Monday, October 27, 2008

Maud and Me: a life in Montgomery

because I have Maud on the brain, I have decided to keep an account at LJ wherein I relay everything I am thinking while undertaking the not-so-daunting task of revisiting her novels.

A preview:

I first read Kilmeny of the Orchard in high school and I cannot remember it making a lasting impression on me.

There is an inscription in the front flap of my copy written by my friend Carol. She writes:" Happy Valentine's Day. I never could get into this one."

In many cases, I can see why.

Kilmeny of the Orchard was originally published as a magazine serialization entitled Una of the Garden. It is a sugary sweet and somewhat implausible melodrama that was pieced together for publication by LC Page on the heels of Montgomery's resounding Anne success.

In the spirit of my experiment, I woke up eager to get started. If Montgomery's work, indeed, has the power to change one's life perspective that this dreary, rainy day was the perfect place to reimagine life in purple hues.

The Monday morning subway commute began my sojourn into Kilmeny's world.

Inspired by the James Hogg balad, the eponymous Kilmeny Gordon is a mute girl with striking ebony hair, creamy ivory skin and deep violet eyes who captrues the heart of Eric Marshall, a visiting school teacher. The scene is Prince Edward Island, naturally, and Kilmeny and Eric's burgeoning romance is overseen by the tall, ominous trees of a phantom orchard where Kilmeny expresses her emotions with her violin.

You can basically deduce the entire plot ( and even the outcome ) by a glance at the back. There is comfort to that.

I googled the Amazon reader reviews of Kilmeny in an effort to discover what other Montgomery fans thought of this lesser known novel.

"Old fashioned." states one.
"A feminist's nightmare!" exclaims another."
another wipes it away with "Fairytale"
Another vehemently advises: "Skip this and read the Blue Castle"
"ho hum" yawns one reviewer
"No plot" surmises another

There were some reviews that describe it as "adorable" and "magical" escapism with little substance.

There really is little substance in Kilmeny but my attraction to the story on this dreariest of days was the well-crafted atmosphere that teleported me to Prince Edward Island and Kilmeny's enchanted orchard.

Montgomery had a great knack of turning extraordinary and magical things out of ordinary circumstances. To her, life had the possibility of being a fairytale; if only you were blessed, born of the "Race of Joseph" and kindred spirit enough to see it so.

As such, and as product of her love of nature, Montgomery infuses every page with colour and light and romance.

"The wonder of her grew upon him with every passing moment," the narrator relays of Kilmeny and Eric's budding romance.

This romance is set amidst beautiful, muted pastels: "It was just after sunset", the reader is told, " and the distant hills were purple against the melting saffron sky in the west and the crystalline blue of the sky in the south. Eastward, just over the fir woods, were clouds white and high heaped like snow mountains and the westernmost of them shone with a rosy glow as of sunset on an Alpine height"

Who doesn't want to sink into a world sharded completely in colours: tangible, tasty colour. It calms your mood just thinking about it and, for me, stripped away the nondescript grey of my office building to a rainbow world beyond.

The reader discovers that Kilmeny prefers to remain isolated in her orchard and the aforementioned landscape with her violin and her thoughts and you can really see why. Especially, when she uses her voice to infuse the lyrics and ginger sounds of nature: "She began playing an airy, delicate little melody that sounded like the laughter of daisies."

Maud was always brilliant with the turns of simile. Nature to Kilmeny, as to many of Maud's heroines, beomes a companion: the lilies, the wind, all her friends. This theme of nature as friend is oft delineated in the way the heroine either names the natural spots around her ( i.e. the Lake of Shining Waters, for an obvious example ) or becomes " of " that place in intricate connection, such as Kilmeny of the Orchard.

Because my mind is filled with wondrous caverns of Victorian literary knowledge ( mounting on obsession), I was delighted that my ramble in the world of Kilmeny hosted a Brotean reference. Exotic, Italian outside Neil Gordon: who is situated near Kilmeny and her adoptive guardians, longs and yearns for Kilmeny much in the way that dark outsider Heathcliff prowls Catherine's grounds. In one particularly melodramatic moment, Neil is described with "the untamed fury of the Italian peasant."

I enjoyed my visit to Kilmeny's world today and particularly relished the introductory chapters setting up Eric Marshall's close friendship with the elder David Baker. The novel begins in Halifax with a rather pointed description of the hills lining the harbour up to the Citadel. I can attest to these hills and love that Montgomery takes me right to places I have previously been in... and loved.

Perhaps magic fairyland is on my doorstep after all.

Did my time with Kilmeny change my perspective? Well, during lunch hour: whilst slurping soup and gazing dreamily, chin-in-hand at the font of this darling little book, I stumbled upon a quote I highlighted: "I have so many thoughts and it seems so slow to write them out... some of them get away." Kilmeny states this to Eric in reference to the fact that her speech impediment forces her to write her end of their conversation. But how true those words resounded to my imaginative-writer mind.

It set me to thinking that perhaps Kilmeny does not hold up to the other novels ( atleast at this part through ) because she is stripped of a voice. Emphatic, considering that Montgomery's beloved heroines were loud and vocal and independent. It was their tongues and words that beguiled the villages and men around them. In many cases, too, their voices as emblemized by their pens. I don't just refer to the fact that Kilmeny is mute but that she is, indeed, a feminist's nightmare: a pretty, silent innocent girl who, upon feeling Eric's possessive kiss, steps away from her child and the protective bounds of her gorgeous orchard.

I found myself momentary incensed by this telling silence until I took a step back into the language and colourful world. See, I promised as much as I could to shelf my modern sensibilities on the shelf. If Kilmeny's charming and utopic orchard exists and a dashing and compassionate hero like Eric finds her there, what need has she to assert a voicde? If not challenged, must a heroine need to lash out? Perchance her many musings with Eric over books and current events will be enough to sustain her.

Did my mood improve today as I sauntered through Kilmeny? Perhaps I would have been humming those strains of distant tune anyways
Perhaps the grey of my desk and the outside world ---out the window of my office and the Toronto skyline would have peeled to the possibility of enchantment beyond.

This daydreamer does know that today---paperclipping business cards to letters and licking envelopes and answering incessant emails --- redundant tasks all --- allowed her mind to escape elsewhere to a sleepy orchard world. I don't know if I want to be trapped in Kilmeny's world: I rather think it would be akin to being shaken in a snow globe ---- but, it is rather titillating to imagine what goes on.

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