November 30, 2014
One of my favorite minor characters in the many works of LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY (1874–1942) is Valancy Stirling’s heartless sarcastic uncle in the 1926 novel The Blue Castle, “whose favourite amusement was to write controversial letters to the Christian Times, attacking Modernism.” Montgomery herself could never be accused of Modernism, but those who are only familiar with the famous Anne of Green Gables might be too quick to consign her to the terrace in Purgatory reserved for sentimental Christian Victorianism. It’s true that the strongest apologia for Modernism in The Blue Castle is the idea that it feels great to shingle your hair and go joy-riding with a disreputable fellow at forty miles an hour in his Tin Lizzie, and the fact that said disreputable fellow turns out to be a) a millionaire and b) the secret author of Valancy’s favorite books might be two wish-fulfillments too many, and I’m not keen on the Victorian stereotype of Cissy Gay, whose mistake in getting pregnant outside of marriage naturally condemns her to death by tuberculosis. But just as Valancy’s uncle is no advertisement for Christian values, meek little, weak little Cissy is no advertisement for Victorian passivity and ignorance (“And I didn’t know — some things. I didn’t understand”). It’s the gestalt of The Blue Castle and other Montgomery books like it that make it so compelling. What Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March did for Simone de Beauvoir, Montgomery’s many “story girls” from Anne Shirley to Emily Starr to Sara Stanley did for intelligent women who found themselves with a ladylike heel stuck in the railroad track of Victorianism as the train of Modernism thundered around the curve.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anarcho-Symbolist (1864–73) and Psychonaut (1874–1883) Generations.