I’m really not one for sappy romances (or really romances at all, to tell the truth–as I’ve said before, the only romance I’m really interested in is my own 😉 ), and Kilmeny of the Orchard is a sappy romance. I chose to re-read it mainly because it’s one of L.M. Montgomery’s shorter novels (perhaps the shortest?), and I had neither the time nor the inclination to tackle a longer work right now. Magic for Marigold (my review here) was something of a dud for me this time, and I really wanted to read one more of Montgomery’s works for the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge this year. While reading Kilmeny, I was of two minds: one was loyal and L.M. Montgomery-loving and felt a tad bit guilty because the other mind existed at all; the other was critical and cynical and enjoyed the novel but was reading it all and rewriting a parody of it simultaneously. I’m going to state outright that I do indeed love L.M. Montgomery’s works and I count reading her novels as a young teen as one of the formative reading experiences of my life. Steady Eddie and I went to PEI for our honeymoon, for Pete’s sake! 🙂 For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to let the critical and cynical mind take over. If you’re a dedicated Montgomery fan who will be offended, stop reading now. 🙂
The story is classic Montgomery. Eric Marshall, the stalwart and handsome son of a wealthy elderly businessman in the Big City, takes over the teaching position of a friend mid-year in a tiny little hamlet, Lindsey. Marshall happens to have a doctor friend (who specializes in diseases and disorders of the throat, no less) who warns him against going to this village and falling in love with some provincial lass. Marshall enjoys his job but goes about his life without so much as a ripple until he happens upon an exquisitely beautiful young woman playing a violin in an orchard (which stops just short of being enchanted). As it turns out, the girls is mute but not deaf; she carries around a slate on which to write her thoughts. (This, of course, reminded me a little too much of The Trumpet of the Swan, which isn’t exactly a book one should be thinking of when one is reading a romance novel.) Her name is Kilmeny Gordon, and her tale is a tragic one, but not an unusual one given that she is a heroine in a Montgomery novel. Of course, Eric falls in love with her and she with Eric. Her affliction threatens to keep them apart, until a very exciting ending brings about a resolution that all romance lovers will appreciate: the boy gets his girl, and his wealthy and wise old father approves.
So many things about this story caught my attention and caused my inner critic to go on high alert. First was the verbosity for which Montgomery is famous. The letter that Eric received from his friend Larry, whom Eric shortly replaces as master of the Lindsey school, is good example. This seems like a small deal, and it is, really, but it led me to think about the characterization. Before I go further, here’s a snippet from the letter:
“Last week my landlady–who is a saint in spectacles and calico–looked at me one morning at the breakfast table and said, very gently, ‘You must go to town to-morrow, Master, and see a doctor about yourself.’
“I went and did not stand upon the order of my going. Mrs. Williamson is She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. She has an inconvenient habit of making you realize that she is exactly right, and that you would be all kinds of a fool if you didn’t take her advice. You feel that what she thinks to-day you will think to-morrow.” (9)
To quote Gilbert in the movie Anne of Avonlea, “Anne, nob’dy speaks that way!” I might add that no one of the (sexist statement alert warning!) male gender would write that way. I can’t imagine it, can you? However, and this is a big however, men in Montgomery’s world do speak (and write) this way, and I think that might be one reason why we women (who used to be adolescent girls, swooning over the aforementioned Gil) like them so much. I do like that this statement sums up Mrs. Williamson very accurately (and sets up a little bit of what follows, too).
Not only are the speakers in this story verbose, but Kilmeny, who communicates by writing, is just as loquacious. Imagine, if you will, reading this off “a little slate that hung at her belt”:
“No, I did not know [. . .] I have often read of the white narcissus and wondered what it was like. I never thought of it being the same as my dear June lilies. I am glad you told me. I love flowers very much. They are my very good friends.” (49)
Montgomery does note that Kilmeny writes “in a small distinctive handwriting.” Maybe it’s the influence of text messaging (of which I admittedly do very little), but I still can’t imagine it. Honestly, though, it’s Montgomery’s way with words that I enjoy, at least when I’m in the mood to read them (and maybe not when I’m thinking about someone actually writing this way in a letter, etc.) In this book it just seems a little unrealistic.
Another thing that really bothered me about this novel is the stereotyping of a particular character. Neil Gordon, a sort-of adopted brother of Kilmeny’s, is described as being “Italyun, yes sir! Rather too much so, I’m thinking, for decent folks’ taste” by the gossipy Mr. Williamson, but this sentiment carries through the novel. I found this jarring to my twenty-first century sensibilities. Of course, Neil turns out to be the bad guy in the story–of course! I agree with Becky: “Kilmeny of the Orchard doesn’t *need* Neil to be the villain.” But she put him in, anyway, and all we really know about him is that he’s Italian, has a violent temper, and that he apparently loves Kilmeny.
Oh, I could go on. Kilmeny is beautiful–beyond beautiful. And innocent, to the point that Eric watches her “blossom into womanhood” before his very eyes, simply through his attentions to her. This review mirrors my take on Kilmeny of the Orchard, only my opinions aren’t quite this forceful. 😉 (Be forewarned that this review is a tad bit vitriolic. If you hold all things LMM dear, don’t read it. The comments are interesting, though.)
I almost laughed when I got to the end of the novel. Eric says to his father,
“Kilmeny’s mouth is like a love-song made incarnate in sweet flesh [. . .] “
To which Mr. Marshall replies,
“Humph! [. . .] Well [. . . ] I was a poet, too, for six months in my life, when I was courting your mother.” (133)
I think maybe my six months of enjoying “silly school girl romances” (to once again quote Gil) have long since expired, and I really am Marilla.
Obviously, this book will never be my number one pick of all LMM’s works, but I did get some enjoyment out of reading it (and, if you’ll forgive me, writing this post!). This is my sixth book of LMM’s to revisit in the past three years, and it’s all thanks to Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. Come back on Friday for my wrap-up post!