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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-06-24 12:23 pm

Mock Newbery: Emily of New Moon (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years keeps defeating my attempts to liveblog it - it's a very densely packed book, I could write a dissertation on it, but not in a week! - so while I figure out what to do with that, I'm stepping back a few years to 1923, the year when The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes was the only book on the Newbery list.

In 1923, Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, already famous for the Anne of Green Gables series, published the unrelated novel Emily of New Moon simultaneously in the US and Canada. That means Emily is eligible for my "Mock Newberys of the Past" series under the same section of the Newbery rules which allowed Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, published simultaneously in the US and Britain, to win the 2009 Newbery. (I don't know if Emily would have been eligible at the time, but I follow modern Newbery rules throughout, not having a complete list of year-by-year changes to the Newbery rules to work with.)

Sooo I'm liveblogging Emily of New Moon as a Mock Newbery candidate opposite The Dark Frigate. MAY THE BEST BOOK WIN. ;P



* Let's start at the beginning: I don't like Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame. Her distaste for the "unromantic" mundane... bothers me, somehow. Annoys me? I may return to this topic, since it's no stretch to guess that Emily will also have An Imagination - but I wanted to set it out at the beginning. So this venture into the further works of L.M. Montgomery is a long shot in terms of whether I'll like the book, but I know that Ms Montgomery could write, so she already has Charles Boardman Hawes seriously outclassed. ;P And except for Anne's own personality and her painfully awkward social interactions (and the parallel ones of her children in the later books), I do like the Anne books, especially the overflowing assortment of brilliantly-drawn supporting characters and funny incidents with just a soupçon of horror.

Now for this book.

* One of the chapter titles is "Romantic But Not Comfortable", quotation marks original, so that sounds... interesting. ^_^ This book came out a couple years after Rilla of Ingleside, so one wonders how much of it is going to involve poking a certain amount of snark at Anne Shirley and her runaway popularity. :-)

* We open on a view of "the house in the hollow", near a small town called Maywood. The house is a brown one standing alone in a wooded dale, just over a hill from Maywood. "Ellen Greene", no explanation yet, dislikes it and pities our titular heroine for living there, but Emily loves it and doesn't find it at all lonely.

* We hear about the many friends and acquaintances Emily has around the brown house, not all of them human. "There was Father--and Mike--and Saucy Sal. The Wind Woman was always around; and there were the trees", which are listed by name. I begin to suspect that L.M. Montgomery, like JRR Tolkien, may have found trees at least as easy to recognize individually as people, and as good or better company.

* Now it is a particular chilly evening and Emily is out for a walk. We learn that Emily's father was not well that day, but lay on the sofa, coughed a good deal, and did not talk much. We also get foreshadowing that "something" will happen after Emily's walk. I don't remember any spoilers for this book's plot very clearly, but who wants to place a bet that Father is dying of consumption or something similar? He has "large, sunken, dark-blue eyes" and is staring unseeingly out the window at the sky.

* ...yyyup. Ellen Greene, apparently the housekeeper, has been disturbed ever since the doctor whispered something to her yesterday, and has been brooding over Emily more than usual. Hence Emily's slipping out for an evening walk; she doesn't get on too well with Ellen (described by third party Douglas Starr as "a fat, lazy old thing of no importance", with which description Emily agrees) when Ellen is worried.

* Emily, we learn, spent the afternoon reading Pilgrim's Progress. She finds Christian's lonely adventures against Apollyon et alia exciting and fascinating.

* Okay, Douglas Starr is Emily's dad? Ooo...kay. I'm not sure I like you, Douglas Starr; what sort of person says "of no importance" about their own housekeeper? And Saucy Sal and Mike are animals - dogs or cats, something of that sort. Yes, cats.

* Emily has jet-black hair and purplish-grey eyes, a high white forehead which, it's hastily noted, is "too high for beauty", a "sensitive" mouth, and pointed ears "to show that she was kin to the tribes of elfland". In other words, she matches exactly (except for the ears) Anne Shirley's description of how she would have liked to look, and I don't know if this is a reaction from an author bored of writing about a character who dislikes her looks or a reworking of a story started long before Anne when Ms Montgomery was still writing raven-black hair and violet eyes unironically? Hm. Interesting question, probably unanswerable within the scope of this lifeblog.

* Emily tells her reflection about the Wind Woman, whom she says she's going out to meet, and then sets off.

* It's Emily's first outdoor walk of the year. She heads across the fields toward the "spruce barrens", and as she goes, the author pulls out into omniscient view to explain how Emily is poorly-dressed and the place doesn't look that interesting but Emily's imagination makes it beautiful and opulent and peoples it with "all the fairies of the world" to be her friends.

* The sun is setting, and Emily pauses to admire it and think about how she'll write down a description of it when she gets home, and share it with Father. One particular detail makes her feel a "flash" of inexpressible transcendence - something that happens to her every so often, from various sights and sounds. We get a long page of slightly fumbling description trying to communicate the feeling of "the flash"; there's a similar passage in Anne's House of Dreams, so I'll excuse the fumblingness on the grounds that LM Montgomery was probably trying to communicate something she herself experienced and had no words for.

* Emily runs home, excited to try and write down her description of the sunset, and hugs Ellen, who is standing on the... "sunken front-doorstep"? And she hugs Ellen's knees? How short and how young is Emily? O_O

* Anyway, Ellen tells her that her father has only a week or two to live. Yup. End chapter 1.

* Emily feels stunned. Ellen explains that she felt it her duty to inform Emily, because Mr Starr has been putting it off for months and he may die any day before getting around to it; this way, Ellen feels, Emily can at least be a little prepared. Ellen tries to be comforting, in the extremely unhelpful way that Unsympathetic substitute-mother-figures in LM Montgomery stories do try, and Emily ducks past her and runs upstairs to her (Emily's) room.

* Ellen feels that, all in all, Mr Starr's death will be a good thing for Emily, since she will be sent to her mother's family, the Murrays, and will go to school and be raised "properly" -- but she notes to herself that it's a good thing Emily is a spirited and proud child, who will not be easily trodden down. Apparently the Murrays are given to "overcrowing" people, and they hate her father.

* Emily is upstairs hugging one of her cats, not crying yet, but trying to realize that her father is going to die. We get quite a clear portrait of her inner turmoil and despair.

* Aaand apparently her "heritage of endurance" from her "fine old ancestors" is what sets her to bear up and get through without looking for sympathy. *eyeroll* I know it's of the era, but people's ancestry (apart from who actually brought them up) has nothing to do with how good they are at handling misfortune! NO-THING. You can come from a long line of the most delicate and fragile hypochondriacs and cope perfectly well with horrible things; you can come from an equally long line of stout Scots or other stereotypically resilient people, and fall to pieces at the first sign of trouble. There's no correlation. :P

* Anyway, Emily resolves not to let her father know she knows - Ellen told her not to "worry" him with it - and she gets into bed, waiting for him to come up and say good night.

* Mr Starr sits down and begins to tell Emily he's dying; Emily promptly blurts out that she knows, to which Mr Starr (becoming less and less sympathetic to me by the minute) replies with a muttered "The old fool--the fat old fool!". ;P Then he admits that it's true, tells Emily she will survive without him because she has "something to do" - apparently he also wanted to be a writer and has brought Emily up the way he has precisely so as not to stifle her natural gift - and then begins to tell Emily all about her dead mother, who died when Emily was four. He's never spoken much about her because the memory hurt, but it no longer hurts now that he's so close to dying and seeing her again.

(I can't speak to the realism of this. Part of me wants to append an *eyeroll*, but I'm sure someone with a much stronger belief in the afterlife than mine could actually feel that way. So I withhold judgment. ;P)

* The Murrays live on New Moon Farm at Blair Water on "the old north shore", none of which means anything to me except the obvious fact that Emily will soon be moving to New Moon Farm apropos of the book's title. The Murrays are a proud family, too proud, and the locals call them "the chosen people" in a not-necessarily-flattering way. *dry grin* I may not have any special love for LM Montgomery's heroines, but she has a skewering eye for the vagaries of Old Blood.

* The relatives Emily will live with are two unmarried aunts, Elizabeth and Laura, with a male cousin of theirs, Jimmy Murray. There are four other relatives in the vicinity: Uncles Oliver and Wallace in Summerside -- which, I should note, is not yet the setting of Anne of Windy Willows/Poplars, since that book didn't come out till the '30s -- Aunt Ruth in Shrewsbury, and Great-Aunt Nancy at Priest Pond, which last place Emily notes has an "interesting name".

* Elizabeth, Laura, Wallace, Oliver, and Ruth, all siblings, were the half-siblings of Emily's mother; their father Archibald Murray remarried at sixty and his second wife died giving birth to that couple's only child, Emily's mother Juliet. The half-siblings all loved and mother-henned it over Juliet, and when she married the penniless writer Douglas Starr against their wishes, they raged and cut her off completely. Douglas regrets this, but Juliet never did.

* The Murrays came to Juliet's funeral when Emily was four, because they have a strict tradition that they shall not "carry a quarrel past the grave". Once Juliet was dead, she was officially forgiven, and presumably the same will happen with Douglas; that's apparently why he's so sure the Murrays will take Emily in, that and their pride that their flesh and blood shall not go to strangers. We hear in passing that another strict Murray tradition is that New Moon has no gaslight or electricity, only candles.

* Ah, and also that the Murrays offered to take Emily in and bring her up after her mother died. Emily is glad they did not. It has been three-plus-four years since then, so Emily is eleven years old, same as Anne Shirley was at the beginning of her story.

* Emily's father has absolutely nothing to leave her, no money, no property. They've been living on a life-interest in a dead uncle's estate, and the brown cottage is rented.

* Douglas Starr offers to send for the Murrays before he is dead, but in such a way that it's twisted up with his refusal to forgive them for the quarrel over Juliet's marriage, and anyway Emily doesn't want strangers showing up during her last few days with her dad, so she refuses.

* Hah! Emily remarks, what came up before, that she "doesn't like God anymore", and Douglas assures her that she can't help liking God, who "is Love itself", but that she "mustn't mix Him up with Ellen Greene's God, of course". Which is in a nutshell pretty much everything I've ever seen LM Montgomery say about religion. I believe she married a preacher herself, but was always firmly against fire-and-brimstone attitudes.

(Me, personally, I find this kind of "oh, you can't help liking God, because you like Goodness and Love" tone offensive, almost... proprietary? But I'm an apostate and a heathen, so. *shrugs*)

* On cue, Emily immediately feels surrounded by the love of God, and is consoled that her father won't be going very far away, just slipping into the world beyond the veil of which her "flashes" of transcendental beauty have been glimpses. It's very, very reliant on religious imagery, but -- I don't know, it's hard for me to strike a tone I'm comfortable with when it comes to people who can be consoled by faith in God during bad times. It is what it is, I guess. I don't have any objection to the portrayal of it, but there's a kind of assumption that it works universally, underneath? Which makes sense from that viewpoint, but it doesn't work universally. So that gets awkward to criticise.

* Once Emily has fallen asleep in her father's arms and he's put her to bed, he murmurs a little blessing over her ending with "As her mother's people deal with her, so may God deal with them". End chapter 2.

* Mr Starr dies two weeks later, very peacefully, in Emily's arms; Emily cries all night, and Ellen (who I don't feel is getting at all a fair shake from this book's attitude toward her) is self-satisfied, assuming that her own decision to tell Emily her father was dying is responsible for Emily's ability to be composed the next day. Seriously, Ellen does not get any slack cut for her by the narrator at all; she's just an unpleasant person from the first second she's introduced, and even though by her own lights she did the best she could for Emily, Douglas Starr's disapproval is clearly supposed to carry over and blur any sympathy we might have for her.

* My crankiness about these Unpleasant Women who keeping getting short-shrifted by the narrative in favor of All-Wise Father Figures (I refer you to The Jumping-Off Place) may be partly informed by my own bad experiences with trusting my very-much-not-all-wise father figure, but I think it's also... you know, why is the MAN always all-wise and compassionate and foreseeing and providing, and the WOMAN always a rude old battleaxe who does her best to mess up his Perfect Plans? It's almost like there's some kind of Christian symbolism in there, God the Father versus Eve-who-is-combined-with-the-serpent. *interested head-tilty of thinkyface* Some of these things, I wish I was writing a formal paper instead of a liveblog, or in addition to one. There's material for several papers in a lot of these books.

* Yeah, yeah; Ellen has gotten a neighbor woman to provide a black dress for Emily so that the Murrays will not be shocked to find her not in mourning, and informs her when they'll be arriving, but this laudable practicality is quite overturned because Ellen refers to the late Mr Starr's earthly remains as "the body" and "a corpse". Emily is terribly distraught over these perceived "insults" to her beloved father, and threatens to put the "black curse" on Ellen for saying "those things". Ellen is completely nonplussed and tells Emily off for what seems to her a totally unexplained outburst; the narrator wants us to sympathize with Emily in the matter, telling us she "was just a lonely, solitary little creature and she felt very friendless". I disagree with you, narrator. I think Emily's being irrational, and while being irrational with grief is a perfectly common and allowable thing to be, you're trying to make it seem that the person who is not irrational in this scene is, in fact, acting irrationally and being heartlessly unsympathetic just Because She's Not Nice. :P

* Still better than Charles Boardman Hawes. So far. We're 6% in.

* Ellen is now going on about everything she's done for Emily and ordering her to be grateful. And also to wash dishes. I don't know what's the point of all this, having a completely random Nasty Housekeeper Woman to beat up on our heroine's feelings; perhaps so that when Emily has a bad time at New Moon she won't feel like going back to the old place because she won't have anyone sympathetic she'll feel she can go back to?

* And now Ellen informs Emily that "you're not of much importance" and won't have any input into which relative she stays with; this is the third occurrence of the "of some importance" construction in the story, since Juliet Murray Starr is also reported to have told Douglas when Emily was born that they had had "the only child of any importance in the world". It just seems a weird turn of phrase, which is why I keep harping on it. O_O I can't work out why it keeps cropping up.

* Anyway, Ellen goes on and on about the various Murray relatives and what sorts of good they would do Emily, and on and on, and on. Aunt Ruth of Shrewsbury is a childless house-proud woman, Uncle Oliver is poorer with a big family, Uncle Wallace considers himself head of the family but has a delicate (or in Ellen's estimation a hypochondriac) wife. Emily wishes Aunt Laura would take her, purely on the recollection that her father said Aunt Laura looked the most like Emily's mother; but Laura is the younger of the two spinster sisters at New Moon, and Elizabeth, the elder, rules the roost with an iron will. We learn that Cousin Jimmy Murray who runs New Moon Farm is "simple-minded" due to a childhood accident which injured his brain; apparently Elizabeth was somehow "mixed up in" this accident but Ellen doesn't know the details. Ellen doubts the New Moon sisters will take Emily, and advises her to make up to Aunt Ruth as her best bet.

* Adding insult to injury, Ellen refuses to let Emily have her cats in her room while she waits there for the Murrays to arrive. I really think Ellen is being written as kind of over-the-top heartless toward Emily for someone whose stated motivation for staying on at the cottage was "pitying" our heroine's loneliness. Not that that would prevent some casual cruelty if she didn't understand how it'd come across; but it's capricious. It isn't consistent. It's just whatever LM Montgomery thinks will make Emily a bit more pitiable and Ellen seem a bit more unsympathetic. *frowns*

* Aaand then there's a scene just as Emily is heading up the stairs that seems put in purely to make Ellen take an additional dislike to Emily, which is, that Ellen advises Emily to spend part of her waiting time in praying for God to make her "a good and respectful and grateful child", and Emily answers "Father said I wasn't to have anything to do with your God", which is totally credible as an over-the-shoulder takedown... but then Emily continues with this whole speech of knowing "what YOUR God is like" and contrasting him to her father's God, and blah blah bloo bloo. *eyerolling forever* If there's one thing I did not expect from this book, it's to run into this much preaching from the heroine in the first three chapters.

* So Emily goes and sits on her bed and doesn't cry, and feels that Nobody In The World Loves Her Anymore, which seems kind of abrupt to me but then I've never lost a beloved parent. And LM Montgomery does snark at her a little bit -- that the world feels big and empty and totally uninteresting even though [cue multiple pages of describing a lovely spring day in the most flowery terms].

* The black mourning dress Ellen has procured is described as "a sleazy thing of cheap merino". Are we going to have a headbutting contest where Emily refuses to wear it because of reasons? -- no, but she wants to wear a bead necklace her father gave her, and Ellen deems this inappropriate. Which it is, by the rules of mourning. (No color, nothing shiny, for the first year after the death.)

* Anyway, Emily goes down in her black dress to meet the eight Murrays who have come; she is determined not to show she fears them.

* She dislikes Uncle Wallace immediately; "he was black and grim and ugly, with frowning, bristly brows and a stern, unpitying mouth". I'm going to assume the author means he had black hair, or possibly a black expression, since all the Murrays are clearly white of race. Emily takes an instant dislike to side-whiskers in general because Uncle Wallace has them, and when he leans down and kisses her cheek, she gets angry and wipes it off with her handkerchief because "he had hated her father and disowned her mother". I, um, I suspect I might have a lot more sympathy for Emily if I got the Family Means Love thing, but I don't know -- she's taking just every little casual politeness as a personal affront, and it's not quite emotionally convincing. There's some connection here that LM Montgomery is assuming I've made with Emily that I haven't made.

* Aunt Eva is apparently the hypochondriac wife of Uncle Wallace; we're told that "she had the fretful face of the imaginary invalid". Because of course the author is decreeing immediately whom we shall and shall not like, according to whether they fit some agreed-upon standards she assumes we share. :P

* Emily likes Uncle Oliver's appearance - "He was big and fat and rosy and jolly-looking" - but he makes a joke Emily resents. However, he isn't at all offended when she talks back to him. One guess: he's going to be one of the sympathetic neighbor types who don't like to interfere in how the New Moon spinsters bring Emily up but he'll act friendly toward Emily and interfere occasionally anyway. Aunt Addie, his wife, is also fat and jolly, and is portrayed as kind and sympathetic.

* Next is Aunt Ruth, the childless and house-proud, who has been interjecting offended noises and sniffs at Emily during all the previous introductions. She has "cold, grey eyes, prim, dull brown hair, a short, stout figure, and a thin, pinched, merciless mouth". Yadda yadda blah blah, people's looks always match their personalities, sure, don't let the door hit you on the way out. Emily refuses to shake hands with Aunt Ruth, intuiting from the unwelcoming way she holds her hand out that the handshake is not actually wanted; Aunt Ruth sneers about this and calls Emily "ill-bred". Emily feels bad that she has let Aunt Ruth insult her father by having an opinion. *headshake*

* Cousin Jimmy Murray, the "simple-minded" man who does the farm work at New Moon, is portrayed as likeable, and looks very much like Matthew Cuthbert. (Will he have a touching and dramatic death scene? Only time will tell. ;P)

* Emily's smile is always slow, so though she starts smiling at Cousin Jimmy, Ellen - who is hauling her around the room introducing her - has her in front of Aunt Laura by the time it's properly smiled. Aunt Laura jumps and mutters that Emily has her mother's smile. Aunt Laura is blonde-going-grey, with big blue eyes and a soft voice. Emily likes her, and accepts a hug which nearly sets her crying.

* Finally, we meet Aunt Elizabeth, who is wearing her best black dress instead of her second-best (which would have done for anyone "non-family"). Emily is pleased at this respect paid to her father. Aunt Elizabeth is a handsome but prim and cold-looking, severe woman; the author suddenly switches POVs into her head in order to tell us that she feels awkward and doesn't know what to say to Emily, who she fears will snub her like Uncle Wallace and Aunt Ruth. Don't worry, Aunt Elizabeth, Emily only snubs bad people. *extreme sarcasm* ;P

* Emily sits down on the sofa as Ellen orders, and Ellen leaves her alone with the Murrays. Emily decides to write down a description of the whole scene in her little writing-book, even though she can no longer show her father what she's written, and while she's considering how to describe everyone, she hits on a phrase that makes her feel "the flash" for the first time since she learned her father was dying. This makes her feel much braver.

* The Murrays talk Emily over exactly as if she wasn't there, even the nice ones, which feels just a little bit "off". But clearly it's another piece of LMM's plot to make Emily sympathetic to us by showing her alone against the world; after everyone has had a say in which side of the family she takes after, Emily bursts out that they're making her feel like she's "made up of scraps and patches". (Too harsh? I don't know. I just don't feel that any of this "omg she's SO ALONE and nobody is NICE to her" stuff really rings true.)

* Aunt Ruth goes on about speaking when spoken to etc, and this lasts till Ellen pops in again and announces supper. There is not a seat to spare for Emily, so the Murrays get to go on talking without her and Emily is left in the parlor; Aunt Laura, the only one to pay any attention to her at this juncture, turns around at the door and blows her a kiss.

* Emily goes into her father's old bedroom where his coffin stands, covered in the flower wreaths the Murrays brought, and goes to sleep curled up on the floor by the coffin. The Murrays find her there after dinner, and Aunt Laura takes her up to bed. Emily asks to have Mike the cat with her, but Aunt Elizabeth "exclaims" in shock that this must never happen because it is "unwholesome". But Aunt Laura sneaks Mike into the room anyway. End chapter 3.

* Chapter 4 is called "A Family Conclave"; I'm assuming this is the chapter in which it will be decided that Emily shall go to New Moon Farm. It strikes me that the choice of title took away all of the suspense which Ms Montgomery was clearly trying to put into these early chapters; we know exactly where she's going and, by all this foreshadowing of who's nice and who's not, approximately what will happen to her. I wonder if it was the publisher who chose the title? It seems likely; the "Firstname of Location" formula served LMM well throughout the Anne series, and putting the new book's title into the same shape makes it instantly evident even to casual readers who'd dismiss it with "Lucy Maud who?" that it's "From the author of the Anne of Green Gables series!" ;-) But it doesn't do the book's actual content any good.

* Emily creeps out of her room early in the morning and removes the flower pillow which Aunt Ruth put onto the glass face-window of Mr Starr's casket, so she can see her father's face to say good-bye to him. He looks very peaceful and is smiling, and Emily talks to him a little bit and then cries over him before replacing the flower pillow and leaving him "for ever". Yeah, I might find this a lot more sympathetic if I didn't take an incurably cynical view of family relationships. ;P

* On leaving the coffin-bedroom Emily bumps into Cousin Jimmy, who has been waiting outside in a chair to see that nobody follows her in. He hands Mike the cat back to her with a few encouraging words -- which come across oddly in modern times because he's been given the "endearing" affectation of always calling Emily "pussy", and right here he changes this to "small pussy", which... IS NOT BETTER. O_O

(Not your fault, LMM. But gah.)

* Anyway, Cousin Jimmy gives Emily a roll of peppermints; she doesn't like peppermints but appreciates the sentiment. She also appreciates the affectionate nickname, since her father had about half a dozen pet names for her and she's been missing them.

* Mr Starr's funeral is held in the front parlor. Everybody from Maywood comes to the viewing, though none of them (it seems) liked Mr Starr while he was alive. CLEARLY this is because they have "insolent curiosity" and don't appreciate His Perfectness, not because he was maybe unsociable or disdainful or RUDE like we've seen him be to Ellen. But Emily resents having them look at him "like that", all the same.

* Finally the funeral procession leaves for Charlottetown where the Starrs' graveyard plot is, and after Ellen Greene makes some more contrivedly hurtful remarks to Emily (who stays behind though the Murrays all go), Emily fetches a book out of the bookcase and pretends to read while some ladies tidy up the house.

* Emily is supposed to go up to her room and wait while the Murrays discuss who shall take her, but she decides she can't bear to wait till they tell her and hides under the table to hear the deliberations. One guess whether she'll burst out at some startling moment to blurt out something that will make Aunt Elizabeth decide to take her to New Moon Farm. ;P

(I think one thing that annoys me about LMM's heroines is that they never get into trouble, not real trouble caused by how bad at people they are. It's always because the other people are insensitive and on a lower plane, or because they themselves are ethereal and above earthly cares. Nobody hates Anne Shirley or ostracizes her for having "queer ideas", except the Bad People such as the Pyes, even though in the real world three-quarters of her schoolmates would alternately plague and ignore her, and once she'd cracked her slate over Gilbert's head nobody would ever let her forget she had red hair again. Everybody loves Anne because the author does, and because she's "perky" and "spunky" and dramatic in all she does, just as everybody is going to be forced to love Emily because she's imaginative and sensitive and has absolutely no idea of whether people are actually being mean or whether she's just painfully unsocialized and has never learned to cut anybody any slack.)

(...I sound like I'm going to bring up the word "Mary Sue" in a couple of seconds, don't I? I really don't want to get into that discussion here in the post, I'll never get Emily to New Moon at this rate, but -- it could be kind of interesting to do an analysis of the heroines in some of these old books and speculate about where the construction of the Mary Sue comes from. Maybe. ^_^ Feel free to discuss in comments.)

* A-ny-way. Emily is hiding under the table, whose long cloth falls all the way to the floor. We're assured, by way of excusing this stunt, that Emily has never been told it's rude to eavesdrop, because she's always lived alone with her father, who never has visitors, and the disparaged Ellen Greene - who could never, ever say anything worth eavesdropping on, yeah? ;P

* Great-Aunt Nancy, not present, apparently lives with an "old witch Caroline"; Uncle Oliver, whose charming turn of phrase this is, posits that neither one of them "is human", and certainly they would not take Emily as Uncle Wallace has proposed. Oliver would take her himself but cannot afford to add another member to his large family.

* Aunt Elizabeth is of opinion that Emily will soon die of consumption, same as her father, and be a burden on nobody. Emily immediately decides she doesn't want to die and follow her parents after all; she wants to live and spite the Murrays. Because this makes about as much sense as anything Emily decides.

(I wouldn't say Emily is an unrealistic child, but she doesn't seem like an eleven-year-old. I'd say that the way Douglas Starr isolated her and brought her up with nobody but himself and her imagination for company must have stranded her social development right around four years old. Maybe if I read her as an unusually articulate four-year-old from here on out she'll be more palatable.)

* There is more discussion by the Murrays, with Emily mentally commenting on each remark and taking it in the most unpleasant possible light, except for Aunt Laura's calling her "poor little soul", which she likes.

* Cousin Jimmy doesn't seem at all "simple-minded" or mentally less-abled from the way he's written here. He keeps making snarky remarks. It may be only that LMM is taking the "out of the mouths of babes and intellectually disabled people" trope a little bit far, but if it doesn't turn out that he's actually of perfectly sound mind and just trolling everybody so that he can snark at the rest of the Murrays in safety, I'm going to headcanon that that's the truth anyway. Which... I do feel a little awkward about because it's kind of erasing a sympathetic disabled character? But I'm so unconvinced by the writing that I'm not comfortable considering him a disabled character.

* Yeah, yeah. Called it. Aunt Ruth says Mr Starr was "a miserable failure", and Emily sticks her head out and screams "He wasn't--he wasn't!" Then Aunt Ruth manages to get it through her head that eavesdropping is Wrong, and after some more cross-purposes stuff that makes the Murrays consider her "gratuitously impertinent", she goes upstairs and considers crying. Then she writes a description of the whole scene instead and feels better, and finishes up with a description of her own imaginary deathbed and all the Murrays begging her forgiveness. End chapter 4.

* After breakfast the next day, it turns out that no Murray would willingly take Emily on, so they order her to pull one of their names out of a hat, and it is Aunt Elizabeth's name. Elizabeth and Wallace swap some snark about money that leads to Elizabeth declaring "I do not shirk my duty", and Emily comes to the conclusion that since she is Aunt Elizabeth's duty and "Father said nobody ever liked a duty", Aunt Elizabeth will never like her.

* Aunt Laura hugs Emily and consoles her, and Cousin Jimmy makes some more remarks, and everybody leaves on the next train except the New Moon people, who stay to pack up Mr Starr's things and will leave with Emily next day.

* Of course Aunt Elizabeth doesn't want Emily to bring her cats. We are told that she is "one of those people" who can never understand anything with their hearts, and only with their heads when the thing is "hammered into their heads" in plain language. Show, don't tell, Ms Montgomery; you can write better than this, I've seen you do it! What is wrong with you? Was 1923 just a bad year for kidlit? Was there something in the air?

* Anyway, Cousin Jimmy speaks up again, and Aunt Elizabeth agrees to one cat. Given that Mike has appeared at least ten times as much as Sal in the book so far, I know which cat. ;P He will ostensibly have to stay outside, but we'll see about that.

* Or, no, because we are now briskly informed that Ellen likes Mike but hates Sal. So Emily will take Sal, and the focus on Mike so far has merely been to give Emily yet another cause for Angst and make us feel that she is hard done by.

* Aunt Elizabeth insists on reading Emily's writing-book, so Emily runs away with it and stuffs it into the stove to burn. Which seems to me the most sensible thing she's done so far. I really don't think much of her father at all, spending four years knowing he was going to die and leave her to relatives, and never training her in anything that would help her get on with them or with anyone except himself. :P

* I'm not sure I can finish this book. Not because the writing is bad, but because Emily has been so thoroughly put into a corner by the author and there's nothing she can do about it, short of arranging Aunt Elizabeth's mysterious disappearance and living happily with Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy ever afterward. ;P Which won't happen, because Aunt Elizabeth was not described as ugly and terrifying, therefore she has a spark of good in her and can come around eventually. *snark snark*

* Emily has a picture of a sweeping white lace ball-gown that she cut from a fashion sheet. She puts it in her pocket. What're the odds Aunt Elizabeth finds that and throws it away, too, because Vanity?

* And then Emily says good-bye to everything and they leave, and it's all very affecting. I guess. ;P

* Aunt Elizabeth arranges to buy some white mourning-clothes for Emily, who is sent off with Cousin Jimmy so as not to be in the way while the clothes are bought? I don't know, I don't understand any of this. But Cousin Jimmy buys Emily lots of ice-cream, and warns her that there will be none at New Moon, where everything is exactly as it was fifty years ago, candles and lack of refrigeration and all. ...I take it they have no ice-house? Or something? Maybe Aunt Elizabeth just doesn't like ice-cream because she is Prim and Unpleasant.

* Anyway, we have another longish section of description while they arrive at New Moon and settle in. Emily goes over to a bookcase, but apparently Aunt Elizabeth won't even let her touch the parlor books because they "don't belong to you". So Aunt Elizabeth is going to be another rather contrived Anything-Opposite-To-Emily terrible-mother figure like Ellen, yeah? Only with more dignity.

* Yeah, every single thing we hear about Emily noticing or liking or appreciating or looking forward to is just brought up for Aunt Elizabeth to squash it. Can we get past this phase of the book already?

* Emily is to share Aunt Elizabeth's bed, it seems. This works out about as well as you'd expect, because neither of them wants to share, and neither one has the least bit of sympathy for the other. Of course Emily starts to cry and Aunt Elizabeth orders her not to, BECAUSE OF REASONS, OKAY? Yadda yadda blah blah!

* More sadness, more angst... finally Emily hears "the Wind Woman" in the branches outside and is immediately happy and comforted, and falls asleep. End chapter.

* Emily loves everything about the house and farm. We're told she'll remember these next two days as very happy ones. It's not convincing, because what we see continues to be Aunt Elizabeth squashing her at every possible opportunity - ordering her never to kiss her cat, and so forth.

* Emily is required to drive the cows to pasture every day as one of her chores. She quickly discovers that the cows aren't scary and know where to go, but the next section of description seems to be leading up to another getting-sat-on. This is not a very fun book to read; it's all foreboding and nothing else.

* There is an unfinished little cottage on a hill, weather-worn and boarded up; Emily names it the Disappointed House and will spend much time imagining furnishings and life for it. Across the pasture from that house is another, slovenly and uncared-for; Emily does not name it, but she decides to ask Cousin Jimmy about both houses.

* She follows a path from the pasture through some beautifully described woods up to New Moon's front yard. The woods do not belong to New Moon - they are called "Lofty John's bush" - but according to Cousin Jimmy, they ought to belong to New Moon, having been sold by Grandfather Archibald to "Lofty John Sullivan's father" fifty years ago before the two men quarrelled. Now Lofty John, so nicknamed for his high-and-mighty ways (really? REALLY? I know you're a better writer than this, Lucy Maud Montgomery!) refuses to sell the land back to Elizabeth, for spite.

* The childhood accident Cousin Jimmy had was, that Elizabeth accidentally pushed him down a well. He hit his head on the side going down, and ever since then, though he healed up fine, he says people assume he isn't mentally sound because he's a poet and refuses to worry about anything. See, I was right - he's not mentally less-abled, he's trolling.

* Cousin Jimmy doesn't write his poems down, because OF COURSE one of Aunt Elizabeth's "pet economies" is writing-paper. I wondered if it was going to be candles, but that wouldn't make it hard enough for Emily, since there's free light in the daytime. This is such a weird book; it's like a slightly clumsy whumpfic.

* Of course Cousin Jimmy can't buy paper for Emily either, because he does get paid for the farm work but he once gave his month's wages to a tramp by the side of the road - since he didn't need them for anything, getting his room and board at New Moon for free - and Aunt Elizabeth ever since has refused to give him more than a few dollars at a time for specified needs, keeping the rest of his wages in trust for him. This is getting so contrived, the whole of it. We're at 20%....

* Really, was there something in the air in 1923? At least with Charles Boardman Hawes, I knew his writing was contrived, and it was always contrived. It wasn't something he suddenly began to do. If I go back and read any of the Anne books will I also find them contrived? Somehow I doubt it.

* Cousin Jimmy keeps a garden. He goes weird for a moment and says, "There is a spell woven round this garden. The blight shall spare it and the green worm pass it by. Drought dares not invade it and the rain comes here gently." This scares Emily, but Cousin Jimmy goes right back to being himself. Yeah, I am not at ALL comfortable with attributing that kind of "mental flight" to a bump on the head.

* Cousin Jimmy confirms that we are required to like Aunt Elizabeth; he remarks that he "hates" Aunt Ruth, but Aunt Elizabeth is "a crank but sound as a nut", and Aunt Laura is "a saint".

* The next day, which is Sunday, Emily is not allowed to go to church because her clothes are not yet ready and Aunt Elizabeth "does not choose" to have her appear in the cheap, loose-woven black merino. Instead she stays home with Cousin Jimmy, who gives her a brief history of the Murray family, in the little Murray-specific graveyard near New Moon.

* The Murray tradition to not carry spite past the grave came from the first Murray couple in Canada; they meant to settle in Quebec, but the wife suffered from seasickness, and when she went ashore on P.E.I. while the ship took on fresh water, she refused to go aboard again. "Here I stay," she said, and after she died many years later, the husband had that very phrase put on her tombstone as her only epitaph. So all the other Murrays vowed they would never do any such a thing. ;P

* The Disappointed House was being built by a young man for his fiancée, but she jilted him and he moved to British Columbia rather than finish the place. But he won't sell, either. Emily wishes the house would be finished - she says it wants to be - but Cousin Jimmy says that that young man came from the same family as the "Here I stay" wife, and that that family were all so stubborn that probably the man will never sell or let the house be finished.

* You know, all this "that family was all this and that" stuff doesn't bother me nearly as much in the Anne books as it's doing here. I think because those graveyards and histories are all narrated by visibly unreliable narrators: Miss Valentine is careful to prefix everything with "they always said, but I don't know", and Miss Minerva Tomgallon is very obviously partial. Cousin Jimmy is the closest we have in this book to a reliable source of narrator's-POV information, even though by a couple things he's said he might be partial to the Murrays the same way as Miss Minerva.

* Dr Burnley, who lives in - if I'm following this correctly - the slovenly house, is a distant connexion of the same family, the Shipleys, and is an "odd stick". The evidence is, that he is an atheist. That's all. He has a daughter, Ilse Burnley, very pretty with "hair like daffodils and eyes like yellow diamonds", and being raised atheist too. You want to bet he's only bitter at God for his (I speculate, also very pretty and looked just like Ilse) wife dying ten years ago, and after Emily inevitably makes friends with Ilse she will bring her father round and there will be a commotion when the Burnleys show up in the local church one day?

* I may possibly have read too much Lucy Maud Montgomery for... anybody's good. ;P

* There is a story of a Lost Diamond. It belonged to Edward Murray's wife, cost 200 pounds, and was lost somewhere in or near the old summerhouse. Everyone looked for it, no one found it, but Grandfather Archibald Murray would not have the place pulled down, so presumably it's underneath somewhere. What do you think - a lightning strike, maybe, will burn the place down and uncover it, or will Emily find it some other way?

* Or maybe not. Cousin Jimmy goes weird again and says, "On moonlit nights, Emily, I've seen it glinting--glinting and beckoning. But never in the same place--and when you go to it--it's gone, and you see it laughing at you from somewhere else." Yeah, she would have done better to write straight-up ghost stories without all this religious trappery about them.

* Emily is sent off to school to get her out of Aunt Elizabeth's way; she had wanted to go to school because it's a new experience, but of course Aunt Elizabeth manages to ruin it by putting her in a ridiculous oversized gingham smock-apron and sunbonnet. I'm getting really tired of this "okay, how can Aunt Elizabeth ruin this sequence?" kind of plot that seems to be the only thing going on.

* The very first thing we hear about the schoolteacher, Miss Brownell, is that Emily doesn't like her, and only afterward that she's a "strict disciplinarian" and much devoted to Keeping Order. I think the 1920s were just a terrible time for children's literature! O_O

* And of course Miss Brownell has a "colourless face" and "prominent teeth". Because you can't be a nice person and look terrible. Blah blah blargh, I am issuing you an Ultimatum, L.M. Montgomery. We are now at 23% into the book. If you haven't either given us a complex character or had something interesting and/or unpredictable happen by 50%, I'm done, and you will not get the Mock Newbery over Charles Boardman Hawes.

* Nobody at school likes Emily, and they all laugh at her, presumably due to the gingham. It's sort of the exact opposite of how everybody loved Anne without any reason, and I don't think I like it any better, even though it's slightly more realistic. It's still contrived, because of the gingham.

* The children all tease Emily at lunch hour, and she threatens them with the "evil eye" for insulting Cousin Jimmy. The way she phrases it, of course, because the Murrays are clannish and this is all about Emily becoming one of the Murrays, is "you are not going to insult my family", italics original. Yeah yeah yeah.

* We meet Ilse Burnley, not by name at first, but by her description it's obvious. She's notable as being "not like the other girls"; she was not present for the morning classes or the lunch hour, so did not take part in tormenting Emily nor yet stand up for her; she has a short fluffy golden white-fro and amber eyes, and Miss Brownell seems to like her better than the rest of the class.

* At recess, which is separate from lunch hour? I don't know. Anyway, a girl who is described as having "doll-like features" and "smooth, lustrous braids" - the whole description is very obviously, at least to me, meant to point out to us that this girl is Not Sympathetic but is a tool of the establishment - gives Emily a box as a "present" which turns out to have a dead snake in it. Of course Emily is deathly afraid of snakes, which nobody knew until that second; it's just fortuitously provided by the author at that moment to try and make things worse. I am SO UNIMPRESSED.

* At this point Ilse Burnley stands up for Emily and bosses all the other girls around, threatening them with murder and mutilation if they tease her any more. Then she darts off away from the schoolground; presumably part of the "odd" way Dr Burnley is raising her is that she comes and goes from school as she pleases.

* The establishment girl, Rhoda, swears she didn't know what was in the box but was only told by the other girls that it was a present for Emily. She may or may not be telling the truth; I could believe it either way. Anyway, she offers to make friends with Emily, who accepts, but by the way Rhoda is going on about her family's high connections, she's going to turn out to be a backbiter and a snob. Tidy girls who look like dolls are never good friends in storybooks, always suck-ups.

* And yeah, Rhoda has no manners and is a nosy gossip, asking Emily questions about things like Cousin Jimmy's wages, goodness knows why. She also insists that Emily must get a "beau" at once, which Emily thinks improper. But Rhoda is the only friend Emily has, so they arrange to share a double seat in the schoolhouse. Rhoda is teacher's pet, so Emily gets in trouble for all the chattering to her that Rhoda does during class.

* We learn that the reason Miss Brownell is nice to Ilse is that she is said to be "setting her cap" for Dr Burnley, but that he is reputed to "hate women". (Yeah, grieving his dead wife, I'll lay you odds.)

* Rhoda says repeatedly that it's not "proper" to associate with the Burnleys, and also "lays flattery on with a trowel", telling Emily she should cut her hair in a bang to be a "real beauty". Yeah, yeah -- standard-issue Shallow Bimbo Girl, early-twentieth-century edition. Blargle blargle.

* There are to be supper guests at New Moon, so Emily doesn't manage to ask about cutting her hair till they are all at the table. Aunt Elizabeth thinks bangs look silly and should only be worn by cows. Next Emily asks why the Burnleys do not believe in God, and a dinner guest, Mr Slade, who is a coarse and embarrassing person, says it's "because of the trick his wife played on him", and then Emily is sent out "to feed the cows", which she understands as meaning that Mrs Burnley shall not be talked about. Sooo... not dead, then; Cousin Jimmy was being delicate. Ran away with a preacher?

* Next chapter. Emily goes to school some more and begins to enjoy it. She has not seen Ilse Burnley again, but is BFFs with Rhoda and casual friends with the other girls. She loves almost everything about her new life, except that Aunt Elizabeth is distant and that she doesn't get to write. She does some writing on her slate at school, and shows it to Rhoda, but Rhoda's "giggling over her finest flights" annoys her.

(I draw a critical comparison to the Anne books: Diana was a prosaic, somewhat flat young woman who didn't "get" Anne's poeticalness any more than anyone "gets" Emily's, but it wasn't portrayed as this HORRIBLE CRIME against Our Heroine. It was just that not everybody has the kind and level of imagination that Anne does, and she has to learn to live with that.)

* We come now to the "ill-starred day" when Emily will receive from Destiny the "desire of her heart" (getting to write) when she "most needed it"; what happens is, Miss Brownell reads aloud Tennyson's "Bugle Song" with her "superficial, elocutionary knack". (LM Montgomery likes the Bugle Song. I think it's stupid, repetitive, and almost as hard to read aloud with any meaning as the refrain of Poe's "Bells". But to each their own. ;P)

* Anyway, Emily has never heard the Bugle Song before, so she falls head-over-heels in love with it and with the dramatic mental images it gives her. She's so struck by one line that she runs up the aisle, grabs Miss Brownell's arm, and pleads with her to read the line over again; Miss Brownell slaps her and sends her back to her seat. Emily is wounded and resentful and has nobody to tell about the matter.

* Seriously, are there people like this? Who have absolutely no sense of self-preservation around mean people, and/or no sense of propriety in settings where there are rules for a reason? I just can't believe in Emily, let alone sympathize with her.

* Anyway, Aunt Laura goes to look for something in the sitting-room bookcase, and finds a packet of old "letter-bills", long and narrow and pinky-red, from when Grandfather Archibald was the local postmaster. Aunt Laura says they should be burned, and Emily asks if she may have them to write on. Aunt Laura says yes, and Emily takes them to the garret, where she has a cozy corner in a dormer-window.

* Emily writes a four-page letter to her father talking about the day's troubles, addresses it to "Mr Douglas Starr, On the Road to Heaven" (he told her before he died that he'd wait around for her to die and join him and her mother before they would move on to Heaven proper), and tucks it under a sofa in the garret on one of the crosspieces underneath it.

* We get endless, endless excerpts from Emily's letters to her father. Endless. They might be interesting if I was, one, interested in Emily, and two, not waiting for the next HORRIBLE CALAMITY to fall upon her head.

* Yeah, Aunt Elizabeth burned the picture of the ball gown.

* And Rhoda keeps saying that Emily must not befriend Ilse or Rhoda will "cry her eyes out". At this point I'm doing math, guessing how long till Emily and Rhoda's "friendship" falls apart when Emily realizes Rhoda's True Colors. I am so sick of characters about whom you can tell everything from the loaded adjectives used to describe them. Do you suppose that'll ever stop happening, or am I just seeing them everywhere now? o_O

* Emily still has to wear the ridiculous gingham to school all the time because her new clothes were only for church, it seems.

* More stuff, more stuff... end chapter. The next chapter is about Rhoda's birthday party; all the girls are very exercised over who will be invited, and Rhoda has said she will invite Emily, so I'll lay odds she won't. The chapter title is "Growing Pains", so definitely something will go wrong. Possibly Aunt Elizabeth won't let her go.

* In Sunday-school on the Sunday before the party, Rhoda does not sit with Emily but with a stranger girl dressed in fancy clothes. We are infomed that said girl's "fine feathers" do her no good, though, first because "she was not in the least pretty" and only second because "her expression was cross and contemptuous". :PPPP YOU ARE A BETTER WRITER THAN THIS. WHY ARE YOU NOT WRITING BETTER. *koff* Obviously this is Rhoda's new BFF. Emily's current seatmate, Jenny Strang, mentions that the party invitations have been received, which is the first Emily knows that she is not invited. A couple days later, Jenny tells Emily the whole story, how the new BFF took a dislike to Emily over Rhoda's brother and ordered Emily not be invited, and how Rhoda has been lying to Emily from day one because the "gift" of the snake was Rhoda's idea in the first place.

* Aunt Elizabeth wouldn't have let her go anyway, and makes sure we know it, but that doesn't make Emily feel any better. Emily mopes about for weeks and grows thin and unhappy, since it's the first time anyone she trusted has betrayed her.

* Aunt Elizabeth, still playing the Make Things Worse role into which the author has forced her, decides - what is actually a belief of the day - that Emily's long hair is sapping her strength and must be shingled off or she'll never perk up. A similar thing happened to my great-aunt when she was a child.

* But Emily doesn't want her hair cut off, and - though she has not usually been considered to look like a Murray - she terrifies Aunt Elizabeth by not only looking exactly like Grandfather Archibald when he was angry but saying, just as he used to, "Let me hear no more of this". After that, for no specified reason, she perks up anyway.

* But she has a "mysterious prescience" that Aunt Elizabeth has "got it in for her" over this "defeat" and will "get even sooner or later". There's something kind of awkward in this tone; every so often we get a POV shift trying to prove to us that Aunt Elizabeth is A Sympathetic Character, Honest... and then we get something like this, where she's portrayed as quite deliberately trying to make Emily's life hell in every way possible. It's not... it's NOT GOOD WRITING, dash it all. There's something wrong about it; it's not honest. One thing you have to say about Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs Rachel Lynde, they were consistent personalities, and Aunt Elizabeth is not. She's just a Person To Hate.

* REALLY. REALLY. Okay, I'm done with this book. See, Aunt Elizabeth's "turn to get even" comes when Emily is sent to the store - ordered to wear her boots and stockings, because that's the Murray way - but Emily takes them off and goes barefoot, and then gets distracted writing a poem and forgets to put them back on before she arrives home. And Aunt Elizabeth decides to punish her, as I think we would all expect even were this an isolated incident, but it's phrased as "But Aunt Elizabeth's turn had come." And I am just DONE with this Emily-can-do-no-wrong, everybody's-picking-on-her, mess of a book.
pedanther: (Default)

[personal profile] pedanther 2013-06-25 03:34 am (UTC)(link)
(...I sound like I'm going to bring up the word "Mary Sue" in a couple of seconds, don't I? I really don't want to get into that discussion here in the post, I'll never get Emily to New Moon at this rate, but -- it could be kind of interesting to do an analysis of the heroines in some of these old books and speculate about where the construction of the Mary Sue comes from. Maybe. ^_^ Feel free to discuss in comments.)

I really don't like the term "Mary Sue", because even when it's used honestly different people mean different things by it, and then there are people who use it to mean things like "any female character I disapprove of".

I've been wondering lately if "author's pet" works as a replacement; if nothing else, it says what it means in a way that "Mary Sue" doesn't. Though it still makes it sound like the problem is only a single character; there was an interesting discussion on Ramblings a while back where it was pointed out that really it's an issue of overall bad writing -- it's not just that there's one badly-written character, because that character can only exist in a badly-written plot, surrounded by supporting characters who are also badly written. As you've been illustrating here.


Tidy girls who look like dolls are never good friends in storybooks, always suck-ups.

And this is where it occurred to me that you'd probably appreciate Robin Klein's novel Hating Alison Ashley, if you ever get the chance to read it.
brin_bellway: forget-me-not flowers (Default)

[personal profile] brin_bellway 2013-06-25 01:21 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't have that much experience with Anne of Green Gables*, but from what I've seen this reminds me of it: a bunch of unlikeable characters doing strange and usually bad things for incomprehensible reasons.

*I had more than enough things I'd rather be doing than reading it even before getting scared off it by being forced to watch the movie. Twice.