“Valancy wakened early, in the lifeless, hopeless hour just preceding dawn. She had not slept very well. One does not sleep well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man” (pg 1).
With an opening page so hauntingly familiar, how could I not be drawn into L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle? True, my birthday isn’t on the morrow and I’m pretty sure that I’m not an early riser, but I can completely connect with Montgomery’s sentiments on a single gal in her late 20’s. Yet, after I got over the connection I felt to the main character Valancy, I really loved reading The Blue Castle and found common ground with Montgomery’s ideas about letting go.
John Ralston Saul’s introduction to Jane Urquhart’s biography of L.M. Montgomery (from the Extraordinary Canadians Penguin series) I think says it all: “In her novels [Montgomery] puts forward the world almost as it should be, and this world somehow speaks to people across borders and across time” (xiii. ).
I will confess that I have not read any Anne or Emily books, but I somehow found my way to The Blue Castle (and I’m glad I did!). In her novel, Montgomery explores the idea of letting go of fear and learning how to live. Living not just to exist, but living to thrive! I believe that Valancy’s character was a way for Montgomery to explore something in fiction that she wished she could have explored in reality: “She had learned early in life how to separate herself from her emotions and behave in a pleasing manner, and often her outer behaviour was at odds with her thoughts and feelings” (Urquhart, pg 118).
I can’t help but relate this to the song (of course!) “Let Go” by Frou Frou.
“So let go, jump in . . . whatcha waiting for . . .
there’s beauty in the breakdown”
In this song, in the film Garden State and in this book, the idea of letting go and opening up to new possibilities is freeing. Letting go of fears, ideas, opinions, ways of being, and attitudes is hard. Nobody really enjoys major life changes or uncertainty. Again, I think of Valancy: 29 years old, single, hopeless. In the book, she has a lot of fears that she hangs onto:
“All her life she had been afraid of something, she thought bitterly . . . ‘And I alway will be–I know it–I can’t help it. I don’t know what it would be like not to be afraid of something” (13).
Yet, she changes her life by taking a risk and letting go. (Again, Montgomery living through her character?) I love the image from Garden State of the characters yelling into the abyss in their garbage bags. (I think that is the visual that I get when I think of letting go.)
In the novel, Valancy gets her courage to let go from her favourite author, John Foster:
” ‘Fear is the original sin,’ wrote John Foster. ‘Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading’ ” (26).
She also gets her courage to let go from a letter from her doctor saying she could very well die in the next year, or at any time. Because of this letter, “she made a discovery that surprised her; she, who had been afraid of almost everything in life, was not afraid of death. It did not seem in the least terrible to her. And she need not now be afraid of anything else” (37). Her resolve to live her life and to no longer fear allows her to live a life to the fullest where she is able to thrive.
Again, I can’t help but connect this idea of freedom to live to another song! This time, Jars of Clay (again):
“God Will Lift Up Your Head”
“Give to the wind your fear;
Hope and be undismayed.”
Just like Montgomery’s character Valancy, I long to let go and live, not afraid of anything else! After all, there is beauty in that breakdown. I think that if Montgomery were alive today, she would be standing alongside me, in a garbage bag, and yelling into the abyss!
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)