Ok, I think I had better be right up front here. I love L.M. Montgomery as an author. I’m a diehard fan, I adore her books, and would own all of them if I could.
Well, almost all of them.
Kilmeny of the Orchard is the one exception.
It’s Montgomery’s one big flop (literary wise, not sure about financial wise). I’m sure somewhere along the line someone, Montgomery, a publisher, someone must have noticed that it sucked. Apparently they said “Meh, who cares, we’ll publish it anyway.”
These are the things that are wrong with Kilmeny of the Orchard: Racism, sexism, classism, disabilityism (OK, that isn’t even a real word, but you know what I mean), and my ultimate literary cliche pet peeve: the gorgeous girl who thinks she is ugly. There is also some low level, but still totally creepy, pseudo-pedophelia. And wanna-be incest. And some pretty old fashioned ideas about the worth of people born outside of marriage. And…well, you get the idea.
OK, so basic plot: Eric Marshall (the pseudo-pedophile) is rich and bored and goes off to teach in a rural community as a favour to a friend. No girl has ever been good enough for him: they all have to live up to his memories of his dead mother. On a walk in the woods he finally meets the perfect girl, only she is ‘tragically imperfect’ because she is dumb (mute dumb, not stupid dumb). Oh, and she is the product of a not-actually marriage, so poor girl is also illegitimate. So of course he tries not to fall in love with her. He just revels in her beauty and company and childlike innocence and how untouched she is by the outside world on a daily basis. And they both keep it secret from everyone else. Charming.
Unfortunately, Eric’s belief that his status requires him to have someone who is perfect in every way, not just perfectly beautiful and accomplished and charmingly childlike, isn’t enough to protect him from falling in love. Much hand wringing of the ‘I can’t marry a dumb bastard but I love her’ and the ‘I must sacrifice myself and not let him love me because I can’t speak and I’m illegitimate and also I’m a hideous freak of nature’ variety ensues. Charming.
Also ensuing are page long descriptions of how beautiful Kilmeny is every half dozen pages apart from the minute she makes her appearance in the book.
Oh, and in the meantime Kilmeny’s adopted brother Neil is madly in love with her, and has been working to convince her that she is hideous. But Neil would never do for Kilmeny because even though Kilmeny is dumb and illegitimate, Neil is Italian, which is so much worse. And Kilmeny comes from good Scottish stock, so even tainted as she is, she couldn’t possibly marry the son of Italian peasants. Charming.
And after a couple of more chapters of hand wringing, everything gets resolved. Eric gets to marry his beautiful, childlike Kilmeny, now cured of most of her flaws. Neil runs off having demonstrated that no matter the education and training you receive, being Italian still makes you a potential murderer. Eric’s rich dad accepts Kilmeny because her people are better than the other people in the village, and everyone lives happily ever after. Charming.
So yeah, not Montgomery’s better work. One day I’d like to read Una of the Garden, the serial novel that was the first published version of Kilmeny of the Orchard, and see how they compare.
I guess issues with self-esteem and image is nothing new, then. I’m going to have to find a copy of this and read it, now, just because. Does Montgomery approach any of these issues somewhat tongue-in-cheek, or is she deadly serious about them?
Deadly serious. She’s not really a tongue-in-cheek writer, kwim?
It’s interesting just to see how “times have changed.” As an Irish/Italian girl it is interesting.
Times certainly have changed! Now that you put your heritage into perspective, I shudder to think what Montgomery would have made of my heritage – my ‘good’ Scottish (some were even Canadian islanders!) forbearers went and married dodgy Catholic Slavs!
The word you’re looking for is ableism or possibly disablism, both are in use.
Anyway, thank for the warning. Sad to say, I actually didn’t realize she wrote books that weren’t about Emily or Anne. I’ll be avoiding this one.
Thank you! Good to expand my vocabulary (though I don’t really want the occasion to use those words).
Montgomery wrote dozens of books beyond the Emily and Anne series, many of which are quite good. Kilmeny is just an odd, sad exception.
Eek, another reminder, lest we forget, that the old days were far from Paradise. Think that other than enjoying the cover, I’ll be consigning this volume to file 13, the circular file, etc. etc.
I read this books years ago and forgot it promptly. If you think it was dreadful, try a few of the Gene Stratton Porter novels! Herperfect and self-righteous characters make my teeth itch, though I do enjoy reading a couple of her books. I’d love to hear what you think of them!
Oh, I certainly remember the Gene Stratton-Porter books! My mother disapproved of me reading them, especially Her Fathers Daughter, because of the racism.
I’ve learned to cringe and keep reading. We’re all a product of our times (although Mongomery seems to have heaped on the stereotypes!)
Dorothy Sayers and Adrian Bell, both of whom I like very much, were very outspoken in their anti-semitism. The Ladies Home Journal used to include “coon” pictures and cartoons — that’s what they were called! — that made fun of black people.
50 years from now, maybe we’ll be reviled for our backward ideas….
Oh I love a deliciously bad novel written by well known writers. Gene Stratton-Porter among them! I actually want to read this now as awful as it sounds. It’s probably due to the cheesiness of it. Not to mention any books that touch on racism, sexism and classism is bound to be a banned book somewhere and I do love those.