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.