Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Blythes are Quoted, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Blythes Are Quoted was first published in the fall of 2009. Published by Penguin Canada, it was and remains hard to find a copy in the states. I finally ordered my copy from because I couldn't find it here. I'm hoping it will increase in popularity such that it will become more widely available. It's mildly annoying to me that it is not!

All of the descriptions I read about The Blythes Are Quoted talk about how this is a darker version of Montgomery. She completed this manuscript shortly before her death and it was, in fact, delivered to her publisher the morning that she died. (No one knows who delivered it.) The Blythes Are Quoted was written and intended to be the ninth book in the Anne series. So, my friends, if you haven't read this one then you haven't completely read the Anne series!

Now, her publisher did use parts of the manuscript, preparing and presenting it to the public as a series of short stories compiled under the title The Road to Yesterday (which I own and have read.) What the publisher apparently decided at the time was that the public couldn't handle the darker side of Montgomery and wanted to release more of her traditional fare and so they edited it down and removed parts that they thought would not be readily accepted.

So, The Blythes Are Quoted landed in my quivering little hands with the following words attached to it: "adultery, illegitimacy, revenge, murder, and death." Definitely more foul words than what we are used to from Montgomery's pen, hmm?

Honestly, I was worried. I like the fact that, as Barbara H. pointed out in her post about Anne of Avonlea, Montgomery's stories are wholesome and sweet. I was worried about what Montgomery might have done to the Blythe family at the end of her own life. What would I find? What became of Anne and Gilbert? Then I read the book. And I'm more inclined to say that using words like adultery, illegitimacy, revenge, murder and death are more of an advertisement to sell books and, quite frankly, I'm a bit annoyed.

Quickly, this book does tell us more about the Blythe family. The book is divided into two parts - before World War I (and Walter's death) and after World War I, as history was marching us into the second World War. This book is unique in that Montgomery chose to tell us more about the Blythes through poetry (Anne would read passages that she or Walter wrote aloud to the family which would then be commented on by various family members) and through short stories involving the lives of others. References to the family are how we glean our information about them. We are occasionally invited to Ingleside for evening readings but beyond that, the Blythes remain somewhat distant and, I would hastily point out, we find them just as wholesome and agreeable as ever.

We do discover interesting things about Anne and Gilbert as they discuss their past relationship. We also learn how they handled the children out of Susan's earshot and presence, which I thought was kind of interesting. We learn some of the names of their grandchildren and can confirm some births and marriages. It is very intriguing.

As to the darker side, I admit it's true in that there are more ghost stories. I might have been more shocked by this had I not just read Legends of Prince Edward Island (linked to my review.) Because I had read that book first, I wasn't taken aback by the ghosts and alleged ghosts that Montgomery chooses to involve in her stories here. Having read Legends, I would say that The Blythes Are Quoted makes more sense to me in regards to Montgomery wanting to tell stories in a different fashion. Through legends, ghosts and poetry she definitely changes her style, but there is nothing terribly unpredictable.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic and some would likely argue that I very much am. However, I felt the book was still very true to Montgomery and her Island heritage and love of poetry. Nothing took me by surprise.

All that explained, she writes with perhaps a bit more hopelessness than I think we can see in some of her other works. I'm not terribly surprised by that either, considering she wrote this at the end of her life when she was not in the best state of mind herself. I would say that she is perhaps more honest in this book, not trying to make all of her characters the picture of rose colored mental health. There is a story in here, for example, of a man who spends his entire marriage wishing he had married someone else. The story could have been disturbing. However, she's still Montgomery and, dare I say it?, her style is still predictable. At the end of the story the husband realizes that he has played the absolute fool and repents most wholeheartedly! It doesn't account for his wasted years but it does end admirably and in a just manner.

There is indeed a murder and I do think that particular story is the darkest of them all. There really is no hope in it, as you might long for and/or expect. But one story in a 510 page novel doesn't really get me down. Yes, it exist. But if the entire book is promoted as containing murder and death then I think anyone looking for Montgomery morbidity might be slightly disappointed.

In short (ha! ha!) - I was glad to have read this book. For me, it really does complete the Anne series. It makes sense. It falls into place. It keeps the spirit of Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside alive by letting us see the Blythes through the eyes of others in the community. I don't want to spoil too much of what is shared because I think you ought to read this one for yourselves. I shall tuck it on my shelf next to my other Anne books and will think well of it. I'm tremendously pleased that it was presented, unedited, as Montgomery originally intended for it to be.


Barbara H. said...

I definitely want to seek this one out. I hate when publishers overemphasize something to capitalize on it for advertising.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Hmmm...I wonder if it's "darker" because of the war? I don't know the publishing timeline for LMM's works (actually, I guess it would be the writing timeline), but WWI brought about a lot of changes in philosophy/worldview/whatever you want to call it. Anyway, I really want to read this!! Was the shipping on it terrible?

Carrie said...

Amy - it's been a year since I ordered it so I honestly don't remember what I paid in shipping. Obviously, I considered it worth it but my memory there isn't crystal clear.

Annette W. said...

Great review. Thank you for explaining just how it is a bit darker...but not unlike LMM either.

Serena said...

I very much want to get this. I hadn't even heard of it until you mentioned it. I kind of like that it's not directly about the Blythes. I've always found Montgomery's secondary characters, and their stories, so interesting. The little anecdotes and glimpses of people's personalities that she shares in the course of telling someone else's story have always fascinated me. I constantly find myself wanting to know a little bit more, and wondering how much of it was based on real life; I suspect a lot.

I love hearing your reviews of L. M. Montgomery's works, because we view her in the same light. I know I've said that before, but it is so nice. It's just like reading my own thoughts, only better worded and more clear. ;)

Stephanie Kay said...

Sounds interesting. Especially in light of knowing she would die soon and the culture of ghost stories.

I wonder what your thoughts on the book would be if you read this before her journals and such.

Carrie said...

SMB - I would have loyally stood by the book but I would have had a MUCH harder time digesting it. =)

Brittanie said...

I want to read this book too. I did not know it existed. :)

Janet said...

I enjoyed the first 3 Anne stories but am not as committed a fan as you. (I never could finish any of the books after Anne of the Island.) But this one sounds intriguing -- despite the sensationalized advertising!

justpeachy36 said...

I had no idea this one existed. Thanks for the heads up I will definitely be trying to get a copy of it.

Sarah M. said...

Yay!! Thanks for the review. I am glad to hear it is true Montgomery. Will look forward to reading this and calling myself officially completed in the series. I love when you discover there is a lost gem by an author and it's been republished AS IS. :)

Bethanie said...

I am so excited to read this-- I had no idea it was out there! Thanks for letting us know. And the Legends of PEI one too. :)

Cheryl said...

I had to order this one from as well--but well worth it! And not nearly as dark and sensational as it was portrayed. I agree that it was still very much a Montgomery book--still her writing style, still the same kind of characters, and still the same kind of story. Thankfully, since I love her writing!

Among the Shadows had the same buzz of being "unlike anything else" she wrote, and I didn't think it was true for those stories either. She may touch on darker themes, but still in characteristic fashion. The only thing I've read by her that I DID think was "utterly unlike anything else" was the final poem in The Blythes Are Quoted. Very interesting to compare to her writing about WWI in Rilla of Ingleside and I think very influenced by WWII.

Anyway, thanks for examining a much lesser-known Montgomery book!

Sky said...

Wow thank you for the review! I wasn't aware that this book existed and am excited to search it out!

Anonymous said...

I am afraid if this last series anne of green gables would ruin my believe that Anne and Gilbert are the best couple in the world. I am totally afraid if the story would spoill my childhood dream!

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