Probably along with most women of my age I had the Anne of Green Gables books when I was a child, liked them very much and essentially forgot all about them as I grew up. I had no idea that L. M. Montgomery had been anything like as prolific as she clearly was, and even after reading 'The Blue Castle' a couple of years ago didn't think much more about her. 'The Blue Castle' is ostensibly an adult title, it's a pleasant book to while away a wet afternoon with, but the only difference I can really see between it and Montgomery's children's books is the age of the heroine, it didn't excite me in the way the Emily books did or 'Jane of Lantern Hill' has.
Unlike Emily and Anne, Jane isn't an orphan but her parents have separated, Jane lives with her mother and grandmother in Toronto under the impression that her mother is a widow, but actually her father is alive and well albeit a thousand miles across the country on Prince Edward Island. Jane's life is fairly bleak at the beginning of the book, her mother is beautiful and loving but far to week to stand up to the much stronger personality that is her own mother and Mrs Kennedy hates Jane. Jane is an awkward child and an unhappy one, an atmosphere of disapproval and thinly veiled hostility coupled with her grandmother's determination to control every aspect of her and her mother's life destroys any self confidence she has and makes a prison of the family home and then suddenly a letter arrives from her father demanding she be sent to him for the summer...
Initially Jane is unwilling, she doesn't want to be separated from the mother she adores and isn't keen to meet the father who seemingly abandoned her but she's bundled off anyway to make the best of it, when she does arrive she finds an aunt who she immediately distrusts and a father who's nothing like she feared. Father and daughter set off together, buy a house, and start to get to know each other. For Jane it's a revelation, she finally has a home, things to do, friends, acceptance, and almost total freedom - predictably she blossoms but it doesn't make everybody happy and this is the genius of Montgomery.
Jane is an eleven year old girl in a difficult but not unusual position, her parents may love her but to the dominant women on both sides of her family her existence is something of a nuisance - daughters can be like that. To grandmother Kennedy she's a reminder of the man who tried to take her beloved daughter away and more, in a really horrible confrontation grandmother tells granddaughter "Leave her alone. She is my daughter... no outsider shall ever come between us again... neither Andrew Stuart nor you nor anyone. And you will be good enough to remember that." Mrs Kennedy treats her daughter as a possession, choosing her cloths as she might dress a doll, reading her letters, and directing her social life in such a way as to limit contact between her and Jane. Jane, one feels, occupies the same sort of position a barely tolerated pet might in this household.
On the other side aunt Irene is an equally implacable enemy. ten years older than Jane's father she has been in the habit if regarding him as her own particular property. She didn't approve of his marriage having another girl in mind for her brother and Jane is a threat to the status quo. Father and daughter are a complete unit, Jane takes on the role of housekeeper and becomes a sort of little wife. A stepmother would be most unwelcome to Jane because a stepmother almost certainly wouldn't want her around - all her new found happiness and purpose would disappear, and it's a far harder job for Irene to persuade Andrew he might need a wife when his domestic needs are being looked after by a capable daughter who is both uncritical and undemanding.
Families are complicated things especially when they start to disintegrate, it's easy for a child to fall between the gaps in the dynamics of adult relationships and interesting to read a book written from a child's point of view that acknowledges the antipathy that can exist towards them in this sort of situation. I can believe in Jane and her family, the women all ring true - her father perhaps less so, but then it's not necessarily such an interesting relationship to explore. I believe in Jane's domesticity too, I think it's a natural (and feminine) reaction from a child who's always had a place to live but never really had a home. Montgomery nails a lot of the insecurities that a child - specifically a daughter - feels when their parents separate how ambiguous their position can become and how vulnerable they are. The ending is interesting too, it's a happy one but also practical - Jane's parents are reunited but not to run off to Prince Edward Island to live the carefree summer life Jane and her father have shared. Instead they will be living mostly in Toronto where he's found a job - it's a compromise that amongst other things acknowledges Jane's mothers life and the responsibilities.