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July 29, 2008

Rereading Emily of New Moon

I reread Emily of New Moon this weekend, still riding the wave of recent L.M. Montgomery mania (which Steph at Crooked House rounds up here). I was surprised (but then not overly) to discover that my paperback copy was actually stolen goods, my then-school library’s ownership stamped on the inside cover, and with no evidence of a “discard”.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first encountered Emily, but she never entranced me the way that Anne did. I do remember enjoying the books, but also how difficult I found them, and I could never quite explain why, and Emily-lovers never really understood what I meant, but I see it now. First being that I read all of Montgomery’s books really young, and any of my understanding of Anne of Green Gables was probably due to having watched the Kevin Sullivan film, which came out when I was six. There was never an Emily movie, and so I was unfamiliar with the story. (This is interesting also to consider how the cinematic Anne influenced my impressions of that novel, considering how different it was to read Emily without such pictures in my mind).

That I had no “template” for understanding Emily might read a bit strangely, considering this story of an incorrigible orphan girl in PEI with romantic dreams and literary leanings, who is sent to live with bachelor/spinster strangers and changes their lives, investing a lonely old house with the heart it had lost, and bewitching every single person in town. That the novel is so remarkably like Anne, however, only shows Montgomery’s progression as a novelist between 1908 and 1923 (nine books later). Emily is a longer book, her character drawn with so much more detail, we get inside her head the way we never really did with Anne, her perspective maintained throughout the text. Her own progression is less a series of scrapes and lessons learned. She has not Anne’s fiery temper– her own outbursts are usually in protest to some injustice instead. She has a certain steadiness uncanny for a child. Emily grows up, but she never changes, she never relents.

This depth of character would have been what tripped me up back when I first read this book. The complicated nature of the others too– I remember being confused by Mr. Carpenter, who tormented the students who had potential in order to draw it further from them, and their ambivalent feelings towards him, and how I couldn’t comprehend it. Though I remember finding Dean Priest’s feelings for Emily a bit creepy, and I still do. Class issues– what it meant that Perry came from a place called “Stovepipe Town” and I remembering picturing a village full of men wearing top hats.

This time around, the book was a pleasure, to discover what I’d been missing. I liked the novel’s engagement with the wider world– stories of immigration, with history. As with Anne, I loved Emily’s bookishness, her passion for writing and how she’d have to do it anyway even if she’d never make a penny. The wise advice that she is given:

“If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you’ll write ten times ten– if the gods are kind. Stop messing over months, though– and don’t imagine you’re a genius either, if you have written ten decent lines. I think there’s something trying to speak through you– but you’ll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it. You’ve got to work hard and sacrifice– by gad, girl, you’ve chosen a jealous goddess.”

5 thoughts on “Rereading Emily of New Moon”

  1. Erin says:

    Great comments, Kerry. I also had a hard time with Emily when I was young, but now I am inspired to re-read it. Of course, I do own my own copy… although I don’t think that mine is stollen!

  2. Leah says:

    I love Mr. Carpenter.

    And I always found Dean a little creepy, and sometimes still wish that Emily had gone with Perry instead of Teddy!

  3. Kate Wilczak says:

    My problem with Emily was “the flash,” which still irritates me when I reread the books. You are right, she is definitely more developed that Anne, and her years at highschool are much more interesting. Her friends are too, and I love the story of Perry going to a fancy dinner and also of Emily and her best friend (Ilse? I can’t remember her name) falling asleep in a hayloft. Still, my favorite LMM book is The Blue Castle.

  4. kate says:

    And also, the story of Emily meeting the lady novelist and having the mixup with the dog still makes me laugh so hard I cry. I always start giggling a few pages in advance, anticipating it.

  5. Maddy says:

    I agree with Leah. I always loved Perry and I felt it creepy that Dean was in love with her. My favorite character was always Perry because of when Mrs Brownell came over to talk to Aunt Elizabeth and Perry is up in the loft with no clothes on. I couldnt stop laughing for ten minutes

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