December 28, 2009

The Blythes are Quoted - L. M. Montgomery

I know that in academic circles, it is the thing to do to declare biases at the beginning of a paper or a talk. I'm definitely not an academic, but I wish to declare that I am a huge fan of L. M. Montgomery, so this review is going to be written from this bias.

I have read all of the fiction that she wrote (novels and short stories) that are currently published, as well as some of her journals, poetry, and some of what has been written about her, so I was very excited to hear that a new book came out this fall. It is considered to be the 9th and final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and apparently the manuscript was delivered to the publisher on the day that Montgomery died. It is not a novel, but rather a collection of short stories set in and around the village where Anne and Gilbert Blythe lived after their marriage. The short stories are connected by poems written by Anne, as well as her son Walter, as well as dialogue within the family.

The poems and dialogue are what I was really looking forward to. All of the stories were previously published (most in the book The Road to Yesterday) and so none were new to me. But the poems and dialogue give new insight into the Blythe family.

As far as the poetry goes, I'm not and expert so this is just my opinion. While a couple of the poems really struck me ("I Wish You", "The Change", "Grief", "The Aftermath"), most of them were or the style that I tend to skim across. I can't help but wonder what Mr. Carpenter (from the Emily of New Moon books) would think of the poetry. I see lots of the same faults that he finds in Emily's poetry popping up in the poems of Montgomery - overuse of certain words (including "purple"), weak rhymes in places, descriptions with no underlying meaning.

My favourite part of the book is the end, where the family comes to terms with the death of the aforementioned son, Walter, who died in World War 1 (in Rilla of Ingleside).

My least favourite part of the book is the over-mentioning of the Blythe family in all of the stories - almost as if Montgomery felt obliged to pull them in to every story, while most of the stories would have been fine without the mention.

In the publicity of this book, much has been made of it showing "the darker side of L. M. Montgomery". In fact, to quote the dust jacket, "Adultery, illegitimacy, revenge, murder, and death - these are not the first terms we associate with L. M. Montgomery. But in The Blythes are Quoted, completed at the end of her life, the author brings topics such as these to the fore." I, however, was not surprised by this. These darker themes do show up in her earlier books and stories, though maybe not as consistently as in this book. The Anne books don't shy away from darker topics (the death of Anne and Gilbert's first baby; the effects of World War 1; and some of the episodes in Anne of Ingleside); the Emily books are quite dark in places; Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat are downright depressing at times; and many of the short stories deal with the darker side of life.

But all of this doesn't detract from my enjoyment of her writing - rather, I find that it adds depth to it, when often Montgomery is dismissed as being too unrealistically cheerful and optimistic.

I can't wait to get home now to my bookcases, and compare the stories as published now in their entirety, with the previously published versions in The Road to Yesterday, and the other collections of short stories. Let me end with one of the shorter poems from the book that I enjoyed.

The Change

There is no difference this blithe morning
'Tween yesterday and today...
The dim fringed poppies are still blowing
In sea fields misty and grey.

The west wind overhead in the beeches
Is the friend of lovers still,
And the river puts its arm as bluely
Around the beckoning hill.

The rose that laughed in the waning twilight
Laughs with the same delight,
But, pale and sweet as the lilies of Eden,
A little hope died last night.
Anne Blythe

This book was read for the Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set.


Buried In Print said...

Really appreciate your review of this one: I'm a longtime-lover of L.M. Montgomery's work as well, and had hesitated to pick this one up because so much of it had been published previously in Road to Yesterday, but I am more interested now. I'm curious, with what you've said about the darker side of her writing, have you read her journals too?

Kate said...

I've only read 1 1/2 volumes of the journals, and couldn't really get into them. Mind you, that was probably 10 years ago or so, and maybe they deserve another try. I had also been skeptical of this book, having read The Road to Yesterday ages ago, but the bits in-between make it worthwhile. At some point, I plan on going through the stories with the 2 books side-by-side, as apparently the stories were somewhat edited for TRTY. I want to see what bits had been left out!