If you want to know who I am inside, read the Emily trilogy by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Most everyone knows and loves Montgomery’s most famous creation: Anne of Green Gables. I love Anne too. Yet Montgomery considered herself more akin to Emily. And so do I.
SIMILAR TO ANNE
The two girls, Anne and Emily, have a lot in common: They’re both orphaned from an early age. Each is raised by a domineering woman, with a supportive male figure in the background. Both wish to please their guardians, while firmly adhering to their own opinions of what is right and wrong. In conjunction with these conflicting desires, each craves to be loved not because of how obedient they are but rather simply for who they are. Both are highly emotional and imaginative—and therefore misunderstood by proper and stodgy adults. Each feels passionate about beauty, especially that which is found in nature, and bestows names upon the trees, the flowers, the trails, the lakes, and even the wind.
DIFFERENT FROM ANNE
Yet for as much as Anne and Emily have in common, to many readers including myself, Emily is a more realistic and darker character. Both grow up with literary aspirations, but Emily is far more wedded to the craft than Anne. For Emily, her journals are her lifeline, without which she would be miserable. She regularly writes poems, stories, and essays, pushing herself to explore every genre from romance to crime. Moreover, we constantly read of the acceptances and rejections that Emily receives, as she climbs the alpine path of literary fame. Neither Anne or Emily easily fits in with peers, but eventually both garner respect. Here again though, the differences between Anne and Emily gradually become apparent. Anne learned to play the belle of the party, while Emily often instead paced her room in loneliness when estranged for whatever reason from her small circle of friends. So while I love how Anne could brighten up everyone’s life, I better identified with the less attractive and more morose Emily.
Perhaps for that reason, despite dyeing my hair red in college (which Anne would find ironic given how much she loathed her hair color), Emily influenced me far more than Anne. Emily kept “Jimmy” books and wrote poetry, among other literary ventures. “Jimmy” books were so named, not because they differed from regular notebooks, but because Emily’s cousin Jimmy would sneak them to Emily. The first time I labeled my journal a “Jimmy” book, my family teased me for liking a boy in my class with that name. While the practice of naming my journal was short-lived, I wrote my first poem after reading the Emily books and kept up the practice throughout my teens.
When best friend Isle quarreled with Emily, she’d swear and call Emily atrocious names. Emily would smile and stoically wait for Isle’s outbursts to end, because she knew this made Isle even madder. As for the reason Emily could smile, well, she knew that she wasn’t “a lousy lizard” or a “toothless viper”. Similarly, I enjoyed how confounding my best friend in college found me because I’d unblinkingly and calmly tell her why I wasn’t any of the names she’d throw at me when mad.
English: Lucy Maud Montgomery ca 1920 – 1930 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Shortly after college, I decided to stay home with my dad against the better wishes of relatives. No doubt unknown to anyone at the time, Emily’s influence was the reason. After much soul-searching, Emily declined an invitation to move to New York for a position with a magazine in favor of staying with her relatives on her beloved Prince Edward Island. So too I felt I belonged with my dad and in my home province of Newfoundland. Now Montgomery herself did eventually make a different decision than Emily for the sake of love—as did I, although like Montgomery I return to my home province on a regular basis.
One last story, before I move on to summaries of the Emily trilogy. And that is about the role that Emily played as matchmaker in my love life. One day Emily’s Great-Aunt Nancy wrote and asked for Emily to drop her a letter. Because she knew her guardians would read it, Emily felt paralyzed and didn’t make a good impression on Great-Aunt Nancy with her letter. In fact, Great-Aunt Nancy thought her stupid, but still she asked for a photo. This time, before Emily took the letter to the post office, she wrote a new one just for her aunt to see. Later that spring, Emily received an invitation to visit. Embarrassing as it is for me to admit, when I first enrolled in an online dating service I talked with family about what to write. (By the age of thirty, I had experienced much rejection and so felt insecure about my prospects with men.) Sadly, the end result was that the gentlemen I wrote were getting to know me only through other people’s eyes. Under the influence of Emily’s decision, I decided one day to be brave and write my own responses. Within a month, I began an intense correspondence with the guy who became my husband.
EMILY OF NEW MOON
The majority of the above incidents happened in the first book: Emily of New Moon. Unlike Anne, Emily starts out by living with her dad. Within four chapters, however, Montgomery has orphaned her. Now Emily, who like Anne at first appearance seems eccentric, must adapt to life with the Murray clan. She must also find acceptance with her peers, which is less easy for her than Anne. The latter is introduced to Diana, who immediately becomes a bosom buddy, while Emily faces cruelty from teachers and peers alike. Miss Brownell punishes her for refusing to admit why she is crying at school, while her schoolmates not only tease her for wearing a baby apron and buttoned boots but also taunt her by giving her a box with a dead snake. Yet Emily doesn’t remain entirely friendless, for she soon becomes best friends with the heathen Isle, gets rescued from a bull by Perry who becomes the family’s hired hand, and catches the eye of Teddy who finds creative release with paint and canvas. Whenever I read Emily of New Moon, I am amazed at its delightful endlessness.
Montgomery repeats her magic with Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. In the former, Emily is offered the privilege of attending high school for three years. The honor comes however with a price. Emily is to give up writing, “except so far as school compositions might be concerned.” Anyone with a passion will readily understand how damning that request is. Cousin Jimmy suggests a compromise, that for those three years Emily write only what is true. My attempt to follow in Emily’s footsteps by writing only down facts proved to be as short-lived as the naming of my journals, but then my education came without conditions and so I had less incentive. Oh, Emily also had to board with her aunt, who kept accusing Emily of being sly. If she innocently turned a cloth on the living room sofa, opened a window, moved a portrait, shifted her bed to another corner, her aunt remained determined to figure out her “real” motives. As she matures, Emily’s friendships are tested. Isle is accused of playing a unforgiveable prank on her. The boys aren’t allowed to visit. Last, as in the first Emily book, there are references to the mystical world of fairies, druids, and elves, along with second sight. The latter crops up in Emily Climbs, when Emily is threatened in a church, calls out to Teddy for help, and is heard by him despite his living a mile away.
Of course, as all heroines of trilogies must, Emily plunges headlong into adulthood by the third book. In some ways, Emily’s Quest is the least satisfying, because Montgomery caved again to public pressure to marry off one of her leading women. And of course if one is to write about romance, one must throw in many obstacles, which often result in cliché and convoluted relationships such as shared between Isle and Perry. Case in point, Isle is about to marry Teddy when she receives news that Perry is hurt, and so immediately runs to his side. Readers might remember that Anne finally realizes she loves Gilbert only when he is on his death-bed. Yet to Montgomery’s credit, she made the road to love much more difficult for Emily than Anne. While Anne had simply fooled herself into thinking she could only love a handsome and dashing stranger, Emily always knew she loved Teddy. Unfortunately, his mother hated everyone and everything that threatened to limit her son’s love for her, to the point that she poisoned their pets and destroyed Teddy’s paintings. She also keeps a letter from Emily in which Teddy reveals his true love for Emily. Teddy’s mom is not the only character whose twisted soul reaps tragic consequences. With Teddy out of the picture, old friend Dean Priest need only betray Emily by telling her that her first novel is flimsy and incredulous to clear the path for her to love him. After Emily hears his condemnation of her work, she blindly rushes down the family’s stairs where she falls on one of her aunt’s mending baskets and is pierced by a pair of scissors. For months after her recovery, she gives up her literary aspirations. Eventually though, Emily does pick up the pen again; life must go on, whether in books or in the real world.
There are many ways in which Emily’s life differs from mine. For one, I can count my dating ventures on one hand. For another, my novels still remain tucked away in the basement. Yet inside we are very much alike, especially when it comes to our being creatures of moods and individuals who simply must write. It’s been a pleasure to reread the Emily books yet again. I hope to hear from some of you that it’s been a delight for you to discover them.
My rating? Read them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.
How would you rate these books?