The Blue Castle
|Author||L. M. Montgomery|
|Publisher||McClelland and Stewart (Canada)|
Frederick A. Stokes (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||310 pp (first edition)|
|ISBN||0-553-28051-1 (1992 mass market paperback edition), ISBN 1-55002-666-6 (2007 trade paperback edition)|
The story takes place prior to World War I in the fictional town of Deerwood, located in the Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada. Deerwood is based on Bala, Ontario, which Montgomery visited in 1922. Maps of the two towns show similarities.
This novel is considered one of L.M. Montgomery's few adult works of fiction, along with A Tangled Web, and is the only book she wrote that is entirely set outside of Prince Edward Island. It has grown in popularity since being republished in 1990. The book was adapted for the stage twice; in 1982 it was made into a successful Polish musical and ten years later Canadian playwright Hank Stinson authored another version, The Blue Castle: A Musical Love Story.
Valancy Stirling is twenty-nine, unmarried (and thus considered an "old maid") and has lived her entire life with her nagging mother and gossip-minded extended family who actively discourage happiness and treat Valancy like a child. She retreats from her unhappy circumstances with flights of imaginative fantasy, centering on a fairy-tale Blue Castle. When Valancy is diagnosed with a terminal heart ailment, she hides it from her family and, at the same time, realizes she has never been happy in her life, so she rebels against the colorless life that her family has always imposed on her. She begins by judging them objectively and worse, telling them exactly what she thinks, causing the Stirling clan to conclude that Valancy has suddenly lost her mind.
Valancy decides to move out of her mother's house and take a position as a housekeeper for a friend of hers who is now gravely ill, Cissy Gay. Cissy and Valancy had known each other as children, but Cissy became ostracized from society for having a child out of wedlock and on account of her father, Roaring Abel, and his reckless, usually drunken behavior. Cissy and Valancy share a room and rebuild their friendship. Valancy enjoys being paid a salary and spends her money in ways her family would not approve, such as purchasing a brightly colored, low-necked dress. She also begins spending time with Barney Snaith, who visits often as a friend to Roaring Abel and Cissy, but who the townspeople are convinced is a criminal and/or the father of Cissy's illegitimate child, now deceased.
Just before the end of her life, Cissy confides in Valancy about the man she fell in love with. He offered to marry her when she told him she was pregnant, but she refused because she saw that he did not love her any more. Her baby compensated for her heartbreak, but when her baby died, she was devastated. Cissy eventually passes away, and Valancy's family expects her to move back home, having magnanimously decided to forgive her recent behavior. They are momentarily appeased when Valancy agrees that she is definitely not staying with Roaring Abel; however, she does not plan to move back home. Instead, she proposes to Barney, an outrageous action given the time in which she lives, telling him that she is dying and just wants to enjoy the remaining time she has left. She confesses that she has fallen in love with him but tells him that she does not expect him to feel the same. He agrees to marry her. Valancy's family is horrified that she has married such a disreputable man (even though none of them can say anything he has actually done wrong) and effectively disowns her.
Barney takes Valancy to his home on a wooded island, which Valancy comes to see as being very like the Blue Castle she used to escape to in her imagination, and together they get along very well, though he forbids her to enter a certain room in the house. They share wonderful conversations and take long walks on the island, and she quotes to him from books by her favorite author, John Foster, who writes about the great beauty of nature. Foster's books were one of the few enjoyments allowed to her when Valancy lived with her family. They celebrate Christmas, and he gives her a necklace of pearl beads.
Just as the year she was given to live is almost over, Valancy gets her shoe stuck in a train track and is nearly killed by an oncoming train. Barney saves her in the nick of time, risking his own life to do so. After the shock passes, Valancy realizes that she should have died because the doctor had told her any sudden shock would kill her. Barney is likewise stunned by the experience because he realizes that he has come to love Valancy, who, he believes, must soon die from her heart condition. Instead of telling Valancy how he feels, he retreats to his beloved woods to think. Valancy assumes that he has left because, having married her out of pity, he now realizes he is trapped in a marriage he doesn't want. Valancy goes back to the doctor, who realizes that he sent Valancy a letter with a diagnosis meant for a Miss Sterling, who did have a fatal heart condition; Valancy's condition was never serious.
As she arrives home from the doctor, with Barney still away, she finds a gaudily dressed man waiting near their home. He introduces himself as Barney's father, Dr. Redfern, the millionaire who invented Redfern's Purple Pills and other patent medicines. Years ago, Barney left town abruptly without word to his father, who had no way of tracking him down until Barney withdrew $15,000 from his bank account to buy Valancy's necklace, alerting his father to his whereabouts. Barney's father wants him to come back to him, as Barney is the only family he has. Thinking that Barney believes she tricked him into marriage, Valancy decides to leave him and return to her mother's house so he can be free. While searching for a pencil to write Barney an explanatory note, she goes into his secret room and finds that he is also John Foster, the author of her favorite books. She writes the note and leaves behind the necklace.
Valancy reveals to her family that Barney is a millionaire and the son of the famous Dr. Redfern, as well as the noted literary figure John Foster to boot. Barney's millionaire status instantly erases any misgivings her family had about him, and they are determined that Barney and Valancy must stay together. Barney rushes to the house to see Valancy and asks her to come back. At first she refuses, believing that he is only asking her out of pity. When he becomes angry at her, thinking that she is refusing him because she is ashamed of his father's patent medicine business, she realizes he does really love her and agrees to come back to him. At the ending, Barney tells Valancy how much he loves her and how badly he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. The book closes with Valancy and Barney getting ready to leave on a global trip for further adventures while her "own Blue Castle," their home on Barney's small island, will be waiting for their return.
First Edition Notes
‘Almost all editions of The Blue Castle lack dust jackets. The true first edition, does not have a castle on the front boards, it was added after Montgomery commented on it, "Not so pretty. A plain cover."’. 
- The Blue Castle at Faded Page (Canada)
- The Blue Castle - online text from Project Gutenberg
- The Blue Castle - online text from Project Gutenberg in HTML format
- An L.M. Montgomery Resource Page Resource for all things L.M. Montgomery, includes The Blue Castle Encyclopedia and more on Valancy
- Bala's Museum The setting for The Blue Castle
- The Blue Castle: A Musical Love Story a 1997 musical adapted from the book by Hank Stinson
- L.M. Montgomery Online Formerly the L.M. Montgomery Research Group, this site includes a blog, extensive lists of primary and secondary materials, detailed information about Montgomery's publishing history, and a filmography of screen adaptations of Montgomery texts. See, in particular, the page about The Blue Castle.
- The L.M. Montgomery Literary Society This site includes information about Montgomery's works and life and research from the newsletter, The Shining Scroll. See the article "Muskoka Dream: L.M. Montgomery at Bala Ontario, Creating The Blue Castle" on The Shining Scroll Newsletter Online page.
Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bala