Like most academics who are working with graduate students, I keep one eye on the job listings in my field so that I am aware of developments and can offer counsel appropriately. In my primary field (comics studies) there really aren’t any trends to speak of – each of the past two years there has been a single job on offer. This year, that has meant that comics studies is tied with L. M. Montgomery studies, which also has one job posted. A weird job, but a job nonetheless.
The University of Prince Edward Island, home (appropriately enough) to the L. M. Montgomery Institute, has posted an ad for the strangely named Communication, Leadership, and Culture Chair of L. M. Montgormery Studies. That is to say that they are seeking an expert in the writing of L. M. Montgomery who also has the technical skills to run the CLC program. One imagines that they either have someone very specific in mind for this position already, or they have two underfunded positions that have been combined into a single funded position. Hard to say.
Although I have no real desire to move to Charlottetown (I visited once, fifteen years ago, it seemed lovely), I encouraged my wife to apply for the job because Communication, Leadership, and Culture is what she does in her academic career, and she loves L. M. Montgomery. Actually, she loves, loves, loves L. M. Montgomery. I mean, totally.
My wife has several book series that she read in her youth that she re-reads almost annually: C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (she once insisted we do a six hour detour on a road trip to visit De Smet, SD – still one of the most disappointing days of my life when I learned about the political leanings of Wilder at the museum there), and the collected works of L. M. Montgomery. As only one of these authors is Canadian, this year I decided that I would read a Montgomery novel.
I had presumed that I would read Anne of Green Gables, it being the gold standard and the source of all that tourism. However, when I soon learned that my options were to be The Blue Castle or Emily of New Moon. Foot down. These were the two best books, I was informed. When push came to shove, I was directed to The Blue Castle, one of Montgomery’s novels for adults. It seemed to defeat the purpose somewhat to read Montgomery’s only non-PEI novel and also one of her non-children’s novels. Nonetheless.
I will admit that it took me a long time to get into the spirit of The Blue Castle. A very long time. When my wife asked “what part are you up to?” I was honestly taken aback. “I have read,” I informed her, “one hundred pages and literally nothing has happened. Valancy was happy that the picnic got rained out, was rude to a number of people, and then went to her room.” In all honesty, I couldn’t fathom this book. All of the characters, not the least being the heroine, were horrible people sitting around gossiping. I wasn’t sure if it was a comedy, a parody, or what it was. The book genuinely contained the sentence: “Gloom, forsooth!”. Surely, I was being had. “‘The greatest happiness,’ said Valancy suddenly and distinctly, ‘is too sneeze when you want to.’” In the logic of the novel, I thought perhaps my wife had gone “dippy”.
However, I did get to one point where I genuinely enjoyed The Blue Castle. Specifically, it was in Chapter 31 where everyone has left Valancy and Barney alone in their island shack and Montgomery details the passing of the months in the Muskokas. I grew up with a cottage a short drive from Bala and Port Carling, the basis for the fictional towns in this novel, and this section rang true. Absent all of the characters, The Blue Castle was great. Of course, it was only at this point that I was able to discern the need for the hundreds of pages of annoying scenes with cousins Georgiana and Stickles (who has a Cousin Stickles?). I realized that Montgomery had very skilfully provided a longing for escape in me as a reader with the long set-up that mirrored Valancy's desires exactly. Well played.
Two things that I recognize now at the end of the book. First, given its Muskoka location, and my own fondness for that part of the country, this is probably the only Montgomery novel that I might have possibly enjoyed. Second, given its focus on reading (“I head a lecturer from Toronto say that John Foster’s books had put Canada on the literary map of the world.”) it was probably the most appropriate choice for this year. She’s smart, my wife. Just don’t let her detour you to De Smet.
One thing I learned about Canada from this book is: That McGill University really hasn't changed much since 1926.