The past few weeks have found me absorbed in Anne of Green Gables. Feeling the need to take a break from a rather sad novel, I was propelled towards the happiness of the Anne series. So I re-read a few of them once again, and I’ve been in an entirely Anne mode the past few weeks because of it. Keeping with Montgomery’s style, I picked up a copy of another one of her books, “The Blue Castle”, recommended by my sister, Library.
Valancy Stirling is 29 years old, unmarried, and living under the strict thumb of her mother and aunt. She has never had a beau, she has never traveled, she doesn’t even have friends. She spends her time in obedient dullness, forever holding back her real thoughts, opinions and desires, due to her snobbish, mundane, and difficult family clan. Her only happiness is escaping to her “Blue Castle” in her fantasy world.
But one day, Valancy receives the fatal doctor’s note, informing her that her recent heart flutters are signs of a bigger problem, which will one day claim her life – most likely within the year. Valancy doesn’t fear death, but rather, she fears missing the life she should have lead. Out with propriety and in with her true self, she allows herself to say exactly what she thinks, and ends up leaving her mothers home to nurse a socially cast-out acquaintance – another young woman, closer to death then Valancy herself.
In her new position of nurse, housekeeper, friend and companion, Valancy finds purpose. She finds joy and meaning in the serving and nurturing of others. She also meets Barney Snaith, maverick of the town, who lives alone on a little island, keeps mostly to himself, and drives around in his old big loud car. A wide range of speculations assumed to be truth by the town say Barney is a criminal, murderer who fled from justice, a cheater, a liar, a psychopath. Valancy defended Barney to her relatives before ever having met him. Somehow she instinctively knew none of this to be true about him. When she does meet him, she discovers she was right. Friends with the old man & his daughter whom Valancy lives with & works for, Barney quickly becomes a regular presence in Valancy’s new life.
We get to know Barney through Valancy’s eyes. He is good, honest, doesn’t speak much about himself besides the tales of his various adventures around the globe. He is thoughtful, always stopping by and asking what she needs from town before heading there himself. And he’s protective, driving the distance to an “up back” party he was told Valancy would be at, but which he knows will be unsafe for her – and gets there just on time to pull her out of a harmful situation. And yet, there is so much mystery surrounding Barney Snaith – we know nothing about his past, why he is the way he is (until you keep reading, that is).
When her companion dies, Valancy finds herself clinging onto this new life she’s made. One day Barney comes upon her in the garden, and Valancy asks if he will marry her, knowing full well that he doesn’t return her love, and assures him it won’t be for long, since her life will be claimed by death, most likely before a year has passed. But Valancy can’t bear the thought of returning to her mother’s house and living once again in the prison of propriety, the childish obedience demanded of her, and spinster-hood. Barney agrees. He acknowledges that he doesn’t love her, but likes her well enough, and would be quite content to bring her along to his island, if that’s what she truly wants.
When Valancy first sees the little house amoung the pines, she sees her Blue Castle, in real form, for the first time.
…there’s more to the story… but I won’t give any more away.
Barney’s character is one I really appreciated in this story. It was evident to me from the start that there was deep hurt in Barney’s heart, that he had somehow been on the receiving end of severe unkindness in his earlier years, hence the living in seclusion. But his naturally kind, gentle, thoughtful character, remains. Despite his past (which we know leaks into his psyche from the occasional cynical remark, and his emotional reservation) his soul thrives on the good, the beautiful, and he never fails in his goodness. In some respects, his character doesn’t change from beginning to end – he is always constant, dependable. But in others, he does. Being on the receiving end of love, being cherished and respected by one he also cares for, allows his character to develop in a way it yearned to in his younger years. It unlocks the natural joy in his heart, he is finally, in a way, set free.
I also appreciated that Valancy finds purpose in a life of service for others. Never being allowed “idle time” in her mother’s house, she spent countless hours sewing, quilting, keeping her hands busy, but all with fairly superficial things that were simply stored away up in the attic for future use. She may have been using her hands and skill, but it was idle in another sense, in that there was no food for the soul coming of her work. But when her hands go to cooking, cleaning, caring for others in need, she begins living with a type of vigour, satisfaction, and joy, that only comes from serving others, where you know you are needed.
This book is another treasure, to be kept on the shelf, and pulled down when some warmth to the heart is needed by a good book.
Nota Bene: Although it may seem like this is pretty much the whole story, it isn’t. This is only some of the first half, and there is detail, character development, and over all beauty in this story that can’t be captured through a re-cap. So it’s definitely worth a read!