Chapter XXII: Wyther Grange
By, Vappu Kannas
The chapters where Emily goes to Wyther Grange and meets her Great-Aunt Nancy Priest for the first time have always been my favourites in Emily of New Moon. They show Montgomery at her wickedest, showcasing her talent of portraying slightly malicious, and sometimes not so slightly, older women who don't give a hoot about what other people think and voice their opinions with candour and gossip about other people, usually relatives who are after their large fortunes. However, the chapter named after Great-Aunt Nancy's house ”Wyther Grange” – a clear allusion to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, as several scholars have noted – does not actually deal with Emily's visit at the Grange, but the events that lead to it. Alas, I won't be able to discuss my two favourite witches (one could even call them what rhymes with ”witches”), Aunt Nancy and her companion Caroline Priest, but will instead take a closer look at what happens before Emily takes this important visit that changes her thoroughly, as the narrator points out a few chapters along: ”Emily had grown, taller and older, in soul, if not in body. The Emily who returned from Wyther Grange was not the Emily who had gone there. She was no longer wholly the child.” (”The Vow of Emily”)
In the chapters leading to Emily's visit she is still very much a child. In ”Romantic but Not Comfortable” Emily cuts herself a bang, then regrets it and cuts it all off. She confesses to Aunt Elizabeth before they go to sleep and feels relieved when it's done. Later on in the same chapter, Emily gets her first proposal via Perry's Aunt Tom, which foreshadows the themes of growing up and matrimony that come up in the chapters about Wyther Grange. But even this scene is more humorous than romantic as is the one in the next chapter where Emily gets a ride to Priest Pond with Old Kelly and is teased by the old man about weddings and love potions. This chapter, ”Wyther Grange,” is thus clearly a transitional one, almost like a journey from childhood to girlhood, and therefore involves an actual journey, the one Emily takes with Old Kelly. Old Kelly is the initiator who reminds Emily that young ”pretty gurrls” have to get married one day and prophetically warns her against marrying a Priest – ”The wives die young” – even Dean ”Jarback” Priest, because he's too old for her. With these forebodings Emily is approaching the end of her childhood at the same time as the readers are approaching the end of the book.
Interestingly enough, the chapter that mentions Dean Priest for the first time also discusses the belief that Caroline Priest is a witch. As Dean is later in the series connected with occultism and rumours that he worships the devil, this seems to make it a family habit. Ilse, jealous of Emily's visit, is the first to bring up the topic of witches and ghosts: ”'I wouldn't go to Wyther Grange for anything,' said Ilse. 'It's haunted.' … 'Your Great-Aunt Nancy is an awful crank, and the old woman who lives with her is a witch. She'll put a spell on you. You'll pine away and die.'” Next, it's Old Kelly's turn, who casually claims that ”Old Caroline Praste at the Grange is a witch if ever there was one,” and offers Emily a horseshoe-nail, some ”cold iron” to keep her safe.
Symbolically, however, Montgomery pairs young unmarried girls – virgins – with powerful, witch-like spinsters such as Caroline Priest, and therefore unsettles the idea of marriage as a predominantly heterosexual business. One could even suggest that in this chapter Montgomery portrays the transitional period into girlhood as something slightly pagan and otherwordly. Tellingly, it is mentioned earlier in the chapter that Emily is reluctant to go away from New Moon because she, Ilse, Teddy and Perry are absorbed in ”playing out” Midsummer Night's Dream, a play centered on a wedding and full of romantic pairings as well as fairies and magic. (Old Kelly's toad love potion is also a nod to Puck's concotion from a flower in the play as both are applied to the eyelids.)
When Emily finally arrives to Wyther Grange, Old Kelly bolts, and she is left alone with Caroline Priest who exclaims, ”So this is Emily of New Moon!” The chapter ends with a ghost story-like cliffhanger that fits the atmosphere of the Wyther Grange chapters: ”She felt a thin, claw-like hand grasp hers and draw her towards the door. There were no witches, Emily knew – but she thrust her hand into her pocket and touched the horseshoe-nail.”
Bio: Vappu Kannas is a Finnish writer and literary scholar. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation examined the journals of L.M. Montgomery and the depictions of romance in them. Her first poetry book Morsian (2018) was based on Montgomery's life.