Chapter 3: A Hop Out of Kin
By, Caroline E. Jones
I met Emily Byrd Starr (and thus L.M. Montgomery) when I was eleven, and I first read a copy that my mother and her sisters and her mother had read. My grandmother had been introduced to Montgomery’s work by her eldest sister, and she passed on her love for the author to her daughters and granddaughters. I later discovered that old, blue Grosset and Dunlap reprint was my grandmother’s second copy—the originals were too fragile for ordinary reading. My grandmother brought it down from the attic one Saturday afternoon when I had finished the book I’d brought with me for our semi-monthly visit. I imagine that she said something to the effect of, “I think you’re ready for this,” and she was correct. After the first page, I never looked back. I read and reread Emily, and moved on to Pat, and Marigold, and, of course, Anne. But Emily remains my first—and dearest—Montgomery companion.
That afternoon I read chapter 3 under my grandmother’s dining room table while she, my mother, and two aunts played Scrabble on the surface above, and the contrast between my family and poor Emily’s was stark. I scowled at the descriptions of frosty Uncle Wallace and disagreeable Aunt Eva and thrilled with horror at shrewish Aunt Ruth—her home in “Shrewsbury” is no coincidence! Fortunately, Montgomery offered alternatives to these relatives: Uncle Oliver and Aunt Addie would’ve been an acceptable home, but I, with Emily, wanted her to go to her mother’s home, and to Aunt Laura.
Both the conversation she has with Ellen Greene about her mother’s family and her first encounters with that family, give Emily—and the reader—context about the Murrays. Since the book’s title offers something of a spoiler regarding Emily’s fate, the suspense about who will take her is minimal, so these conversations allows us to hear more fully Emily’s voice, to glimpse her incisive observational skills, and to understand her strong senses of both self and self-preservation. She isn’t at all shy about countering Ellen on everything from having worked her “fingers to the bone” to matters of the nature of God. It is in this conversation that Emily utters one of Montgomery’s most fundamental theses, for this character and others: “I am important to myself!” The fact that Emily cries this “proudly” gives the lie to her later assertion that she is “all Starr,” for her Murray pride is strong—and will remain so. That pride prevents her from greeting Aunt Ruth with a handshake, saying, “she does not want to shake hands with me . . . so I am not going to do it.” On my first reading of this exchange, I gasped with admiration at Emily’s boldness—how brave not just to think the truth, but to speak and act on it!
As a child-reader, I found Emily’s sense of self and her willingness to speak up in the face of authority remarkable. I still love her willingness to advocate for herself (and wish I had been more inclined to follow her lead), but, as a scholarly reader, I found myself gravitating to Emily as artist. And in this chapter, we see Emily’s first understanding of herself as a creator, someone who writes because writing satisfies her soul. In both of my working copies of New Moon, I have noted the interwoven relationship between self, spirituality, and writing. Even realizing that her father will never read her writing again, Emily “felt that she would rather like to write it all out.” She becomes absorbed in finding just the right words to describe Aunt Laura’s eyes—when she hits upon “wells of blue,” the flash, that spiritual awakening, that consecrating moment comes to her, for the first time since she learned her father was dying. The flash confirms her impulse to write, it marries her creative, intellectual, and spiritual selves, and offers her hope, a future, a sense that all will be well, and that her father has, in fact, left her a legacy of words. I read the flash as a seal, a ritual marker of something solemn and true. When the flash comes with Emily’s realization that she wants to write, even without her father, her fate is sealed: she is a Writer. And, when Aunt Laura smuggles Mike up to Emily’s room, against the express wishes of Aunt Elizabeth, readers can have faith that Emily, even without her beloved father, will love and be loved.
I live in Austin, Texas, USA, where I teach, edit, read, and write. I have published chapters on L.M. Montgomery in four essay collections, most recently “Idylls of Play: L.M. Montgomery’s Child-Worlds” in Children’s Play in Literature: Investigating the Strengths and the Subversions of the Playing Child(2019), edited by Joyce E. Kelley, and published by Routledge.