Sunday, 15 August 2010
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
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!