For as much as I love the Anne of Green Gable novels, I think this may be the first time I’ve made it all the way through the Emily of New Moon books. I know I attempted them around the same time I read the Anne books, but I don’t think I finished them. I don’t have a memory of finishing them anyway. So yes, I decided it was time to correct that. Technically I read it as one book as all three novels were gathered in one kindle book collection, but I’m still gonna count this as THREE books.
There kind of isn’t a plot to the novels. They’re about young, orphaned Emily Starr who wants to be a writer when she grows up and how she deals with her family, ambition, and love as she ‘climbs the alpine path’. And I’m sorry guys, but I can’t really talk about these books without comparing them to the Anne books. These are good books, they deserve to stand on their own, and I really enjoyed them, but at the same time it’s very hard not to compare them to the Anne books because they share so many similarities. So let’s talk about them.
In many ways Anne and Emily are very similar, they both belong to the group I call ‘Montgomery’s special people’-i.e. the dreamers and poets of the world. They’re both orphans sent to live with people who don’t really want them but who they manage to win over. They both have romances with a childhood friend. They’re both writers. Despite these similarities they are quite different people and it’s those differences that causes the Anne/Emily divide. For example, some people claim that the Emily books are more progressive because Anne gives up her writing and Emily never does. On the other hand, Anne is more of a people person and has a stronger streak of mischief running through her character. For the record, I come down on the Anne side of that divide but I do like the Emily books.
One thing before I leave the Anne books behind, I think the main difference between Anne and Emily comes down to how and when they were orphaned. Anne was orphaned as a baby, never knew her parents, and never had any family at all. Emily wasn’t fully orphaned until she was 8, she grew up knowing that her father loved her without reservation and even after his death she still had a family. Despite her conflicts with the various members of the Murray clan, she still had a family she belonged to. This does two things: first, Emily never had to learn how to please people the way that Anne did, and so she’s a bit more willful and doesn’t have Anne’s sociable nature. The other thing it does is change the goals of the two characters. Anne never had a family to belong to, so when she finally marries Gilbert and has children it fills that gap in her life, and that’s why I think she gives up her writing. For Anne the gap she needed to fill was the lack of family, and Emily never had that. Emily had a family, she needed to prove herself to them, and so getting married and settling down were never her goals.
If I have one problem with the books it’s in the character of Dean Priest. I completely despise this character, he’s the worst. When we first meet him at the end of Emily of New Moon he’s a 32 (at least, likely older) year old man who decides that he’s going to marry a 12 year old Emily. I’m pretty sure that that was creepy even in 1923 when the book was published. It’s gross, and Dean never really redeems himself from that moment. He’s a controlling, stalkery, Nice Guy who refuses to take Emily’s ambition seriously because it thinks that her ambition is his competition. And yet, he’s also one of Montgomery’s ‘special people’, so there’s this contradiction to how he’s presented. On the one had he’s all those icky things, but on the other he’s someone who can relate to Emily and her imagination. I can reconcile him, because I think Montgomery intended him to be a kind of warning, not all people who we relate to have our best interests at heart. His betrayal of Emily in Emily’s Quest is one of the most heartbreaking moments, in great part because Emily trusts him so much when she shouldn’t. However, as a warning character he joins the troublesome category of ‘evil disabled person in literature’.
I am glad I finally sat down and read the Emily books, I think that fans of Anne should at least give these a shot.