Sunday, 15 August 2010

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Warning: plot spoilers!

One of the things I like about L.M. Montgomery's writing is that she didn't make any attempt to protect her readers from death and sadness. Emily of New Moon begins with the decline and death of her much loved father and, because Emily's mother was more or less disowned by her family on her marriage, none of the relatives is much inclined to take on an eight-year-old, especially when they are all quite certain that the disapprove of her. Admittedly, Emily, who is what we would today call under-socialised, doesn't do much to improve the family's first impression of her - she's too proud and reserved to grieve in front of them and, horrified by their coldness towards her in deciding her fate, she hides under the table to hear what will become of her. This proves to them, of course, that she is sly as well as unfeeling and they fix upon a draw as the only way to decide. The only person who is really pleased with the outcome is Cousin Jimmy, but he isn't all there, so his opinion doesn't carry any weight. Aunt Elizabeth will be responsible for Emily in future, but it's done grudgingly.

All is not quite as bad as it seems, since Aunt Laura is there too, and she is much kinder and more affectionate; Cousin Jimmy seems a little strange, but shares Emily's views on the importance of poetry, and the house and farm at New Moon are simply to be fallen in love with. Gradually, Emily makes her place, both at home and in the community, her indomitable spirit refusing to bow under Aunt Elizabeth's restrictions.

All this is very similar in tone to Anne of Green Gables, and events and characters are familiar if you've read the Anne books, but Emily's development as a writer dominates this series and I know that a lot of bookish readers prefer it for that reason. I came late to the Anne books (though I'd read AGG several times as a child), reading most of them last year, and I was agreeably surprised by how much I enjoyed them, but I think I too feel that Emily's early literary endeavours lend a particular charm - perhaps it's because we recognise the agonies of youthful creativity, especially those juvenile gothic epics!

I wonder how young modern readers respond, though, to the developing relationship between Emily and Dean Priest? If I'd read Emily of New Moon when I was twelve or thirteen, I don't think it would have seemed at all strange to me - I was one of those rather isolated children who got on better with adults than with my contemporaries. But we live now in a suspicious world where such relationships are actively discouraged and most men I know are now extremely wary of being left in the sole company of a child of either sex, perhaps even if they are related to them. Most families now would require Dean's interest in Emily as unhealthy, if not dangerous. Might such changing circumstances spoil the story for young readers?

This reader, however, is eager to move on to the next, Emily's Climb, and to know what Emily did next!

11 comments:

  1. I find Dean Priest creepy! Admittedly, I was already grown up when I first read the Emily books.

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  2. I love the Emily books! My daughter read this over my shoulder and said, 'Oh! I MUST read them again!' Emily's efforts as a writer make this particularly interesting to her, as DD writes books, as yet to be submitted to a publisher...

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  3. I read the Emily books when I was a little girl, and was unfazed by the Dean Priest thing--like Emily I missed the implications of a lot of what he was saying to her. Now that I'm older, I'm aware he's a bit creepy, but I don't feel it as strongly because I have all these years of loving the books behind me. And Dean was never one of my favorite characters. He does something really scummy in the last book.

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  4. So glad you've begun the Emily books! I love them so much, and love to hate Dean Priest. ;)

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  5. I'm delighted that so many of you think Dean Priest is creepy! Jenny, I can't *wait* to find out what he does!! Penny, good luck to your daughter with her writing.

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  6. Like Jenny, I read Emily of New Moon when I was 11 or so, and didn't see anything wrong with Dean. I didn't read the subsequent books until I was older (?late teens?) at which point Dean, his relationship with Emily, and what he did to her in the last book in the series really did have an "ick" factor.

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  7. I read and reread EONM many times as a girl, but I didn't care to see her grow up, so I only read the later books a couple of years ago: she's such a great character!

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  8. I just read these books last week and found Dean to be super creepy (though I am no longer a child). The thought of a man in his upper thirties telling a twelve year old that she'll make a fine woman and he hopes his dreams will one day come true is just a little much.

    That being said, I read the Elsie Dinsmore books when I was a young girl and wasn't at all creeped out by the Elsie/Mr. Travolta romance and they had a similar age difference to Emily and Dean. Perhaps it's a matter of perspective.

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  9. Elaine, I found that bit especially creepy! I don't know the Elsie Dinsmore books - I shall have to find out about them!

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  10. The Elsie books are set in the South just before and after the Civil War. Elsie is a young heiress who is practically an orphan. Sound familiar? The rest is a good deal different from Montgomery's work, though, as she is the picture of perfect behavior. I liked them a lot as a child; however, in retrospect they were a good bit more patriarchal (from both a gender and race perspective) than I would enjoy today. That is to say, beware of those pitfalls before diving into the series!

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  11. Oh, a fun fact about Elsie that I forgot about! Mr. Carpeneter mentions them to Emily in Emily Climbs when he's talking about romantic novel filth. I believe the line is something like "you might as well go read the Elsie books."

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