1.04.2012

Currently Reading: Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest

Of course Teddy was in love with Ilse. He had gone to see her first—had been with her while Emily waited for him in the garden. Well, it made no real difference. Why should it? She would be just as friendly as ever. And was. Friendly with a vengeance. But when Teddy and Ilse had gone—together—laughing and teasing each other through the old To-morrow Road Emily went up to her room and locked the door. Nobody saw her again until the next morning.

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Emily Climbs (Emily, #2)Emily Climbs
Synopsis: Emily Byrd Starr goes to high school, where she experiences the odd mix of acceptance and rejection and mistakes that belong to a writer’s career. While pursuing her old dream, she turns down at least two suitors—even getting caught alone with one at night, albeit innocently; all the while yearning for her old friend Teddy Kent, who sometimes seems to love her.

Notes: I thought I’d read this book before; now, I’m less sure. If I ever did read it, I’d forgotten most of it.

Emily Climbs is darker than Emily of New Moon, but not unbearably. The Murray pride catches up with our post-adolescent heroine; the Starr independence makes her dislike the bonds of convention. In this tenuous and somewhat unsympathetic state, she endures having to board with strict, merciless Aunt Ruth. Worse even then her aunt are the sharp tongues and ill wills of a jealous classmate and Shrewsbury gossips in general.

As a writer, watching Emily progress in her career is interesting. It all seems somewhat different than the way things reportedly work now, but not entirely, and her emotional responses to acceptance and rejection are accurately drawn.

As both writer and romantic, I thought the scene in the old John house was perhaps the most beautiful in the series. Short, but sweet, and oh-so-lovely. Montgomery's portrayal of the passion between Emily and Teddy, expressed almost entirely in looks rather than words, is so hushed and splendid that I can't wholly forgive her for the torment she puts them through—and us with them—in this book and the next.

The book had a few humorous moments as well; Emily’s flippant comments regarding the suitors she did not love generally made me laugh. All in all, I enjoyed the book, and the moment I put it down I picked up its sequel.

Emily's Quest (Emily, #3)Emily’s Quest 
Synopsis: Teddy goes off to art school and Ilse into acting, leaving Emily lonely at New Moon. Misunderstanding develops over the distance between Emily and Teddy, and old friend Dean Priest proves his own love by caring for her during a dangerous illness, leaving her with a series of difficult choices. Meanwhile, her writing career takes off, and at last there is hope for the Disappointed House—only not like she imagined it.

Notes: This book actually evoked an angry response.

First, the previously likable Ilse lost both depth and friendliness. Her numerous insensitivities toward Emily were generally unintentional, but cruel nonetheless. Likewise, after years of being in love with Perry Miller, she could not find it in herself to soften to him, to leave off hounding him for a moment, until—well, for the sake of being unspoilerish, I won’t say what happens; I’ll just recommend, for enjoyment's sake, the scene where she finally goes to Perry. Even though her deed is positively awful.

The second cause of annoyance was the series of misunderstandings between Emily and Teddy, resulting in years upon years of agonized separation and depression. The only truly serious issue was Mrs. Kent’s interference; the young pair had no other good reason for being apart for what appeared to be something like a decade. It upset this reader so much that I was almost ready to root for Dean Priest, whom I liked despite his obvious unsuitability and his jealousy.

Emily’s trouble was pride; Teddy’s, an inability to man up and speak, and the two had me in a state of mad half-despair for over two hundred pages. And then the finale was so brief, so inexplicable, that it left me furious even though it was, in theory, a satisfactory resolution.

From Laura, commenting on my review of Emily of New Moon:
“The last book is a steaming heap of misery and self-doubt, topped off by a dubious maraschino cherry of last-minute romance.”
I can't improve on that summary. I can think of ways Montgomery might have saved her story without much effort. But, again following Laura’s lead, I make some excuses to myself for the book. Emily is a particularly fascinating heroine, owing in part to her skill with words, in part to the Murray-Starr conflict within her, and in part to her supernatural gift. The scene where she connects with Teddy across an ocean was breathtakingly believable despite its unlikelihood; it was also another sublime Teddy-and-Emily scene. The comparison between Emily and the Disappointed House comes as near as anything else to making something decent of the tale, and—well, Emily becomes a successful novelist. Which makes her, in some sense, a hero of mine.

Joint Recommendation: Not nearly as pleasant as the Anne books or Emily of New Moon, but containing some gems nonetheless.

15 comments:

  1. A fresh reminder of why I disliked the depressing Emily books and dumped them. There's a similar pattern in Pat of Silver Bush and sequel Mistriss Pat--a heroine's rather agoraphobic house worship trumps her true love for even longer than a decade. I think the Emily and Pat books best reflect Montgomery's struggle with depression. The Anne and other books, including short stories, are more rounded and enjoyable.

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  2. Oops--the above was from me, Arabella.

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  3. Arabella, you've hit on exactly the reason I like Emily and Pat, which is how inescapably personal they are. (Jenna, I feel pretty safe saying you probably won't like the Pat books *at all* -- as LMM's biographer Mary Rubio notes, Pat is basically a depressed, exhausted, and permanently homesick 50-year-old woman written into the body of an 8-year-old girl and then forced to grow up from there-- but I've developed enough of a fanatical Montgomery attachment that I cherish it anyway for being just that).

    Regarding the abrupt conclusion of Emily/Teddy: I think this might have been a far more satisfying book if Montgomery had been more invested in the "romance" portion of the book. As it happens, she was thoroughly fed up with the conventions of "girl's books" under which she felt herself to be writing, and would really have preferred not to "marry Emily off" at all -- leaving the Emily/Teddy story unresolved or resolved with friendship, and focusing instead on Emily's writing career. That's one of the ways this series could have gone. Another-- if she were truly invested in E/T -- would have been to spend more time and attention on the relationship. As it is, we're sort of left writing mental fanfiction about why Ems and the Tedster are so stubborn and weird about everything, and while it's possible to mentally fix it up so it all makes sense, the book isn't really doing the job that it should be with regard to the whole What The Heck Were You Thinking Question. And that's in large part because Maud didn't at all feel like writing a romance at the time, but thought she had to (I think the resolution of Ilse/Perry is pretty clearly an instance of her sticking her tongue out at this perceived obligation to romance)

    Ilse is pretty hard to deal with in EQ, isn't she? It's hard to believe she would just drop the T-bomb on Emily like that with zero prior warning. But then, I tend to forgive Ilse a lot, just because her upbringing was such a negligent-indulgent emotional rollercoaster that she does pretty well, considering -- another chunk of autobiography; Maud's absentee father resembled Douglas Starr only in her mind.

    I have SO MUCH to say about these books, but it's dinnertime! So glad to see the review!

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  4. Arabella, I definitely thought of L.M.'s struggle with depression reading these books. Again and again I thought of it.

    Laura, that is fascinating--just fascinating. I had no idea she didn't feel like writing a romance; it makes me almost wish she'd felt free to write the books without building that expectation from the beginning. Good friendship, such as Emily's with Dean, is satisfying in its own right; just not when the reader is counting on a properly happy romantic ending. As it is, you're absolutely right about the book not doing its job. Those long absences of Teddy's are just annoying.

    It's hilarious to think of the Ilse/Perry resolution as Montgomery's way of sticking her tongue out at the convention. I can picture that. And yeah, I only ever forgive Ilse at all because of her upbringing. It's interesting to hear how much of herself Montgomery put into these books.

    So, you can always come back and talk more! You could also start that blog you've talked about. :)

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  5. Thanks for this review, Jenna. From the sound of this, I'd likely not really enjoy the Emily books. That's not to say that I won't ever read them, but given how many stacks of books I'm keen on that would take me multiple lifetimes to work through, they're not at the top of my to-read list.

    Truth be told, I'd not read any of the Anne books--a serious gap in my childhood reading! On account of your enthusiasm for them on your site, I ordered the entire set as a gift to myself this Christmas, and stayed up until 1:00 a.m. last night reading Anne of Green Gables. :o) How utterly delightful! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of them during winter break between semesters.

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  6. I do love Anne, but I love Emily and Pat, too. I think maybe Luci was sick of being so "pleasant." Emily and Pat did get their happy endings, but Montgomery spent more time on the tragic parts of their stories. I do have to say I have far less sympathy for Emily because she IS so prideful that she bears more responsibility for her tragedies than Pat probably does.

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  7. Jenna, I think that though Pat is definitely conflicted, you would appreciate her sensitive soul and magical imagination...as well as the inimitable character Judy Plum.

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  8. Oh, Judy Plum's the best and, to me, the one likable character! But I agree that Pat isn't an old soul, she's neurotic, and Mary Rubio's description is perfect. I've read that Emily is most autobiographical, but am not sure about Pat--maybe Montgomery's longing for PEI?? Or, like Anne's poor story, a promotion for floor wax?

    Carrie-Ann, just discovering Anne...I didn't discover her until around thirty, and I think I appreciated her more than I would have at a younger age. Apart from the Anne books, I love The Blue Castle, and Jane of Lantern Hill. Some of the short stories are great, too.

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  9. Great review, Jenna! Your analysis did not disappoint. I remember rooting for Dean Priest as well because I was so disgusted with Teddy. What a ninny. I hate him to this day.

    Thanks too to Arabella and Laura for the added insights and biographical background on L.M. and Pat of Silver Bush, which I disliked for similar reasons. Knowing that L.M. Montgomery herself was suffering helps me forgive her entirely for writing such dark, awful stuff when I wanted daisies and buttered sunshine. In hindsight that seems like it should have been obvious to me, but I read most of her works as a child and again as a self-absorbed adolescent.

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  10. P.S. Laura, I'm staying tuned for the rest of your review.

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  11. The comment @9:49 was me, Arabella, as well.

    Montgomery was a bipolar depressive who married a bipolar depressive and the marriage was pretty awful. For the most part she had an unhappy life and the wonder is that she was able to write as much sunniness as she did. The earliest Anne books and stories come out of what must have been a more hopeful time for her before her marriage.

    I read the first book in a two-part biography that came out sometime around 1990. It was so depressing I never read the second book. My admiration to those that were able to complete both. But the first book did help me understand the themes of relationship she wrote about, often repeatedly.

    --Arabella

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  12. Carrie-Ann, so glad you enjoyed Anne! The first three books and Rilla are my favorites, although I love Anne's House of Dreams too. I can't pick! Anyway, they're great. :)

    jana.kaye, thanks... fascinating thoughts on Emily and Pat. I may have to read the latter just for the character herself.

    Maria, LOL. Glad you liked it. And I know--I loved Dean; he seemed like someone I would have enjoyed, maybe even fallen for in another life, and I felt bad for him. Teddy was so beautiful that I couldn't hate him, but he did cause me way too much angst. I was not pleased.

    Arabella, I knew Montgomery was depressed and that her marriage wasn't happy, but I hadn't known that both she and her husband were bipolar. There's hardship enough for anyone! As you say, it's a wonder that she wrote as much happiness as she did.

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  13. LMM and her husband might have done better under other circumstances. What seems to have really got LMM and her husband were the (almost literally dozens) of bromides and other sedatives prescribed by various doctors and subsequently taken all together and in huge amounts, with wine and brandy, by the couple. Rubio suggests that quite a lot of Ewan's later psychosis, and Maud's depression and anxiety, was really bromide poisoning and withdrawal symptoms (which were then treated with more bromides, and so on). It really is a wonder she managed to get anything done after 1930. The Rubio biography is good, but extremely exhausting because of things like this.

    Jenna, I shouldn't have assumed you wouldn't like Pat! You might. Mistress Pat is even more of a misery-fest than EQ, though, BE WARNED.

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  14. Haha! I appreciate the warning, Laura. If I read it, it may turn out to be one of those books I love and hate at the same time. There are a few in existence.

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  15. Montgomery's ability to capture beauty AND brokenness is what makes her books so long lasting and her characters memorable. Teddy WAS a ninny; people often are. Ilse WAS selfish and prideful...yet she isn't a villain. Pat might hold onto things too tightly and for the wrong reasons, and there are many tales of disappointments woven into the stories that are "sunny." I like them better for it.

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