Friday, November 10, 2023

Literary Sewing Circle: Finale & Project Link-Up!

Today is already our final day of the Literary Sewing Circle focusing on LM Montgomery's The Blue Castle!

I hope you've had the chance to read the book, and both the first and second inspiration posts, and are getting lots of ideas for a project of your own.

The project linkup will be added to the bottom of this post: as soon as you are done your project, just pop a link to your post into the linkup and we will all be able to visit your blog/instagram etc. and explore your creation -- remember, it can be sewn, or knitted, crocheted, embroidered... any textile art that you practice.

And thanks to our sponsor Blue Calla Sewing Patterns! She will be giving a randomly chosen winner a free bag pattern from her shop. The project roundup closes on November 30th (LM Montgomery's birthday!) and I will draw a name from anyone who has linked up a project by then, whether on the blogpost or IG. 

I shared a lot of my thoughts on the book in our earlier book talk post. You can explore those for some of my thoughts; today I'll share an overview of my impressions of this novel. I hope you will too!

I reread this one fairly often, having been an LM Montgomery fan from quite a young age -- although this one is better appreciated as an older reader, I feel. On rereading this time around, I did find the first section, with poor Valancy oppressed and living as "Doss", to go on a little long. It was like an extended rainy day from the opening of the book until Valancy's shocking decision to leave home, and maybe because I was familiar with it, or maybe because real life is so dreary in so many ways right now, I was ready for the happy bits to start! 

This is a book you will read for the storyline, although all the characters are pretty engaging, at least for me. And the setting is just so lovely. If you like the writing style, you'll have lots to appreciate here; LMM is great at poking fun at pretension, using common adages to really give a flavour of her time, and of course at writing descriptive passages especially about nature. If you don't really like this kind of writing, it might not be as compelling to you! I love her style so did enjoy it even after many reads. I do usually skim the John Foster quotations by this time, however ;) 

Something I really enjoy in all LMM's books, and I hope it was clear in my previous posts, was how much she includes clothing, and homes, and food in her writing. I find it fascinating and intriguing to read those elements, and to see how she uses things like clothing to reveal a character. Valancy's movement from snuff brown silk and an old-fashioned pompadour hairdo, to pale green shift dress and a bob, shows a vast change in how she sees and presents herself. While Olive, so sleek and plumply satisfied in expensive clothing in the beginning, remains exactly the same at the end but has lost her aura of superiority in Valancy's eyes. And from stuffy, multi-course family meals for all occasions, to roasting potatoes with salt on a campfire in the woods, Valancy's way of living changes from stifling social norms to personal freedom. LMM wrote this at a time that she was finding life difficult, and maybe this was a way of expressing her dreams of freedom.  

The joys of a readalong are that you see new things even in a story that's familiar. In our last book talk post, reader Linda C. made a great point about Valancy running away from Barney at the end and going back to her horrible family home. It made me look at the conclusion of this story in a new way. What do you think about how it ends?

Questions for you: Were you already a Montgomery fan or was this book a new one for you? Did you find the character development satisfactory in the story, or would you like a little more in the main characters? Did you have a favourite side character? Did you enjoy the inclusion of so much description of the setting -- both the natural world and the homes that Valancy lives in -- and what people wear? Would you want to live on a secluded Muskoka island like Barney does? What is your Blue Castle? 

If you're interested in delving a LOT more deeply into The Blue Castle, I recommend the Facebook group "L.M. Montgomery Readathon". They've gone through a number of LMM books, but the most recent readthrough was The Blue Castle. Each chapter is examined, social issues explored, images shared -- and many of the posts are made by LMM scholars. It's a wonderful group and you'll think about this book differently as you read all their discussions!

Please share your thoughts on the book, its themes, characters, or anything you noted about it -- either in the comments here or on our first Book Talk post, or on your own blog with a link to your longer thoughts in the comments so we can find it. I love to talk about the experience of reading so feel free to comment no matter when you're reading this post; if you've read this I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What project have you made, inspired by your reading of The Blue Castle? Share a link to your project on this post as soon as you're done! The linkup will be live until Nov 30 --  you have another 2 weeks of sewing time to finish and share. Don't forget that anyone who enters a project is in the draw for a bag pattern from Blue Calla!

(If the linkup does not work for you please leave a comment with your project)

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


  1. I've been a fan of LM Montgomery since the 80s, when PBS aired the wonderful Anne of Green Gables series. My son, a young teen at the time, gave me a set of all the Anne books and I devoured them. More recently, I discovered the Emily Starr books (Emily of New Moon). Like The Blue Castle, Emily of New Moon includes wonderful descriptions of the natural world.

    The descriptions of Valancy's change in physical appearance were enchanting. My favorite part of the book were her and Barney's life on the island, the beautiful descriptions of their adventures in nature, and the lovely scenes of them cozied up in their Blue Castle during the winter.

    I also found myself disappointed that Emily left the island and husband where she'd been so happy, and ran back to her family in Deerwood. She'd been brave and vulnerable enough to share with Barney her Blue Castle dreams, her love of John Foster's writing, and even to propose marriage to him with full truth. I just didn't understand her timidity in telling Barney of her discovery about her health. I thought the transformed Emily would have told him everything openly. Then perhaps she would have offered to leave if he was unhappy about it. Even worse for me was when she reverted to her old passive ways with her family. It just didn't seem realistic.

    I cried during the sweet reunion chapter with Barney, and at times couldn't see clearly enough to keep reading.

    I was actually rather disappointed that Barney and Valancy chose to go on a whirlwind world tour rather than returning to their island life, which both found so fulfilling. They could have had a good relationship with Barney's father without changing their lifestyle so drastically.

    I do think I'll reread this book sometime. Although dismayed at some of the character development, I did enjoy this adult Montgomery book.

    1. So glad to hear your journey with LMM! I started off with the Anne books too, when my aunts gave me the full set when I was 13. But Emily is also a favourite of mine. Definitely the most career focused LMM heroine!

      I loved the scenes set in winter as well, it all felt so cozy. I'd love to be able to do nothing much all winter but read and tramp around in the snow :) I agree that having them leave the island to go on a world tour is a bit disappointing in a way -- the island was such an idyll, you can't really imagine that the Alhambra is going to be much better, lol! But at least they are planning to come back. I'm happy you enjoyed the read!

  2. Carol - I also found it frustrating, but possibly understandable, that she returned to her family, feeling she had hoodwinked Barney, but I was disappointed with her reverting ot her passivity. It would be interesting to write an alternative narrative where she moves back, BUT takes her own space... and see how mom and cousin Eccles react!

    Not sure I will get a Blue Castel inspired item created, though sadly!

    1. Now that would be a different ending ;) I really like how LMM uses Valancy's reappearance to reveal the characters of her mother and uncle, in particular. That family is just something else!

  3. I found the book charming. Rethinking this, the writing is charming. Most of the characters, not so much. I loved the character of Valancy. She was well-written; I could definitely picture her in my mind. All of her relatives were maddening, except for cousin Georgianna. Hating these characters actually makes a case for the talent of LMM. It was a celebration when Valancy packed her bag and left home.

    I did enjoy Roaring Abel and Cissy. They brought out the best in Valancy and gave her a sense of self. She was able to make Cissy's last days enjoyable.

    The relationship between Barney and Valancy was predicted. I think he was falling in love with her while she was living with Abel and Cissy. He either wasn't admitting it to himself or was too afraid to acknowledge it. I thought their time on the island was magical. I never would have guessed Barney's true profession. I was thinking perhaps he was distilling liquor illegally.

    One question that I had was whether their relationship/marriage was platonic or in name only. It would solidify the reason why she ran home. He was doing her a favor; intimacy would have changed the relationship.

    After Valancy went home. I fully expected Barney's to come for her. I did redirect then to go back to their island. I too was disappointed that they went off on the works tour, living the life of thy wealthy. I would have thought they would eschew that life and continue where they left off.

    I made a nightgown as practice with a dress pattern. I used an old jersey sheet in stripes of yellow, orange, and pink. When it was finished, I thought of the brilliant sunrises and sunsets on the island. Without thinking, I had a garment linked to the book. The garment can be found in a post here:

    In answer to the question above, I would absolutely live on Muskoka Island. My family had a home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It is one of my favorite places on earth. My blue castle would be a timber home with a two-story fireplace.

    1. Ingrid, I too wondered about the intimacy (or not) of their relationship. I think that is deliberately not dealt with because it would have been inappropriate to talk about at the time the book was written!

    2. I also liked Cousin Georgianna the best of all Valancy's relatives. And I think Valancy might have too -- after all, she is looking after their cats while they are away on their world tour!

      As to why Valancy ran home, I also sense it was because she was humiliated by the idea that Barney would think she had tried to trick him into marriage. But in reference to the question of the intimacy of their marriage, it's hard to tell -- there are some moments of closeness described, but of course as Danielle says, it's not something that would have been explicitly addressed in a book of this era. There was a discussion of this point on the LMM Readathon FB page recently - if you're on FB you could read the varied opinions there!

  4. This is the first Montgomery book that I have read and I don't know that I will seek out more of her books. Not to say that I won't ready any more, I just won't go looking for them.

    As far as the intimacy between Valancy and Barney, if I am remembering correctly (I no longer have the book so can't check) there was a mention of them sharing a bed. I assumed they were intimate.

    I didn't actually sew anything motivated by reading the book. I've been a bit busy sewing and doing other things, but if I had time I would have sewn something cozy because I just think the period of time when Valancy and Barney were living together just feels cozy.
    --Linda C

  5. Hi Melanie, Well my technology skills have not improved over the years. After hours of trying to put up my photo I did succeed but I note that it is not possible to view it any larger.

    Not to worry. I loved making this dress, it is rayon fabric which has lovely drape for the style. Valancy had a green dress for best, and as I only have one dress in my wardrobe I was definitely inspired to create this outfit for the LSC. It is one of the Cashmerette Club patterns, the Franconia Dress.

    Another great LSC event - many thanks for all your work Melanie.
    .... Sara


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