I read Emily’s Quest for Carrie’s Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge this month. It’s the third book in the Emily trilogy, the first two being Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs (linked to my reviews).
Emily has been raised by a strict maiden aunt since her father died when she was fairly young. In this book, she’s 17, has just finished high school, has just turned down the offer of a position in New York for a magazine publisher, and plans to spend her days at New Moon writing, first for magazines and perhaps later a book.
Life holds a certain loneliness, however, as all of her close friends have gone on to other studies in other places. Those circumstances are expected to be only temporary, and therefore manageable, but as it turns out, they end up spending most of their time away from home for the next few years. She had thought she and Teddy had a basic understanding, but she doesn’t hear from him much as he pursues his career, and subsequent visits find him rather cool toward her.
She throws herself into her work despite her friend Dean’s dislike of it and the townsfolk’s’ misunderstanding and gossip about it and her. She completes a novel but receives nothing but rejection in trying to get it published. When she asks Dean’s opinion, it’s not very high, so she burns the manuscript and looses her desire to write. She has a serious fall and injury resulting in blood poisoning and a long recovery. She accepts the proposal of a close friend, feeling that, since Teddy seems lost to her, the best she can hope for is a close companionship of a marriage rather than one of love. But in some kind of a dream or vision when she rescues Teddy from danger, she realizes she only loves him and breaks off her engagement with her friend even though there is little hope of Teddy loving her in return. She can’t tell her family this, so they are exasperated when she turns down (a ridiculous number of) marriage proposals from “good matches.”
In many ways this is kind of a depressing book (until the ending), but it describes a passage I think many people go through, especially young people in the changes between high school or college and coming into their own stride as an adult. Friendships, jobs, locations change, things sometimes don’t work out as they plan, a potential marriage partner seems nowhere in sight, they don’t know what the future will hold, or the future doesn’t look promising. In Emily’s case, though she loves writing and the place where she lives, with her friends and one true love away, the aunt who has cared for her getting older, and talk of a relative who will inherit their house already planning changes that she doesn’t like, the future looks pretty bleak. But it’s also a maturing, settling time that prepares one for the rest of life.
I’ve mentioned before not liking Emily very much, especially in the last book where I felt she was willful and disrespectful to her relatives (they were at fault as well, but I still felt she responded in a wrong way). There aren’t as many open clashes in this book, but that seems mostly because they’ve learned she is going to do her own thing, so it’s not any use, which is not necessarily as good characteristic. (I’m thinking, from what little I know of LMM’s life, that this might be what she wished she could do, but was not able to). But I did end up liking her better toward the end of the book as she displays restraint for others’ good, kindness, compassion, and maturity.
I’m afraid I liked her friend Ilse even less, though. She had been left to “grow up wild” by a father who has not really in touch for a long time, but some of her behavior here is pretty outrageous. But I found it interesting in one place where Ilse almost marries the wrong guy, that her description of how she felt was similar to what this article says LMM wrote in a journal of her own marriage: “I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner—a hopeless prisoner. … But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married—and I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.” I think perhaps this series as a whole was somewhat cathartic for her.
There were a couple of places I had trouble with in this book, one being the vision/dream thing, the other being where a former teacher says, “Somehow one needs a spice of evil in every personality. It’s the pinch of salt that brings out the flavor” (p. 23). He says this after commenting negatively on someone who was “a good soul – so good she bores me – no evil in her.” We all do have a pinch (or more) of evil in us, but that’s not what makes us likable!
But even though I’ll never love this series like I do Anne, I felt it came to a fitting end, and Emily became a well-rounded and balanced adult after all.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)