It’s been a while – three weeks I guess – since I’ve been here, but I haven’t given up yet 🙂 and not planning to. Just have less free time than I used to.
Sometimes when I feel depressed or simply tired, I like to read my favorite Montgomery books from my childhood. This time it was “Blue Castle,” a beautiful story about a metamorphosis of an old maid – kind of like a Cinderella story, actually. I was never a fan of Cinderella story, but this theme doesn’t bother me about “Blue Castle” at all.
Valency Stirring, the protagonist of the novel, has just turned 29. She is an old maid by her times’ standards, and lives a sad, boring life. She even says she feels her life is pointless and that nobody loves her; but also that she doesn’t love anybody. She is afraid of being poor and homeless, therefore she does and says everything her family expects her to. She is described as plain, forgettable, too thin, and with weird eyes.
In her dreams, though, she leads a completely different life. Dreams are her escape from the overwhelming reality. She has created a blue castle, where she is beautiful and has “many lovers.” She has had this blue castle since her childhood, and she escapes to it whenever she feels alienated– practically, every day.
One day Valancy gets a letter from a doctor, telling her that she is mortally ill and will not live more than a year. This letter is a breaking point in her life and she decides that from now on, during this one short year she has ahead of her, she will please only herself. She starts saying what she thinks, reading when she feels like it, and doing whatever she wants to. Her family is terrified, not because they are truly worried about her, but because they are afraid she will shame them socially.
And she does. She goes to work with Able, the town’s drunk man, to tend for his dying daughter Cecily. Cecily has been condemned by the people of Darewood, because she had a baby while she was not married. The baby died, the baby’s father left, and nobody knows who he was. The girl is dying, but the only thing the people of Darewood care about is that she was an unmarried mother. And since Valancy decided to go and tend for her, there must be something wrong with her, too.
I wasn’t planning to give away all the plot here, so let me just finish with saying that on the way she meets a man, falls in love, marries the man and he loves her back. As in all Cinderalla stories, at the end they live happily ever after.
Now, why doesn’t it bother me and I still consider myself a feminist?
I found this review of Blue Castle once where the girl was saying “don’t show this book to feminists.” Why the hell not? Because she married a man, fell in love and was happy? I am really deeply sorry that a movement that was/is/should be a positive phenomenon (feminism, that is), has become something to be afraid of, to condemn even. Why the hell is that? I am also sorry that there some women who say they are feminists and because of that they don’t need to shave their legs, and God forbid they fall in love. I won’t deny they exist, but I will deny this is true feminism.
Feminism is equal rights for women. It’s acknowledging that women can do things that were forbidden to them for a long time – too long. It’s accepting that a woman may not want to have children and it’s her choice. As well as accepting that a woman wants to – by her own personal choice – spend time at home caring for her offspring. Feminism – in my humble opinion – says that we are allowed to do this, and have careers, and we don’t have to be able to make pierogi (Polish traditional dish) to be “spełniony” human beings.
This is what feminism means for me. Not that women are better than men. We aren’t. We are equal. And so both sexes should be allowed to say they need love and affection, and that they need to be in relationship. A relationship that is based on friendship and partnership.
And that is exactly what Valency had at the end of the book. Her and her partner’s love wasn’t a love at first sight. It had time to grow, they had time to become best friends first, and then it developed into a stronger feeling. He even tells her toward the end she is the best friend he could have ever hoped for. Their love has a great chance of surviving, because it was not a chemical reaction or a mutual attraction based on good looks, but on mutual respect and trust.
I must admit at this point I did some more reading and found an article saying that Valency was a “light feminist,” actually. It surprised me that one person could call her a feminist, the other claims feminists never should read it. I must also admit I had not thought about it in these terms before. It was just a great story of a positive change and a lasting love. With the benefit of having been written by Montgomery, which means it’s full of love for nature and it’s set on Prince Edward’s Island. After reading both of these opinions, what would I say? I’d say Valency was in a way a feminist, though I guess she didn’t care – or even knew the word. She left home to work – something unthinkable in those times and social circles. She took her life into her own hands and achieved what she hoped for. And she gets to see the world before she has children (I’m assuming one day she will have them, though that wasn’t in the book).
I guess one of my beloved childhood books could be – or maybe even was, I didn’t get that far – a subject of study.
Changing the subject slightly – what else did I enjoy about Blue Castle? The messages I got from it when I was younger, that were completely different from the Cinderella stories I had heard before. The message that beauty is in the eyes of beholder, and a matter of taste. That you could look prettier depending on the hair and dress, but most of all – that health and happiness make you if not beautiful, then at least cute(er). That it’s worth to take risks and be yourself. That it’s important to dream, and that sometimes dreams may come true. That nature is beautiful and should be re-discovered and admired and appreciated all the time.
This is what young girls should learn from the books, on the contrary to what the real Cinderella story teaches us (that no matter what you do, or don’t do, if you’re beautiful, a prince will find you. Bla bla bla. And that love at first sight is a true thing. WTF?)
Anyway, I didn’t want it to be so long, but I just couldn’t stop writing. My advice is, if you don’t know Blue Castle by now, and would like to try, just forget everything I wrote about feminism and enjoy this beautiful story. There is something unusual about Montgomery’s book, some kind of forgotten magic. Or maybe it’s only for me, because I was innocent and full of dreams when I was reading her books for the first time. One way or another, I think a post about Montgomery herself is on the way!