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[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
So, as you may recall, a little while ago I stumbled across the extremely peculiar nature diaries of Opal Whiteley, who may or may not have written at seven an extraordinarily detailed and completely bizarre account of her life and the country around her house. In the comments, [ profile] sovay asked if maybe Whiteley had been influenced by Emily of New Moon, and then said, wait, Whiteley's book came out and was a huge bestseller in 1920 and Emily of New Moon came out in 1923...

Having read Emily of New Moon this evening, I will personally swear an affidavit before anyone you like that this book is, in fact, what happened when Montgomery read Whiteley. I haven't read Montgomery's diaries, which might prove or disprove the hypothesis-- anyone who has read those, feel free to step in-- but damn, it's amazing, if you put Anne of Green Gables in a blender with Whiteley this is absolutely what you get coming out the other side.

Emily is a smart and sensitive child sent to live with relatives after the death of her father. She is determined to be a writer, in the face of non-comprehension and/or active hostility from her family, and the book is very funny about her juvenile poetry, best describable as sub-Tennyson. It's obvious, though, that she does have the talent and perseverance to go somewhere with it. The portions of the book not concerned with writing are about farm, friends, possible romantic interests (of whom one seriously skeeves me out; it is not reasonable at thirty-five to decide to wait for a twelve-year-old and I have this horrible suspicion she's actually going to marry him *headdesk*), and a rather incoherent and vaguely supernatural plot about a local scandal.

The portions of the book concerned with her writing involve the aforementioned poetry, but also large stretches of letters to her dead father, quoted in full, and all I have to say about the spelling, subject matter, number of fairies mentioned, and protagonist's attitude towards animals, sunsets, and moderately large rocks is: Whiteley, Whiteley, Whiteley. Oh, it's somewhat more conventional in grammar (how could it not be), but seriously, she names trees in the same style. Given Whiteley's fantasies about perfect dead parents who wanted her to be intelligent and learned as opposed to her real family who wanted her to be obedient, this could almost qualify as fanfiction were it not that that story is also so very much the framework Montgomery was already working in.

I have mixed feelings about a lot of Montgomery-- the pacing of Anne of Green Gables is nonexistent, and she knew what she wanted to write and stuck to it (over and over), but The Blue Castle is a perfect little book, one of the greatest romance novels and female escapes-from-domestic-Hades I have read. This one is better-paced than Anne but has, as I mentioned, a plot element I find skeevy, and has a thin overlay of twee that wanders in and out (too much about those cutesy-Victorian-type flower fairies). I do always have a soft spot for portraits of girls who are going to grow up to be writers, to do the work of that, and who are not judged for it by their narratives. This is a readable book, pleasant enough, but I'm not sure I'd have finished it if it weren't for the Whiteley aspect, which led to a whole meta-level of sheer pleasure at watching Montgomery work. I really need to find out whether there is evidence of this as an actual textual connection. Then I need not to accidentally write a comparative literature dissertation.

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