One of my best friends sent me a treasure last month: a Montgomery book I had not read before, not even once, let alone two or three times. The Blue Castle is one of the few books Montgomery wrote which has an adult heroine, rather than a young girl, and while it contains lots of classic Montgomery sparkle and rejoicing in the beauty of nature, it takes some time to get there.
The story is one of a woman named Valancy (a shockingly old maid of 29! 🤣) whose lacklustre existence is dominated by conformity to family pressure, lethargy, and fear…it is downright depressing at first. Montgomery really allows her readers to enter into the pain of a woman who feels that her life is not her own, and that no one really loves or even properly knows her. She constantly represses her honest reactions to conform to the strict standards of her unfeeling family, and even so is unable to please them. Everyone takes her for granted.
We could look back on her harshly, and speak of her weakness and dependence on her family in making all her decisions…but are we as a society truly more free? Our fetters may not be so much familial expectations, but what about the cages we build for ourselves online, the slavish fear that drives so many to keep up appearances and impress, or at least to fit in with the latest fads? How is living for the “likes” of strangers more free than living for the approval of those we know?
Everything changes one day when Valancy dares go to the doctor alone and gets a fatal diagnoses of her heart condition, and is given only a year to live. It is at this point that classic obliger rebellion, as described by happiness author Gretchen Rubin, kicks in. She decides to no longer live to please others at the cost of her own happiness and well-being.
Only by losing the fear of dying does Valancy cease being afraid to really live. Set free from the fear of her family’s opinions and the long dreary years ahead, she finally finds the courage to simply be herself, and discovers that life is so much more rich and beautiful when authentically embraced. At last she is able be herself and get comfortable in her own skin, which, as it turns out, is a pretty great place to be.
How would you live this year differently if you knew it could be your last? Perhaps with more courage, authenticity and joy? With more honesty, conviction, and simple delight in all life has to offer? With more generosity both towards yourself and others? Wherever you’re at in life, may you find your place of joy, your “blue castle” and embrace it fully.