, the hills, the lakes, a patch of violets purple and fragrant. And this was typical of so much of the book.

    So much to say, but - what inspiration do I have for a project? At this point I think I may relate my make to some of the colours of the descriptive scenery. There was so much descriptive writing of this type, it should not be too hard to choose.

    ps I did consider making a flannelette petticoat, but what would I do with it???

    .... Sara

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reflections on the story, Sara! I'm glad you enjoyed it, even if it is something a bit different for you. I agree that the descriptions of nature and the world free from people seem to reflect Valancy's emotional states. And there is so much of it that I'm sure you'll find the right moment of inspiration. Can't wait to see what you decide to do!

  2. As far as I can remember, this is the first book by LM Montgomery that I have read. I tried to read the Anne of Green Gables series but never could get interested in it. I enjoyed The Blue Castle book for what it was. It was an easy, fast relaxing read.
    Valancy’s situation is similar to many of the period books I read and enjoy. She was a very sad character in the beginning and I was happy when she found her courage when she thought she was dying. That sounds desperate but she was desperate to enjoy the rest of her life. Of course the family was dreadful and over-the-top, but that’s what makes Valancy’s actions probable. At least when she left to find her freedom.
    I have to be honest and admit that I was pretty sure there was an error in her diagnosis and I’ve read enough of this type of book to predict the ending. There was no surprise in the final ending for me.
    What did surprise me was the way Valancy ran back to her horrible pre-Barney life when she found out she wasn’t dying. She lived as wife to this man for a year and the minute she finds out she’s going to continue living, she runs back home to the worst place she could? She ran back to the family that treated her horribly because she didn’t think she was worthy of happiness?
    She learned nothing in all the time she had been living happily. She didn’t learn to be honest with Barney and worse she didn’t learn to be honest with herself. I was really disgusted by that. She continued to run away. She ran away from misery and she ran away from happiness. I expected a happy ending, but I didn’t expect her to be so cowardly. She was brave enough to approach Barney initially, she couldn’t muster that same courage to tell him she was happy to be with him? It really disappointed me that she hadn’t grown up or learned anything.
    I haven’t been able to find anything to motivate me to sew except maybe something warm and cozy, but this is the season for sewing those things anyway.

    1. That's a good point you've made about her character development. Much is made of Barney's habit of running away from trouble, but Valancy does it too. I hadn't really thought of it in that way before!

      This is definitely a light, period read, and I'm glad you enjoyed it for that. Speaking of warm and cozy season, remember when Uncle Benjamin sees Valancy in her 'red blanket coat', looking perfectly happy? Maybe a coat (or at least something cozy and red) is in your future? ;)

  3. I'm a little late to the party but I did read the book and really enjoyed it. I don't read enough (outside of scrolling) and am appreciate of this initiative as it pushed me to put down the phone and read a book.

    In spite of being Canadian and spending decades in the Canadian school system, I had never before read an L.M. Montgomery book. And I've never watched a single episode of Anne or Avonlea and as such, Maud's writing style was new to me.

    I found a lot of the novel unbelievable however, that's not to say that I didn't enjoy it. While I thought her family was a caricature, it was Barney's $15,000 necklace that I thought was over the top. I did really enjoy the book but will admit that I was a bit let-down when it turned out to follow the romance novel formula.

    In terms of a make inspired by the novel, if I was to make something I think it would be a garment that was decidedly un-Victorian, her mother would find scandalous and Barney would appreciate - definitely pants - that could be worn when wandering through the woods.

    Thanks so much for the Literary Sewing Circle!

    1. A scandalous project! That's the way to go ;)
      Glad you finally read some Montgomery, too! It is very much following the genre standards but still a pretty fun read, I thought. Happy to hear that you joined in on the reading.


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!